Rockers for Equality in Nebraska posted by Kevin Coffey

Posted August 2, 2010

Indie rockers cheered in Benson

Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes

By Kevin Coffey

It was a hot and sweaty day in Benson, but the indie fans lucky enough to have a ticket cheered on their favorite bands.

Thousands were squeezed into a fenced-off street in the Benson business district (as well as inside the Waiting Room Lounge) Saturday to hear Conor Oberst and his pals play.

The sold-out concert involved the biggest names in Omaha music and some of the biggest names in indie rock: Bright Eyes, Cursive, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings and a reunited Desaparecidos and Lullaby for the Working Class.

The theme of the day — and the reason for the show — was to fight Fremont’s recently passed immigration ordinance, which would fine employers and landlords who hire or rent to illegal immigrants.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which received all the proceeds from the show, and other organizations had information booths. Down the street, about a dozen protesters waved flags and signs in opposition to the show.

A bearded Oberst, wearing a black shirt and black Wayfarers, led his two bands from the stage. His popular indie-folk group Bright Eyes drew a few thousand to the outdoor area before Oberst’s reunited Desaparecidos rocked the stage.

“It means so much that you came here tonight,” Oberst said during Bright Eyes’ set. “It means so much that these bands donated their time to come here to stand together and stand up to this law and stand up to this way of thinking.”

Oberst and Bright Eyes debuted a new tune, “Coyote Song,” which will be sold to benefit the Sound Strike, an organization of artists boycotting Arizona because of that state’s controversial immigration law.

The lyrics are about lovers separated by the border: “Loving you is easy/I can do it in my sleep/I dream of you so often/it’s like you never leave/But you’re down below the border/it’s a nightmare in between/I’m sending the coyote/to bring you back to me.”

Oberst also brought a friend onstage. Erica Munoz, a friend of Oberst’s family, told the story of her mother, who lived in the United States for 23 years but returned to Mexico and now is not allowed back into the U.S.

Welch and Rawlings performed Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” and, along with every other band performing, spoke out against Fremont’s law.

But many in the audience were there for the music, cheering on their favorite groups, dancing and singing in the street.

Thousands crowded the stage to see rock band Cursive, with fans shouting the lyrics back at lead singer Tim Kasher.

The most anticipated performance and the biggest draw of the day was Desaparecidos, Oberst’s noisy, melodic indie punk band that reunited for the show after an eight-year hiatus. The reunion has been talked about by indie music bastions such as Paste and, and during Desaparecidos’ set the backstage area was full of other musicians cheering them on.

Desaparecidos’ faithful moshed and sang every word while they held fists in the air.

“I’d like to thank my bandmates right here,” Oberst said. “Because I called them up with this idea and they were all on board with one phone call.”

Fans of the band talked about how the band’s set was so good that it felt like a time warp. Songs were played perfectly, and the band’s energy seemed as if its members hadn’t taken any time off at all.

“I can say 100 percent without a doubt, this is the biggest crowd in the history of our band. We just took eight years off,” Oberst said to laughs. “People are doing it.”

After the outdoor show, fans with “deluxe” tickets filed into the Waiting Room for a special performance by Lullaby for the Working Class as well as a special set being referred to as the “hootenanny.” There were rumors of special guests at the hootenanny, but they were unfounded.

But the artists were grateful for the support being lent by the large crowd, Oberst especially.

“Thank you very much,” he said. “Peace and love.”

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