With the grand opening of The Astro indoor music venue and amphitheater in La Vista in late August, competition for booking national touring bands and performers just got that much more intense.

But before I get into that, let’s talk more about The Astro. The project was announced five years ago in June 2018 as a partnership among Omaha’s One Percent Productions, Kansas City’s Mammoth Inc., and developer City+Ventures. Thanks to a nasty pandemic, the project didn’t break ground until late September 2021.

Now, almost two years later, The Astro is ready for its debut. Located in the heart of La Vista at 8302 City Centre Drive, The Astro and The Astro Amphitheater boast state-of-the-art everything — acoustics, lighting and sound systems — with room capacities of around 2,400 in indoor venue and 5,500 at the connecting outdoor amphitheater.

“A lot of extra energy and detail went into the back stage, artist experience and customer experience,” Mammoth President Jeff Fortier said about the Astro project. “The backstage area has two catering rooms, a break room, a gym, a game room and more dressing rooms, showers and bathrooms than acts of this size need. We overdelivered. The venue also has the capabilities to do arena shows. The dock loading area is unbelievable. The Astro can handle 10 semis worth of gear. It’s not a normal venue, and the capabilities we have are unbelievable.”

Fortier co-owns Mammoth with business partner Josh Hunt, the company’s CEO. Fortier and Hunt have been booking shows in the Omaha market for more than 30 years at venues that include Sokol Auditorium and Underground, The Ranch Bowl, even legendary punk club The Cog Factory.

Astro business partner One Percent Productions — which, at its heart, is businessmen Marc Leibowitz and Jim Johnson — also has been booking live music in Omaha since 1997. One Percent, along with Saddle Creek Records, was critical in establishing Omaha as an indie music mecca in the early 2000s.

Earlier this year, the two companies — in partnership with Lincolnites Sean and Becki Reagan, who operate the The Bourbon Theater — opened the remodeled and refurbished Sokol Auditorium, renaming it The Admiral Theater.

“What One Percent Productions and Mammoth have done together with The Admiral and The Astro represents almost 30 years of hard work and patience,” Fortier said. “We’ve worked our whole careers and a good chunk of our lives to be able to create these venues.”

Over the years, One Percent wasn’t Mammoth’s only partner. The company partnered with Live Nation on a number of projects, including shows at The Uptown and Starlight theaters in Kansas City and arena shows in Omaha. But Live Nation’s aggressive business tactics began to pose a potential threat to Mammoth’s livelihood.

“The writing was on the wall; either we were going to go national or go out of business,” Fortier said.

He and Hunt put a plan together during the pandemic to go national. Mammoth currently employs more than 50 people in offices in New York, Portland, Los Angeles, Nashville, Lawrence, Kansas, and Kansas City.

How the Astro deal came about is a complicated story involving the developer, One Percent, Mammoth and Live Nation. In the end, Live Nation was the odd man out, but not for long.

Live Nation ended up putting together its own project with Omaha Performing Arts (O-pa) to build the 3,000-plus capacity Steelhouse Omaha, which appears to be hosting the same kind of national touring acts targeted by The Astro.

“(Live Nation) is pushing to do exclusive tours and keep anyone else from doing those kinds of acts,” Fortier said, “and they offer huge bonuses. And because they own the ticket company, the production company, the management company, the VIP company and the merch company, how is anyone going to compete?”

Fortier, who hopes to continue to work with Live Nation as well as The Holland Center and The Orpheum — venues controlled by O-pa — said it could get a little tricky competing with Steelhouse. Are there maybe too many players in a pond the size of Omaha? “I think that is the understatement of the day,” Fortier said.

“Listen, we’ve tried to design the venue so we can do bigger stuff than them and smaller stuff than them and leave them their lane, and hopefully figure out a way that the market works for all of us.”

Fortier says both Mammoth and One Percent will book The Astro. “We have a 50/50 co-pro with One Percent,” he said. “They do a lot of heavy lifting at The Admiral, and I think that we’re going to be doing bigger chunks of heavy lifting at The Astro.”

As of June 19, The Astro has booked nine shows for its indoor venue, including funk band Here Come the Mummies on Sept. 7; Beth Hart on Sept. 16; Ancient Aliens on Sept. 21; Casey Donahew on Sept. 22; Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band on Sept. 24; The Gaslight Anthem on Sept. 30; Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder on Oct. 15 and Wilco on Oct. 23. The Astro Amphitheater kicks things off Aug. 30 with Rick Springfield, followed by Goo Goo Dolls on Sept. 23; 311 on Sept. 29 and Dropkick Murphys on Oct. 5.

The current concert lineup reflects the kind of acts The Astro will be booking moving forward, Fortier said. “I think we’ll take a look at all the different cultures and communities that are part of Omaha,” he said. “We’re going to try to represent everybody. I think we’re off to a great start.”

Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at [email protected].

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