Photo by Bulletin graphics
When Brad Paisley, the country music entertainer of the year, arrived at Nebraskaland Days Summer Jam concert June 24, he arrived in the midst of a relative explosion of entertainment in North Platte.
Not only did country music entertainer of the year Brad Paisley and the rock band Hinder play Nebraskaland Days, one weekend later another set of national entertainers arrive — including Foghat and the Randall Zwarté Band -- for three days of music and fun during the July 4th celebration.
The weekend celebration is the creation of Louis Herrick, who owns a nice piece of property on the west side of town, complete with sand and a bit of water.
Herrick has worked toward his “Unreel Festival” for three years or more. Last fall, he hosted the first, a two-day music festival during Labor Day weekend, and then worked through the winter to make it bigger and better.
Having events and something to do is good for a town like North Platte, Herrick told the Bulletin after his first 2011 festival during the Memorial weekend in May, a festival that featured highly recognizable names in country music, such as Susie McEntire, sister of country star Reba McEntire, Western Underground and the Bellamy Brothers.
A flashback to better times is in store for festival goers the first weekend of July, with big names from the 70s and 90s leading a package of great entertainers.
Foghat began their career in 1971 with affection for American blues and ‘50s rock ‘n’ roll, according to the band’s history on their website. By the middle of the decade, they had evolved into a major touring and recording act, playing boogie-rock to arena-size audiences. They are noted for their mega hits Slow Ride, Drivin’ Wheel and Stone Blue.
After writing the anthem to the largest bike rally in the world—the song “Sturgis”—Zwarte played many of the largest rallies/festivals in the nation including Sturgis, Daytona Beach, Laconia, and Arizona Bike Week. Their music has been described as Tom Petty with an edge.
This band of rockers have Midwest roots. Randall Zwarte’ is originally from Madison, S.D. Bass player Ronnie Paul is from Hastings and drummer Bruce Knapp is from McCook.
Zwarte is the headliner on the final night (Sunday) of the big three-day festival, performing after the fireworks display is over.
The festival opens at 4 p.m. Friday with two groups — Haywire, a band from Columbus, Ga. that plays rock, classic rock and southern rock, followed by one of Nebraska’s best-known dance bands, The Rumbles.
Three bands perform on Saturday – local rockers Dirty Finger, followed by Kahuna Beach Party and Foghat.
Kahuna Beach Party is a musical celebration of the Beach Boys, a lighthearted tribute to surf, cars, fun and optimism of the early 1960s, which is an appropriate music for the sandy Lincoln Highway campground.
On Sunday, North Platte’s classic rock band Innocent Mischief performs, followed by the JJ Howlin band, a fireworks display and then Zwarte.
Nebraskaland Days concert co-chairman David Fudge said he didn’t think Brad Paisley was even within reach when discussions with Paisley’s agency began more than a year ago.
Paisley's agent called from Nashville to ask if Nebraskaland Days would be interested in considering a date with Brad.
“We always shoot for the biggest acts we can get,” Fudge said, “but rarely does an opportunity to land this big of an act present itself. We thought if there was any chance at all we owed it to ourselves to look into it.”
As it turned out, the Paisley show with country male singer of the year Blake Shelton was the first Nebraskaland Days concert sell-out since 1998, Fudge said.
Paisley has cut nine albums, all of which are certified gold — million dollar sellers. He’s had 10 straight number one singles. In November, when Paisely was destined to appear at Nebraskaland Days, he was voted the country music entertainer of the year.
The North Platte show required lots of preparations, both during and after the negotiations, Fudge said.
“When I saw the signed contract, it was little hard to believe that this was actually going to happen. It was quite a relief that it did. The stars aligned,” he said.
Downtown at the Neville
Over at the Neville Center, acting manager Scott Carlson is putting on more shows and concerts.
“We’re just trying to utilize our venue to its fullest extent and provide quality entertainment year around,” Carlson said.
The Neville hosted illusionist Dan Sperry a couple months ago for a crowd of about 600 people. The Neville holds 850. It was a “good house” Carlson said.
“The feedback was great,” he said. “We’re planning on having him again in a year or so.”
And on Saturday, July 9, Carlson has booked the “Bob Hope Road Show,” at the Neville, aiming for the over 60 audience, a prime playhouse demographic. In the show, impersonator Lynn Roberts becomes legendary comedians Jack Benny, W.C. Fields, Red Skelton, Jimmy Durante and Bob Hope.
As was the case with Paisley, a booking agent who considered North Platte a good place contacted Carlson and worked out a deal for the “Hope Show.” Lynn Roberts was born in Omaha and has always had a special attachment to Nebraska, Carlson said, in part because Bob Hope was involved in USO shows for troops and well aware of the North Platte Canteen. Roberts has added a tribute to the Canteen to his show.
Tickets are not cheap for such big name shows.
A general admission seat at Paisley’s concert is $59. Tickets to the Unreel Festival are $21-$31 per day. Tickets to the Bob Hope roadshow are $20 for front and center and $12 for the upper balcony.
At Sculley’s Shooters, owner Joe Sculley is bringing in big names. Cody Canada and his new band the “Departed” played June 18, and a month earlier, Saving Abel blew away a packed house.
Saving Abel hails is from Mississippi and is known for hits such as “Addicted” and “The Sex is Good.” They played to more than 750 paid customers May 16.
A concertgoer told the Bulletin that while Saving Abel was excellent, opening act Red Line Chemistry overcame technical issues and was even better, in their opinion.
Popular Nebraska cover band Paisty Jenny took the stage prior to Red Line Chemistry and also received high marks from the concertgoer.
“I’ve been here since 2007, and you always hear people complain that they have to go to Kearney, Omaha or Lincoln for good concerts,” Sculley said. “I want to bring good country and rock to this part of the state. If you travel, you might have to spend $200 on a hotel, gas, meals and a ticket.”
Sculley has plans for more, including regional favorite Jim Rice to a reunion show on July 9 by North Platte’s alternative rock group “eMmits doWn.”
On July 14, the Dirt Drifters of Nashville come to town with a mix of country, a pinch of rock and roll and a sprinkle of the blues. On July 15, Jarrod Birmingham will be at Shooters. Birmingham’s 2006 CD, “No Apologies,” spawned a #1 single and earned the country music outlaw a top 10 spot in the Best Of Texas top 30 songs of the year.
Popular independent country musician Jason Boland will appear at Shooter’s on Sept. 15. Boland, like Cody Canada, is a so-called ‘red dirt’ musician, because of their roots in Oklahoma and Texas.
Such expanding venues and new stars add to traditional area festivals, such as the annual country bluegrass festival and the blues festival in Arnold.
Six great bands are lined up for the annual South Loup Blues Festival, July 8-9 in Arnold. Each year, the festival brings top blues performers to the Arnold baseball field on the banks of the South Loup.
The show starts Friday with a free concert by Mike Adams and the band Off the Grid of Kearney.
On Saturday, the Melvin Running Bear Band of Custer County starts things before noon, followed by the Matt Cox Band of Omaha.
Then it’s the Kris Lager Band of Omaha, Earl and Them of Arkansas and headliner Super Chikan and the Fighting Cocks of Clarksdale, Miss.
And smaller shows can be found all over town, including bars such as the Touchdown Club, Kelsey’s, the Platte and Chubby’s.
One of the newest venues in the live music scene is held each Thursday on the lawn behind the Ft. Cody Trading Post. Accomplished artists will there all summer, en route to weekend gigs across the country. The show typically opens at 6 p.m. and lasts until 9 p.m.
Last week the band Blue Swing played, preceded by Levi Most, James Burke and Jesse Barnes and country music singer-songwriter Andie Foster of Sutherland.
On June 30, Phil Lee of Nashville sang his original songs of Americana and rockabilly.
On July 14, James Burke and Levi Most of North Platte will open for Californian Laurie Morvan – and electric blues singer and guitar player. Morvan is a “stunning California axe slinger...exhilarating electric blues guitar style”, according to Modern Guitars.
Good music, jokes and a bit of poetry can be heard at the popular Open Mic Nite twice monthly at A to Z Books downtown, which celebrates its sixth anniversary in September. It is one of North Platte’s longest-running venues. Roadies at the Platte River Mall also holds a once-a-month open mic/gig.
The Golden Classics perform each Wednesday for a dance at the Senior Center, another long-running event that draws from 50-80 people a night. Singer/guitarist Ray Mullen has become a regular Sunday night entertainer at the VFW post.
This report was first published in the June 22 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.