Historic? I suppose that’s one way to put it. Although historic didn’t stop artists and fans alike from lamenting the poor ventilation and awkward arrangement of Omahaâ€™s 88-year-old Sokol Auditorium. The same could be said about the Sokol Underground, located directly below. By day, the smoky, hole-in-the-wall was used for banquets and wedding receptions. By night, the venue transformed into a meeting place for Omahaâ€™s indie elite.
Once the city gained national recognition as the epicenter of the indie movement, locals outgrew the dive and longingly awaited a respectable music venue. Salvation came in early 2007 by the name of Slowdown.
The new venue opened and exceeded all expectations. Between the sleek styling, and cool ambiance, it was a far cry from Sokol. Slowdown was decorated with hi-top tables, tall booths and completed with a grandiose stage sitting four feet off the ground. You could hardly believe that all this existed in Podunk, USA. That same year, Esquire Magazine named the venue, “Club of the Year” in 2007.
Behind the (multi-million dollar!) project was one of the most successful indie labels in town, Saddle Creek Records. You know, the one co-founded by Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst, the bigwig everyone loves to hate (but secretly loves). They placed Slowdown at the center of a project to rejuvenate a former no man’s land into a style center for twenty-somethings.
Trendy apartments and a posh hotel already populate the area with more goodies in the works. For now youâ€™ll find hipster staples: American Apparel, Urban Outfitters, a skate shop and an independent movie theater. Some would describe the area as a tiny “hipster mecca”. Or perhaps, more appropriately, a “hipster overload”.
And while the Slowdown is a huge upgrade from the Sokol, it almost seems too big and too commercial to represent the underground subculture.
For true indie aficionados, hope is just a ten-minute drive away. In the sketchy Benson district lies The Waiting Room, a venue that gives Omaha indie rockers a happy medium between corporate club and traditional dive bar. Despite their facades, the two venues have quite a bit in common. They both host major-name bands, they cater to the growing indie scene and they even opened within months of each other. But, unlike its multi-million dollar counterpart, the Waiting Room doesnâ€™t have a big name to back it up.The venue was opened by 1% Productions, a two-man company that puts on practically every worthwhile show in Omaha. With their limited budget, the duo decided to start with something simple.
The space, relatively small, holds about 250 (compared to 500 at the Slowdown) and is barely furnished with a few circular tables and a respective amount of chairs. Another contrast to its corporate counterpart, ambiance. Here, neutral is the operative word (neutral colors, neutral furniture, neutral style) Other important words: smoky and loud.
I can understand if you arenâ€™t impressed. There are no glossy black tiles or cushy chairs in anywhere, but there is a stage, a band, and a room full of laid-back music lovers.
Sitting back in the Waiting Room and looking around, the decorations at the Slowdown almost seem like a distraction but what The Waiting Room lacks in style, it makes up for with loyalty to the music (literally— it didn’t skimp on the sound system).
Personally, I think the Waiting Room has all the indie spirit of CBGB in New York or even the underground shows played in leaky basements. There are no bells or whistles there, but none are needed. All the appeal comes from a stage, a band, and a hundred or so people that are all about the music.
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