From Omaha to the world2/24/2016
Matt Whipkey is a product of the Omaha sound. Growing up in the city, Whipkey cut his teeth on music from other Omaha guys like Conor Oberst. Then, when he started playing music, the Saddle Creek musicians like Oberst and Simon Joiner were musicians he drew upon as influences.
“I was always drawn to their style of storytelling,” Whipkey said in a phone interview. “When I was young, I saw them all play so many times. In high school, we’d go see these guys in little clubs with like, 20 other people. You knew it was good, but I don’t think anybody thought that in eight years they were going to be on the cover of Rolling Stone. It was cool to see that come to fruition.
“I think those guys help set a bar of quality. You’d see them play, and they were all so good that it made you want to be better.”
Starting in 2000, Whipkey’s sound underwent a number of iterations, as he added and culled band members and cranked up the energy in his stage shows before letting things simmer back down again. The result of that journey was seen most clearly in 2013 when he released “Penny Park: Omaha NE: Summer 1989,” an ambitious, 21-track double album that would go on to net Whipkey the Omaha Arts and Entertainment Awards for Artist and Album of the Year.
“The sound has evolved, but the mission of why I’m doing it all has stayed pretty true,” he said. “I know that on ‘Penny Park: Omaha NE: Summer 1989,’ the sound was all over the map. We tried to hone in on the sound of the late 8’80’s. But I’ve also done four-track solo records that are really down and dirty. But I think whatever sound I want to dress the song up in, I want to remain true to the fact that I believe in the song in the first place.”
Perhaps more than anything else, it may have been that belief in songwriting that helped him connect with a genuine music legend, Dwight Yoakam.
“I met Dwight in Omaha,” Whipkey recalled. “He was opening for Eric Church at the time. Somebody introduced me to him as this award-winning artist from town. So we stated talking about music. We had a really great conversation about music. He’s a really smart guy who knows his music history.
“I kind of chalked that up to just an interesting meeting, which happens sometimes when you’re both in the same kind of world. Then months later, my publicist saw this show at the Surf Ballroom that Dwight was playing, and said, ‘That would be great for you to open.’ And I was like, ‘Hey, I kind of know Dwight Yoakam.’ ”
His publicist reached out, and Yoakam was happy to have him on board. The collaboration seems to have worked out to everyone’s satisfaction, because that one show has turned into 13 dates across the country and counting. The two men come from different generations and play music that at first blush seems to have little in common. But it is the shared passion for the construction of a song and the belief that good music comes from that sense of belief and not a genre label that unites the two of them as brothers in arms.
“Dwight Yoakam is rock and roll,” Whipkey said. “We have had the pleasure of opening for many great musicians over the years, but none reaching quite the artistic peak that Dwight has. He’s recording music as relevant and urgent today as the records he first released.” CV