top of page

Checkerfest 2023 - Reviewed

- Jacqueline Radakovich

Checkerfest 2023 banner Photo Credit: @jrad.arts

It was checkmate for this years Checkerfest 2023 held at The Bay this August. Checkerfest: a student-organized music and arts festival in Lincoln, Nebraska, founded in 2019 brought a strong local line up for this years fest. The festival is a one-day event during the summer featuring local bands and artists. It took place at The Bay, which is a skate park/high school, which added to the artsy atmosphere of the fest. On the roster for this year was MMA, Wicked Bones, Saving Fiona, Madeline Reddel, Blind Searcher, Swaul Pope, and The Zooeys. As the music played, 15 artists were lined up with booths selling and promoting their creations. Sponsoring the food for the event were FlyDogz, and Reactor Coffee, other Lincoln locals.


Around 15 artists came out to Checkerfest to promote their creations. There was everything from paintings, crochet projects, clothes, jewelry, and more. Adding the art concept to the festival makes it different from other music festivals. It brings in more people and adds to the fun of the event. In between music sets or if you need to walk around, you can go check out all the art! Also, most of the artists were students or young and local artists. This helped the event stay dedicated to Lincoln. The art was priced at a large variety, so there was something there for everyone. As an aspiring artist, it can be difficult to find places and ways to sell your work. This made it possible for them. Checkerfest also does not charge artists to sell, which is an incentive for them to be involved. Some honorable mentions include: Dempsey Studios, who made the merch for Checkerfest, Jayda Lyon with her paintings and poetry, Bamboo Closet with their vintage clothing, and Found Space Collective, who helped organize the arts portion of the festival.


The local bands that came to this years Checkerfest were MMA, Wicked Bones, Saving

Fiona, Madeline Reddel, Blind Searcher, Swaul Pope, and The Zooeys. It was a good mix of bands that everyone could enjoy. They played out of a side garage door as their stage, which fit the vibe of the event. It was big enough for each band but still small enough to give a local, urban feel. Ideally, it might be better for future shows to have a slightly larger stage so bigger bands can fit comfortably. The sound was clear, and the performances all sounded great. Shoutout to the sound guys and staff for making that happen. Unfortunately, I was unable to see MMA, but word of mouth is they were great. MMA is a local rock band that is a regular at The Bay. You can find them on Instagram @mmabandofficial.

Wicked Bones is an alternative rock band from Lincoln. Their band consists of a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and lead singer. Marshall Johnson was on vocals, James Riva on guitar, Jobe Sullivan on bass, and Tommy Simon on drums. They came out swinging with energy, even though the crowd was not fully energetic at this point in the day. However, they were able to get the crowd on their feet. They sounded great, specifically James’ guitar riffs and Marshall’s vocals. They had great chemistry as a band and looked like they were genuinely having a fun time up there sharing their creations. Marshall even busted out the tambourine and did a little jig off-stage. It was thoroughly entertaining, and they deserve to be seen by bigger crowds. As they release more music and play more shows, they will catch the eye of more than just the town of Lincoln. They performed several original songs, and you can get a sneak peek at some of their work on Spotify, “The Ghouly Newman Tape.” You can also find them on Instagram @wickedbonesinc.

Saving Fiona was created in 2020 and is ‘self-proclaimed a “sad girl rock” band’. In the band is Madeline Schmit on guitar, keys, and vocals, Kaila Halpine on drums, Annie Wang on guitar and vocals, and Ellie Woody on bass and vocals. They were a bit nervous at first, but you could also tell they were meant to be on stage. They got comfortable quickly and were interactive with the crowd. The heat was at peak point during their performance, but they powered through and delivered an enjoyable set. They performed several original songs and covers. They worked well together as a band and with some time and practice, they have the potential to deliver an impressive performance. Their songs were also super relatable, which is why many people listen to music. They have one single out on streaming, “Think Fast,” and you can find them on Instagram @savingfiona.

Madeline Reddel is a songwriter from Omaha, Nebraska who merges classical, folk, jazz, and alternative to create something beautiful. She was joined on stage by a band including guitar, cello, string bass, violin, and percussion. It was the “oddball” out of the group of performers, but it was a perfect intermission between the rock and roll bands. In her first couple of songs, she sang solo, playing her guitar. Then her band joined her for the remainder of the set. It was great to listen to and I loved to see these instruments on stage for everyone to appreciate. It was different but not at all boring, and I would love to see more of them. This is a new project of hers, but you can find her on Instagram @_madalien_ and her previous band called “Past Casual.”

Blind Searcher is a rock/metal band from Lincoln consisting of lead singer Kalon Cooper,

drummer Sam Taylor, Tom Erwin on guitar, Joe Bazata on bass, and Jake Schmid on guitar.

Their stage presence was amazing for them, being a small band. They are familiar with live

shows and have played many, so they have had practice. Still, I was impressed with their energy and intensity. Lead singer Kalon was super interactive, and Tom was going crazy on guitar. They brought all their fans who went wild during the set. Blind Searcher got the crowd hyped and gained some fans as people who were not familiar with them prior loved the show. They had chemistry and played well together. The only critique I would have is changing the sound during their performance. Some of the instruments and vocals got lost in the noise, but overall, it was an awesome set. They have a song out on streaming, and you can find them on Instagram @blindsearcher

Swaul Pope is a Lincoln-based band who mixes genres of folk, blues, alternative, and a bit of funk to create their sound. It was founded by lead singer and guitarist Paul Swope who uses his music to create a space of community. Everyone was hyped for Swaul Pope, and they did not disappoint. He was joined on stage by a bassist, drummer, and guitarist. They brought the vibes to the stage opening with a fan-favorite cover, “Them Changes” by Thundercat. They then performed several original songs. Paul has an amazing stage presence and belongs up there. It is as if he is up there to make friends but does it through music. The drummer and guitarist did an excellent job matching Paul’s sound and I would love to go to another Swaul Pope show in the future. You can find him on Instagram @swaulpope and has several songs on Spotify.

The night ended with a bang as The Zooeys closed out the event. The Zooeys are a Lincoln-based rock and roll band that has lots of influence in the local music community. Zooey, the lead singer, is also a great guy and loves to interact with others. He showed his interest in the other artists as he would hope they do for them, which shows me that he respects the local music scene. The set started energetically and everyone was ready to jam to The Zooeys. They are used to being on stage and belong up there, as they work great together and have almost mastered their together sound. They played their best hits with grace for the crowd. The Zooeys were super excited to play Checkerfest and you could tell they wanted to be there. The Zooeys are always an entertaining and lively show and I recommend seeing them to anyone who has not before. If you haven't read the interview we did earlier this year with the band HERE and make sure to follow The Zooeys on all social media platforms and listen to their newest recently released single 'Nation' now on Spotify!

Checkerfest 2023 crowd at The Bay Photo Credit @jrad.arts

The art and music festival that is Checkerfest was a success this year. The event seemed

to run smoothly and everyone who attended seemed to have a wonderful time. I love that they are loyal to local artists as it is a fantastic way for people to get out there. This event was super fun, and I would love to see it continue and have a bright future. The festival has only been in existence for a couple of years now, so it still has much to offer and improve on. Further advertising of the event might help them have a bigger turnout. The event was super fun, but I do not think many people were aware of it happening. Finding a better way to put themselves out there would be beneficial to the future of the event. I loved the way it was physically set up, as everything was in one area, and you could browse the art and listen to the music at the same time. There were a few artists inside, which is not a bad idea, but I feel that they did not get as much foot traffic. Possibly making it more known that there are also things going on inside would help. I love the concept of this event, specifically the element of merging music and art. Keeping this event exclusive to locals would not be a bad idea, as it gives locals a chance to get out there. However, putting a bigger name on the lineup could attract more guests. I would add more food and a food truck, and I would use the skate park aspect of The Bay to their advantage. It goes well with the artsy vibe. As the event continues to progress, I would keep a bigger stage in mind. It is not necessary as of now but could be useful in the future. Overall, I loved this event and having the chance to attend. Some things could be done better or added, but it was a wonderful time, and I am excited to attend again next year.


Hilda Makes Art Jayda Lyon Dempsy Studios

Artisan Ways Payton Luhree Myrtle The Radish Shop Bamboo Closet Fable Ticket Aly Bangert The Artistic Foundry GeoBee Crafts Goblin Gubbins Ella Jean Crafts Celia’s Art Corner



bottom of page