Best Places to Live

Omaha, NE

Population: 483,455
Photo: Adam Streur

It makes perfect sense that Omaha, NE, the hometown of blues shouter "Mr. Blues" Wynonie Harris would still be rockin' today. As a top influence for Elvis Presley, many credit Harris for setting in motion the evolution of rock 'n' roll as we know it.

Omaha's rich musical tradition essentially began in the 1920s when the city became a center for jazz and blues. Dreamland Ballroom, built in 1923, was at the heart of the 24th Avenue North corridor scene for 40 years, showcasing performances by artists such as the Nat King Cole Trio, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong.

The scene produced some homegrown jazz legends, too, like Preston Love, Sr., whose contributions to music are showcased on the historic avenue today at Love's Jazz and Arts Center. The 1980s saw another Omaha native, Terry Lewis, reach stardom after joining his The Time bandmate Jimmy Jam to become über-successful co-producers for artists including Janet Jackson, George Michael, Rod Stewart and Gwen Stefani.

The big buzz these days seems to revolve around independent record label Saddle Creek Records, founded in 1993 by Justin Oberst and Robb Nansel. In 2007, Nansel and Jason Kulbel opened the performance venue Slowdown in 2007, which has since become the hottest spot for shows by hundreds of local and nationally touring artists like Iron and Wine, The Head and the Heart, City and Colour and The Smashing Pumpkins.

Fun summer festivals include the Red Sky FestivalRiverfront Jazz and Blues FestivalHullabaloo Music and Camping Festival and the MAHA Music Festival.

Artists with Omaha, NE ties: Bright Eyes, Conor Oberst, 311, Terry Lewis, Wynonie Harris

Noted venues: Slowdown, The Waiting Room, Orpheum TheaterOmaha Civic Auditorium, Sokol Auditorium and Sokol Underground

Cool record stores: Antiquarium Records, Homer's Music & Gifts

Fun fact: After a deal fell through for Saddle Creek Records to develop the Slowdown venue/office space on Saddle Creek Road, the label worked with the City of Omaha to find alternate land. The area on which they ultimately settled is just north of the city's Old Market area, less than two miles from the former location of the old Dreamland Ballroom, almost full circle to where Omaha's music scene took off almost a century ago.

Click here to learn about other fun things to do in Omaha, NE.