When you think of live acoustic music concerts by award-winning musicians, Denver, Kansas City and Omaha come to mind as likely locations. But don’t forget about Loomis, Nebraska.
Thanks to Rehmsworld, the brainchild of Tim and Bev Rehm of Holdrege, performing artists travel from places like Nashville, Austin, L.A. and Baltimore to perform at The Balcony in Loomis, located less than 10 minutes west of Holdrege on Highway 23.
A Night of Rehmsworld
Loomis might seem like an unlikely location for quality live music, but for those who have been there, it feels like home. Doug and Patti Simpson greet guests at the front door. Fresh popcorn is served. Jim and Julie Nelson, owners of the Balcony, are ready to serve drinks behind the bar. Scott, the soundman, sits in his usual spot with his electronic board. Tim and Bev move through the crowd, welcoming regulars and visitors alike.
Everybody at Rehmsworld seems to know each other, but someone new to the scene quickly feels like an extended family member. There are no bad seats. With an average crowd of about 75, every seat feels close enough to reach out and touch the stage with its glowing red and blue lights and the Rehmsworld sign as a backdrop. The ceiling and walls are festooned with glittering white lights. The setting is ripe for some good old blue grass, folk songs and blues from seasoned performers who write and perform their own songs.
Impresario Tim Rehm leads off in his typical irrepressible style, welcoming everybody and introducing the guest performer, who on this particular night in November is Ray Bonneville, a Canadian originally from French-speaking Quebec.
Bonneville has been playing in bands and solo since the 70s and honed his craft in New Orleans. His post-Katrina song, “I Am the Big Easy,” won the 2009 Folk Alliance International Song of the Year award. He plays 150 dates a year, but this is his first trip to central Nebraska. Bonneville quickly wins over the crowd with his old-style blues that invokes the French Quarter. The one-man band backs his weathered voice with a highly percussive guitar style and resonating harmonica lines while keeping beat on a board with his foot. Before long the crowd is really into it, clapping and grooving to his rhythmic sound and musical stories of love, hope and despair.
During a break, concert-goers are treated to Bev’s homemade desserts. After intermission, Bonneville keeps the crowd entertained up through the bonus song after the rousing curtain call. Another great night of music at the Balcony.
The Beginning of Rehmsworld
The roots for Rehmsworld started when Tim and Bev first dated and discovered their shared love for live acoustic music. When they married, they capped off their wedding bliss with a limo ride to the Bieroc nightclub in McCook to take in a concert by Nashville singer/songwriter Jeff Black. After that, they started the wheels turning on hosting a house concert of their own in Holdrege. The first concert was attended mostly by friends and family, but its success spurred them on to look for a proper venue for a regular concert series. Thus, began their partnership with Jim and Julie Nelson, owners of the Balcony in Loomis.
Thirteen years later, Rehmsworld is a fixture for traveling troubadours. Attracting high-quality performers is never easy, and Tim makes it a point to scope out the talent at events like the Rocky Mountain Folk Festival in Lyons, Colo., and through his extensive network of contacts and social media connections on Twitter. He has developed a good ear for musical talent. Tim and Bev work closely with other venues on joint booking on what the artists call the Nebraska Folk Highway, which includes the 4th and Main Grill in Wray, Colo., the Bieroc in McCook, and the Listening Room in Hastings.
The Honey Dew Drops, a husband and wife duo consisting of Kagey Parish and Laura Wortman, drove to Loomis from their home in Baltimore, Md., and joked that it was an easy drive from their home: “We took I-70 for two and a half days and then hung a right straight up to Loomis,” Kagey said. He went on to praise Nebraska, unlike their experience in other states, for having a variety of rural nightspots for folk musicians.
Rehmsworld has hosted many sell-outs over the years. The most popular performers have included the Steel Wheels, Jeff Black, Amy Speace and Tom Kimmel.
“The biggest talent ever to come to the Balcony was probably Mary Gauthier,” Tim said. He is proud to be the first one to bring her to Nebraska. Gauthier has received critical acclaim for her records, and her songs have been used in television shows.
The Steel Wheels, a four-member blue-grass band from Virginia, has performed at The Balcony several times and is a crowd favorite. Its members are personal friends with the Rehms and stayed at their house when they had an extra day between gigs. In fact, Tim, who is an avid bicycle rider, cycled with some friends 200 miles last year to Colorado to see the Steel Wheels in concert.
Tim is proud that Rehmsworld has hosted two Grammy Award winners, Don Henry and Tia Sillers. In fact, he said, Don Henry “slept on our couch.” Henry co-wrote the Kathy Mattea classic, “Where’ve You Been?” He has also written many other songs for big-name artists, such as Ray Charles, Patti Page, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert. Sillers co-wrote “I Hope You Dance,” which has sold more than 2 million digital copies as the number one crossover hit by Lee Ann Womack.
Last June, Jeff Black and Kelley Hunt, well-loved singer/songwriters, played together for the first time to a sold-out show at the Balcony. The performance was a special show that Tim organized in honor of Bev’s birthday. That night, the place was packed, and excitement was in the air. Because of the large crowd, the usual café style tables were replaced by rows of chairs circling the stage. The duo put on a performance to remember: Hunt’s soulful, powerful voice and boogie-playing piano alternated with Black’s poetic lyrics and strong baritone that one reviewer compared to Randy Newman.
Attracting A Nationwide Audience
Tim and Bev are grateful to see the audience base expand to encompass a larger area. Tim estimates that 40 percent of Rehmsworld attendees travel from outside of Phelps County from Kansas, Kearney, Hastings, North Platte, McCook, and even Kansas City and Denver. Not long ago, Tim received a call from a woman from Portland, Ore., who said she and her husband wanted to see Jeff Black in concert.
“They were looking for a show on his tours that was close to Portland,” Tim said. “They noted that the farthest he ever seemed to travel west was to our series. So, this gal called me to make arrangements for a surprise Christmas gift for her husband. They flew into Denver and drove out, spending the entire weekend in Central Nebraska watching cranes on the river and pelicans at Harlan County topped off with a Sunday night show at Rehmsworld with Jeff Black.”
It works because the Rehms commit so much of themselves to bringing veteran performers to the area, even though it’s not a money-making endeavor. It is truly a labor of love. They never know how many will show up at a concert, but the performers have to be paid regardless. Tim credits the support of local sponsors for keeping it going. As to why they have done this all these years, Tim said it is their way of contributing back to the community.
Outside of Rehmsworld, Tim works owns and operates The Cutting Room and serves on several community boards and is active in his church.
“I didn’t seem destined for this coming out of high school, but I have the entrepreneur in me,” Tim said.
What Tim values most are the relationships he and Bev have developed with the performers and the devoted Rehmsworld followers. Not every artist chooses to stay at Tim and Bev’s house, but many do. In fact, Bev’s home-cooked meals are popular with the performers, who often go out of their way to pass on compliments to the audience. The Rehms enjoy seeing the audience’s reaction to the gifted performers.
“What’s really neat to see,” Tim said, “is somebody singing along with Jeff Black.”
The 2017-18 Rehmsworld Concert series included eight shows between August and June. The four remaining shows this season at The Balcony are:
February 9: Freddy and Francine
March 11: The Rail Splitters
April 21: Sweet Talk Radio
June 7: Zoe Lewis