Lincoln Exposed brings business for downtown community


The last of the daylight shined through the window of the Zoo Bar and quickly transitioned the day into what would soon be a rather busy evening and night.  Echoing over the sound system, the Kinks sang about their new acquaintance Lola and the taste of Coca Cola.

Desiree Shankland, bartender for the Zoo Bar, hustled behind the bar slicing buckets of citrus to prepare for the action coming in the next couple hours. 

“We plan to get pretty busy. We have shows every hour starting at five all the way through 1 a.m,” she said.

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Zoo Bar photo by Carlee Koehler

The recent Lincoln Exposed music festival featuring local musicians and vendors brought business to the downtown area.

Five downtown Lincoln venues hosted more than 100 bands and solo acts, and Nebraska locals came into town to celebrate locally Feb. 12-15. 

Festival-goers raced to see their favorite acts and keep up with the music. Venues swelled to the point of standing-room only and bars backed up. Glasses of frothy beer and citrus studded cocktails were passed around while other hands remained empty to dance unrestricted only feet away from their favorite local musicians. When an act was finished with their set, the crowd again dispersed and reconvened between Duffy’s Tavern, Bodega’s Alley, Zoo Bar, 1867 Bar, and Bourbon Theatre. The corner of 14th and O streets in downtown Lincoln was the hub for the festival.

Kelsey Sanders, owner and bartender for the 1867 Bar, was making coffee for herself at 4 p.m. to kick off the busy night. She said she looks forward to the festival season every year. 

“It brings in a lot of people. You know, I love it,” said Sanders. “Festival season is great. Everybody is happy. They’re excited to see bands. And that’s what we do here. We’re all local beer. We’re all local music. So it’s great seeing the community support that.” 

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The Bourbon Theatre / photo by Carlee Koehler

Aaron Galvan, general manager at the Bourbon Theatre, has seen eight Lincoln Exposed festivals. He said participating as a bigger venue like the Bourbon is encouraging for the local music scene. 

“We have a lot of national acts that are coming through and so people only come downtown to see those acts a lot of the time. But when they can see so many bands all at once and don’t have to wait for national touring acts, it’s an awesome thing,” Galvan said.

“The crazy thing about it is that we’ll be really, really crazy and then we’ll completely empty out. During the changeovers, we’ll get down to like 10-15 people in here. And then right before the bands that are known to be the best bands of the night, 170 people walk in the door at the same time,” said James Hasselbalch, manager at Duffy’s Tavern.

Hasselbalch had a full bar of guests starting their evening within the first 10 minutes of unlocking his doors at 4 p.m. He paused mid-sentence to pour a couple pints of Guinness and  spoke while shaking a cocktail for the next guest. Managing the musicians, however, was not something he felt concerned about. 

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Duffy’s Tavern / photo by Carlee Koehler

“All the bands kind of know how to do their job. You know, they don’t need a ton of oversight. People just kind of get it together,” Hasselbalch said.

The crowd and energy in the venues change day to day as venues prepare for their new nightly line-up of acts. 

“Every night is a little different. It’s some kind of balancing act- there’s so many good shows at the same time,” Shankland said.

The festival brings more than just musicians to the downtown block. Out-of-town travelers stay in the city, spend their days shopping locally, and give their business to the wider community. 

“They’re going out to eat beforehand. They’re coming to the bars, they’re drinking, maybe going to get some dinner in between,” Sanders said. “A lot of people that attend this don’t get to come downtown that often. So it gives them a reason to come out and have fun.”

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1867 Bar / photo by Carlee Koehler

Venues coordinate schedules and meet to talk over price points for drinks and work together to advertise the event which, according to the owners, heightens the excitement.

“The core of what Lincoln Exposed is, is what makes it such a great community event because it can be small or big, and it’s still super awesome,” Galvan said. 

Venue owners said they hope the event grows. Several talked about Lincoln Calling, a second local music festival that happens in the fall. Visual artists come out for that as well and the full day events even block off streets. The “Exposed” festival happens in the colder winter months, but the event is still successful in bringing in musicians and allowing everyone to have a good time. 

“People get amped for it because they are able to play with bands they don’t get to play with normally. If you’re a hard rock band, you’re not going to be playing, you know, with a folk band or a singer songwriter, but you get to do this,” Galvan said. “As long as bands keep popping up, it has the potential to grow. And as long as places are welcoming to host bands and there are more venues participating.”