Category Archives: Prairie Cats

The swinging band led by “Big Daddy K” Jeff Koterba.

Berned out

The Presidential Election has been over for about six months. So what on earth are Scott Walker and Bernie Sanders doing in Omaha? Why, they’re both campaigning for Jean Stothert and Heath Mello as they both run for Mayor. It’s an election that has apparently garnered national attention for no better reason than the Democrats are hoping for a win somewhere. Anywhere. Even in Omaha.


First up was Bernie Sanders, who came to the Baxter Arena with Keith Ellison (D-MN) on Thursday to hold a pep-rally for Democrats hoping to get one election win they can call a “bell weather” ahead of the 2018 midterms. The usual merch and button vendors were on hand to work the line before the doors opened, but there’s been a noticeable change in tone since the election. Nearly half the buttons were anti-Trump, and two actually just said, “F–k Trump” (without the dashes). Even worse, these same buttons being worn by actual Democrat volunteers signing people up to vote by mail. So much for “Love Trumps Hate” and “When they go low, we go high.” A few anti-socialist protesters (and a Ben Shapiro fan) showed up across the street, and a pro-lifer or two and along the sidewalk, but no major sparks flew.

The show itself was allegedly sold out, and while it had a fairly good crowd, there was clearly room for more. The media were on hand to interview people outside and capture events inside, and my buddy Tom Becka was there as well, of course. The event itself turned out to be remarkably disappointing, however. It started at 5:30 and was supposed to be over by eight, but at 7:45 — after three different musical performances, a handful of local politicians and special interest groups — not one of the three keynote speakers had taken the stage.

I might have hung around to see the show play out, but my friend Jeff Koterba and the Prairie Cats were doing a free show at the O-Zone until 9:30, so I decided to split and have a couple dances with a few Jitterbugs rather than stick around. (Tom Becka did the same — the splitting part, not the dancing part.)

Prairie Cats at the O-Zone. Much better!

Prairie Cats and Kool & The Gang


Summer’s almost here, so last week when the kids decided to climb into Aaron’s water table to use it as a swimming pool, I broke down and hauled up their pink wading pool for some quality splash time on the deck. With temperatures in the mid-to-upper-80s, even I found myself climbing in with them to get cooled off a bit. The fountains are also on again down at Stinson Park, which naturally makes for a nice way to go down and cool off with the kids during a lunch break at work (between swing times). Just remember to bring a towel!


On Friday night, Vivian and I had a special evening at Jitterbugs Night Out, which featured the return of the Prairie Cats, who last performed at the Ozone four-and-a-half years ago. The band is apparently back together and will be performing regularly again, which is great new for swing dancers all across the metro area. We had a large number of attendees, including Jessica, who got to have a birthday jam and a tattoo courtesy of Dan Wondra. Lisa was also on hand with her pink cowboy hat, which Jeff Koterba got to wear once again.

The most conspicuous of the guests, however, was KPTM’s Tom Becka, who’s a friend of Jeff and wanted to hear him perform again. It’s the first time I’d bumped into him since the Iowa Primary ended, so I told him I’d try getting him a new Facebook profile picture. (I did get one for myself with both Tom and Big Daddy K.)


On Saturday, we dropped by Jessica’s parents’ house for a barbecue birthday lunch with her and a bunch of our friends. It was going to be held at Elmwood Park, but it got moved in anticipation of a storm that never materialized. Jessica showed us her parents’ gigantic garden as her dad grilled burgers and hot dogs, and then she even shared with us a bottle of 16-year Aberdour that Mark was nice enough to give her. Jessica’s roommate Kate was celebrating her birthday as well, and a bunch of our mutual children got to have fun playing with one another as the grown-ups snapped goofy selfies of one another.


On Sunday evening, we took the kids down to Rivers’ Edge Park for the fourth annual opening concert at Loessfest. We got a couple beach balls to keep the kids occupied (replacing the one Hannah lost three years ago) as the brutally hot sun beat down on us, and we also stayed fed and hydrated under an umbrella as the crowd slowly gathered for the show. A few friends of ours joined us on the blanket, and I bumped into a few more around the park. I took Hannah and Aaron up to the bridge before Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh and his special friend kicked things off. This year’s opening act was the Atlanta Rhythm Section, a southern rock band that seemed to be 90% guitar riffs, which didn’t impress me all that much.

The main event was Kool & the Gang, and they managed to put on a remarkable show with their catalog of R&B, soul, funk and disco hits (finished off, of course, with Celebration). Front men Shawn McQuiller and Lavell Evans engaged the crowd from the very beginning, but the whole group had a terrific amount of energy. Dennis Thomas actually did a cartwheel on stage before picking up his trombone. I was surprised that the Bell Brothers stayed toward the back and out of the spotlight until near the end, when Kool himself got to have a guitar solo.

I was particularly impressed with our own kids, however, who stayed for the whole concert playing ball with their new friends even after I asked if they wanted to go home early. It was a great night, and I’m looking forward to doing it again in a month when we see Kenny Loggins at Memorial Park.


We finished off the fun, busy weekend at my parents’ house on Memorial Day, where I mowed the lawn and then dad grilled up burgers and hot dogs for the family. Both my brothers were in attendance, as were all four grandparents. We all got to eat together and spend some time outside with the kids before a chain of light showers rolled through the metro area.

Then on Tuesday, Aaron got his first haircut, He’s looking more like a little man every day.

Prairie Cat farewell

January seems to be a long, boring month, especially coming off the high of the holiday season. The mild, spring-like weather we’ve enjoyed keeps threatening to come to an end, but Vivian and I have been continuing to love every minute of it.

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On Friday night, Nate and Lexi (estranged friends from Twin Valley Church) invited Vivian and me over to their place for an impromptu game night. We brought cookies and some cheese balls and spent a long evening figuring out and eventually playing Citadel. It’s a card game featuring several medieval-type characters, and the goal is to gain points by building enough high-value properties on the table before anyone else. It turned out to be a fun little game, especially since I managed to win, though the chances of victory seem to depend highly on what high-value cards a player can manage to extract from the deck (and put into play).

On Sunday, we had another potluck Sunday at church (following a couple meetings) which was always fun — and filling. Vivian made her famous cheesy chicken and chips (made famous from Jenny’s cookbook, naturally), and it was gone almost right away.

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That following Monday, Vivian went to a “Praise Worship Friends Fun” night at Tamra’s with Jonathan Paper, Mark Scheen, Jenny, Ben Anderson, and Katie (with Hannah in tow). That left me free to drop by the Ozone Lounge to bid the Prairie Cats a fond farewell with a handful of Jitterbug friends. The P. Cats has been one of my favorite swing bands ever since I first heard them play at the Lauritzen Gardens in 2007 — right up there with the Brian Setzer Orchestra, Indigo Swing, and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. They’ve been playing for almost 14 years at such venues as the Cowtown Jamborama and the Windows on the World in the World Trade Center. (Their lead singer is Jeff “Big Daddy K” Koterba, who’s also known for his editorial cartoons in the Omaha World-Herald.)

Several “old-timers” dropped by to pay tribute, including “Crazy” Connie, Billy Sobczyk, the “other” Matt Johnson, Sara Pirtle, and a bunch of regulars as well. I had a dance with just about every follow I could find and wore myself out before the end of the night both dancing and snapping pictures. It’s nights like these that remind me just how much fun swing dancing can be, if you just get he right music to accompany you onto the dance floor.

P1100069Today, Vivian and Hannah dropped by the office to surprise me for a lunch date! We went to Cheddar’s, a “casual café” around the corner that’s always packed and specialized in… just about everything. I had chicken fried steak, and Vivian got a cheese steak, and we leafed through the new wedding photo album we’d put together on Snapfish over the holidays.

Needless to say, it was a fun outing. We’d been talking about doing a lunch date sometime before her maternity leave ends, and I’m glad we got the chance to do it today — after an extended leave of absence, winter decided to make an unexpected return.

Pancakes, Comedy, and the Whiskey Roadhouse

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There’s nothing better after a hard night of dancing than pancakes, and why go to Village Inn when you can have a pancake party right at your own house? Vivian proved to be the selfless hero of the night, using a whole box of Aunt Jemima to feed our hungry dancing crew. She also fried up some bacon that we washed down with orange juice and lemon lime soda that a few Jitterbugs were kind enough to bring. The best part of having a house is being able to have all your friends over for a midnight pancake party.

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On Saturday, Vivian and I attended a comedy night fundraiser with GAMe at 1314 Jones Street. About five or six stand-up comedians performed for donations to help the Haitian relief effort and the Market Church, which meets in the same building on Sunday mornings. I love stand-up comedy, and it was fun to see a couple good acts while drinking coffee with friends. Now I just need me some Sheboygan Sausage!

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On Sunday, I was able to attend two dances with my Jitterbug friends. The first was part of a fundraiser for Burke schools, where Dan Wondra was called to help out. He gave a few lessons in East Coast Swing and Jitterbug for the parents of high school and middle school band members (as well as a few of their kids), and we enjoyed dancing while the bands played a number of songs, ranging from Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy to Thriller.

That night, the Prairie Cats and Grand Marquis were performing live at the Horseshoe Casino, and admission was free. Who could turn that deal down? Apparently not most of our Jitterbug friends, as they all showed up to dance on a jam-packed floor for an hour or two. There’s nothing quite as fun as dancing to live music in front of a room full of curious spectators.

Swinging in Lincoln and our first Taco Party

Three cheers for another busy weekend! Vivian and I got to spend some time in Lincoln on Saturday hanging out with Nathan and his girlfriend, Ranae. We played Pictionary together for an hour or two and got to indulge in one of the things I miss about Lincoln: Big Sal’s Pizza: a warm, gooey indulgence straight from 27th and Vine.

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We spent the rest of the evening with our fellow Omaha swing dancers down at the Pla-Mor Ballroom on West O Street. It was a big night, with two bands playing back-to-back sets in a night of non-stop live music. The Prairie Cats and the Grand Marquis from Kansas City duked it out in a “battle of the bands” in a very lively night of dancing. Jillian brought some delicious cookies with her that gave some of us a much-needed sugar boost, while the presence of actual alcohol gave other swingers a chance to down a couple glasses of Rum and Coke to loosen things up on the floor.

I would have loved to stay late for a pick-me-up at Perkins or hijinks with Eric and company at an unsuspecting HyVee, but I was dangerously close to falling asleep by the time Vivian and I finally got home.

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On Sunday, Vivian and I got to have our first official get-together at our new home. We invited a bunch of our mutual friends to come over and enjoy an afternoon taco lunch together. After eating, we played a rousing game of Apples to Apples and then settled in to watch a movie. Vivian had rented us a couple choices from the HyVee RedBox, and we opted to see Journey to the Center of the Earth. Unfortunately, this was not the version with Brendan Fraser that we expected. Instead, it was a low-budget and extremely cheesy direct-to-video rip-off arguably created with the sole intention of having people rent it by mistake. It’s easy to see how anyone could fall for such a sneaky trick, but we wound up playing some Mystery Science Theater 3000 and had a good laugh at the terrible acting and incredibly goofy plot of the film. I don’t recommend seeing it unless you have some very creative friends.

The final score: Funny friends: 1, Bad movie: 0.

’twas the week before Christmas

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The Christmas season is here in full swing this week, and Vivian and I have had some extra time to catch up with friends and family. On Wednesday, I went out to Old Chicago with Mike and Bekah, friends of mine since I first moved to Lincoln, and we got to eat pizza and watch their cute kids Drew and Alexa clowning around while we waited for our food.

On Friday, Jenny and Hugh, and Sarah and Ben joined us for Chinese Food at King Fong’s, allegedly the oldest Chinese restaurant in Omaha and located in a fairly stylish old building on 16th street. Their decor looks much the same as it did back in the 1920s, though they didn’t take either checks or credit cards, which made it necessary for me to make an emergency hike down to the ATM.

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On Friday night, the Omaha Jitterbugs had their big Christmas dance down at the Eagle’s Lodge. We got live music courtesy of the Prairie Cats, and they called audience members up on stage to help with the percussion a few times. Vivian, Micah, and Sarah got to play some little egg shakers as “Big Daddy K” Jeff Koterba (who you may also know as the editorial cartoonist for the Omaha World-Herald) lead the band in some swinging tunes for the rest of us to dance.

Toward the end of the night, we had a spontaneous jam circle, and I got to perform in the middle of it with “Little Debbie.” We did an aerial that we had learned at cowtown, and I was so nervous rushing into the middle of it that I almost didn’t get her over my shoulder. The whole crowd let our a spontaneous “ooooh” as it looked like she might not make it, but I got her up there and marched out of the circle with no need to call an ambulance.

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On Saturday, we had our last Lindy in the Mall of 2007. I did a little extra Christmas shopping in the morning, heading over to the Disney Store at Oak View to get Vivian a plush Tigger. She’d been wanting one all year. We had a late start, giving me a chance to buy Vivian’s roommate Jenny a pocket bible for her purse. Then, we danced a couple hours together. I had the chance to show Debbie’s grandparents the arial I showed everyone at the Eagle’s Lodge on Friday. Afterwards, Vivian and I did a little last-minute Christmas shopping before heading on.

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December 23 is the one-year anniversary of our first date, so Vivian and I went to celebrate down at the restaurant we had first eaten at, the French Cafe. It’s a very classy place, and a couple waiters managed to get off the fire alarm with an elaborate demonstration of how to make Bananas Foster. Viv and I took a chilly walk around the Old Market and the Gene Leahy Mall, snacking on fudge from a little candy shop just as we did on that first date one year ago.

Something Beautiful!

I had just one more surprise for Vivian before the night was over. I had spent the last couple of months putting together a special present for her: a music video showcasing little video clips and highlights of our year together. She has been such a wonderful part of my life over the last year that I just had to put together a few of our best memories into a little video that showed how much she means to me.

(The song is Something Beautiful by the Newsboys.)

Prairie Cats at the Lauritzen Gardens

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Viv and I celebrated our five months together by joining some of our Jitterbug friends at the Lauritzen Gardens in Omaha where the Prairie Cats were playing. It was awfully hot and humid outside, but that didn’t keep over a dozen of us from working up a sweat outside dancing to their swinging tunes. We all had a great time, and I was quite happy to give Viv somebody to dance with this time around. Onion-Boy has his side of the story posted here.