Review of Playing With Fire 5/19/2007
by Chris Thor

And a child shall lead them....or maybe a bunch of them. The first show in the Playing With Fire concert series started out on a high note with the Omaha Blues Society’s Blues Ed bands, Blues Explosion and The Side Effects. If these young musicians are the future of the blues, I can't wait. If the opportunity arises, this author recommends making an effort to see these young bands live. Mixing blues standards with killer renditions of more mainstream tunes, these bands are the real thing and are worth any cover.

The side effects were followed by local favorites, Sarah Benck & the robbers. Sarah's soulful vocals cut through the enthusiastic crowd and got more than a few butts up and movin. Sarah Benck and the robbers are another must see on the Omaha scene. If she doesn't make you at least WANT to move....there just might be something wrong with you.

After a short break, the crowd of thousands and a few odd fish in the Missouri River were graced by the sounds of Pierre Lacocque on the blues harp. Played through a Leslie speaker, Lacocque’s harmonica sounded like a mighty Hammond B-3. Just when you thought you had heard the best the Heat had to offer, Inetta Visor took the stage. Inetta took the crowd for a ride with a rendition of Footprints on the Ceiling which no one wanted to end. Yet another must see in my book. Mississippi Heat is a world class blues band to be enjoyed by all.

Speaking of world class blues bands, Canada’s Maple Award winning Downchild Blues Band closed out the night with a set of strong straightforward blues that swept across Lewis & Clark Landing like with wind out of the Great White North.

The Playing With Fire Concert Series remains one of Omaha’s best sources of live entertainment, and best of all, it’s free. Thanks to an army of volunteers it is one of the smoothest run best organized festivals I have personally attended.

Get down there June 16 and see Blues Ed Kids Bands, The Blues Explosion and The Blues Wanderers open up for The Side Effects, Curtis Salgado and James Hunter. For more information on the show see the Playing With Fire website at

Review of Don Sohl Benefit Concert4/28/2007
by Chris Thor

April 28, 2007 was a night to remember at the Divots Conference Center in Norfolk, Nebraska. A benefit for the godfather of Northeast Nebraska Rock and Roll, Don Sohl, drew a crowd exceeding 2000 for a night of great music and a benefit auction.

The evening was kicked off by a rousing set from Chicago based folk-rockers Heywood Yards. Nebraska native, singer/guitarist Mike Semrad Jr explained their trip from Chicago. “If not for Don Sohl, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be on stage tonight.”

This was a running theme for the night as the show continued with some old school rock from The Lightning Band. Featuring members of The Smoke Ring, The Drifters, Don Sohl’s Roadrunners and other influential early Nebraska bands, the Lightning Band did not disappoint. Their set was highlighted by Bobby Sohl’s stellar performance on percussion.

“I’m not done yet!” punctuated a short, heart felt speech from the night’s guest of honor, rock legend, Don Sohl. Sohl was greeted with thunderous applause as he addressed thousands of his adoring fans.

Next up was an appearance by The All Star Band. The All Stars consisted of a core of area musicians along with a rotating cavalcade of early greats. Allison Brothers, Roadrunners, Broughams and next generation counterparts from the Velaires, Red Dogs, Smoke Ring and Sound of Fate gave their tribute to the godfather with a set of R&B classics as well as some Johnny Cash and Terry Witkowski’s must hear version of Sweet Caroline.

A keyboard and a microphone is all Norfolk area native, Max Carl needed to put the electrified crowd in the palm of his hand. The current lead singer for Grand Funk Railroad, former frontman for 38 Special, brought the crowd to its feet with a 6 song solo set featuring his 38 Special hit “Second Chance”. He later brought them to their knees when he joined The Smoke Ring on stage.

The Ring was on fire as their old friend and bandmate Max Carl joined them for a set of great R&B. Carl sat in on guitar and amazing soulful vocals and finished the set by joining Smoke Ring Drummer, Roger Volk’s James Brown inspired front show. This was definitely a once in a lifetime experience. Max and Roger brought the already groovin crowd to their knees, trading screams and vocals on an extended, heavily improvised rendition of Mustang Sally that would have made The Wicked Wilson Pickett proud.

The evening was brought to a close in a rocking way by the Average Joe Band. With an all-star lineup, the Average Joe Band rocked us through the late show and into the early show.

This was most definitely a night not soon to be forgotten by the 2000-plus friends, family and fans of Don Sohl in attendance.