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Oberst and Bright Eyes rock on despite rain
BY KRISTIN ZAGURSKI AND JOSEFINA LOZA
Bright Eyes at Memorial Park
Conor Oberst performs at the free concert in Memorial Park on Saturday.
The rain was heavy and the crowd wasn't gigantic, but homegrown indie rocker Conor Oberst and his Bright Eyes bandmates rocked out Saturday night before thousands of soaked fans at Memorial Park.
Oberst's group took the stage about 8:10 p.m. It started pouring about five minutes later, continuing for about 45 minutes.
"If you don't care about the rain, then we don't either," Oberst told the crowd. "We're going to play as long as you want us to play."
The crowd's cheers amused Oberst, who looked up from under the hoodie that was tightly fastened around his head.
Before the concert began at 6 p.m., Mayor Mike Fahey introduced Bright Eyes and the other two acts for the free concert, Omaha band Neva Dinova and Welsh singer Gruff Rhys.
"We wanted to do something to say 'thank you' to Omaha's youth," Fahey said. He welcomed "locally grown, nationally known" Oberst.
Bright Eyes gave a powerful performance, despite the downpour. The band played until about 9:45 p.m.
Toward the end of the show, Oberst made political comments, even though he said the city had encouraged him not to.
"That's not how my mother raised me," Oberst said.
He said President Bush was an "idiot," and he condemned the Nebraska Legislature for approving a plan to split the Omaha Public Schools into three districts, one mostly white and two mostly minority.
"We have to get together as a city," Oberst said. "I will move out of this city if that's what it's going to be like."
A spokesman for the mayor estimated the crowd at more than 15,000 people at 8:30 p.m. Less than two hours earlier, Fahey said there were 8,000 to 10,000 at the park.
Jennie Weberg, 28, of Omaha, arrived at the park about 3:30 p.m. She attends the Fourth of July concerts in Memorial Park each year. She said Saturday's crowd was fairly small compared to concerts past.
"I've never seen this so empty before," she said early in the evening. "I was surprised."
Most of those in attendance were between 18 and 25.
Among the older concertgoers were Nancy and Michael McKibbin of Peru, Neb.
Nancy McKibbin, 53, said nothing is better than a free concert. "Doesn't matter if they (the acts) are young or old, just as long as the music is good," she said.
Michael McKibbin, 57, said the concert's "more contemporary" music was good. "Keeps things fresh," he said.
Other events in Omaha likely kept some attendees away from the Bright Eyes concert, which preshow estimates had said could draw more than 20,000.
Fahey said there probably were 20,000 people at Rosenblatt Stadium for the College World Series and 6,000 to 7,000 at the Playing With Fire blues concert series on the riverfront.
Traffic around Memorial Park seemed to flow well. Neighborhood streets to the north were full of parked cars but were otherwise unaffected.
Several people drank beer during Oberst's performance, even though alcohol is prohibited inside Memorial Park. At least one person was cited for possession of marijuana. Police said no serious problems occurred during the concert.
New this year was a rule that prohibited people from staking out spots in the park days in advance of the concert. People were allowed in starting at 5 a.m. Some people came in at that time to claim spots and then left.
Turns out the where didn't matter much - Oberst's vocals were audible from just about anywhere in the park.
The music was a blend of folk and rock. Sometimes, the delicate mix of accordion, fiddle, keyboards and Oberst's guitar played second to the noise in the crowd.
The rain drove many people away, but most stayed - huddling under blankets, trees and umbrellas. Some welcomed the rain, singing and dancing. Many dove down a hill on the east side of the concert area, sliding through the mud.
Oberst was one with his young fans at Memorial Park. Among the songs he performed for them were "The First Day of My Life" and "Take It Easy (Love Nothing)."
"Conor gave a great performance," said Hanna Bendler, 19, of Omaha. "The rain, the mood and Conor - it was all so fitting."
World-Herald staff writers Conning Chu and Josh Swartzlander contributed to this report.
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