Omaha Civic Auditorium

The Omaha Civic Auditorium (17th St. side, Music Hall on Right) - c.1955
Postcard courtesy eBay

The Civic Auditorium at 18th and Capitol Avenues in Omaha, Nebraska is Omaha's first arena and convention center. It was completed at a total cost of more than $7,000,000 and opened and was dedicated in 1955. With an Arena, Music Hall, Exhibit and Assembly halls, it is four buildings in one.  The arena seats up to 9,300 for sporting events and can accommodate up to 10,960 for concerts.

Ads for Elvis at the Omaha Civic Auditorium - May 20 (and earlier), 1956
courtesy Omaha World-Herald

The following year, on May 20th of 1956, after having performed in Lincoln, NE, on a tour through the West and Mid West, Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ performed 2 shows at the Arena in the Civic Auditorium during their only appearance together in Omaha.

Scotty backstage  in Omaha, NE - May 20, 1956
Photo © J. Kent

Bill, D.J. and Scotty backstage in Omaha, NE - May 20, 1956
Photo ©  J. Kent

Bill, ?, Hoyt Hawkins and Elvis backstage in Omaha, NE - May 20, 1956
Photo courtesy Brian Petersen

The review in the paper the following day read:

"The rage of the teen-age" lived up to his billing Sunday at the Auditorium Arena. He is a young man named Elvis Presley. He has sideburns, long hair, and wears a bright red coat over a black silk shirt.1

Omaha World-Herald - May 21, 1956
courtesy Omaha World-Herald

Fans at the show - May 20, 1956
Photo © Omaha World-Herald courtesy Graceland

He sings and plays the guitar. But it isn‘t his singing or his strumming that sends the girls into a frenzy. It's his gyrations - which simply are no more than a male "cooch" dance, complete with bumps and grinds. Elvis "entertained" some seven thousand Omahans at two shows. He was on stage for 22 minutes and the shrieks of the gals from 5 to 50, although most were teen-agers-resounded all the time. When Elvis moved a knee, even a thumb, the gals swooned.1

DJ, Elvis and Bill at the Omaha Civic Auditorium - May 20, 1956
Omaha World-Herald Photo courtesy Scott Hayward

Police reported that one girl down front attempted to tear off her clothes. They halted matters before any one knew what was happening.

Fans at the show - May 20, 1956
Photo © Omaha World-Herald courtesy Michelle Gullett

There wasn't as much rock 'n' roll dancing as there is when Bill Haley and the Comets come around. Evidently the girls didn’t want to miss any of Elvis‘s movements.. Elvis, backed by a trio, doesn't take himself too seriously. He introduced one of his numbers as being "a sad song. In fact, it's downright pitiful." 1

Elvis at the Omaha Civic Auditorium - May 20, 1956
Photo courtesy Brian Petersen's Atomic Powered Singer

At the afternoon performance he dedicated his finale to the members of the audience who weren't planning to come aback to the evening show; Its title: "You Ain't No Friend of Mine."  When it was completed and he leaped off stage to avoid the surging mob of girls, the hall was filled with shouts of "Please don't stop, Elvis, please!" 1

"He's just one of the agitated Elvis Presley Fans at the show" - May 20, 1956
Omaha World-Herald Photo courtesy FECC/stranger

High in the third tier, Elvis was watched by comedian Victor Borge.  Mr. Borge‘s comment: "The only thing he does like me is that he doesn't come back for an encore. When he goes off the show is over.  The remainder of the Presley show was very good.

Victor Borge - c.1950s
Photo by Peter Stackpole courtesy

The Jordonaires were a fine singing quartet; the Flaims proved a talented rock 'n' roll unit; Jackie Little, the only feminine member of the troupe, was a good opening vocalist; Frankie Conners was another singer and Al (Phil) Maraquin was a hard-working comedian. The audience gave all healthy applause. But it was nothing compared to its acclaim for Elvis.1

Article on Victor Borge in the May 1956 issue of Playboy
courtesy eBay

Victor Borge was a Danish born classical pianist turned comedian who had fled Europe to America in 1940. During the 1940s and 50s he had established himself as successful radio and television performer and had also appeared in films with Frank Sinatra.  At the time of Elvis' appearance in Omaha he had likely been appearing in town, quite possibly at the Auditorium's Music Hall. Speaking of  'Cooch,' coincidentally, Playboy ran an article that month on Victor Borge.

Elvis in concert at Civic Auditorium -  Jun 19, 1977
Photo © larrywminor

On the same page as the review of the show was an article about protests to a Rock and Roll show by Bill Haley and the Comets in Birmingham, Alabama where members of the White Citizens Council, a white supremacy group, were staging a demonstration and were promptly picketed by a group of about 12 teen-age boys carrying signs reading, "Rock and Roll is Here to Stay" and "Three Cheers For Bill Haley."2

The following night the band performed in Topeka, Kansas. While Elvis flew, the band drove.  In the 1970s, Elvis would later make several more appearances at the Civic Auditorium in Omaha, on June 30th and July 1st of 1974, April 22, 1976 and finally on June 19, 1977.

Stage and Auditorium Arena from CBS' Elvis in Concert - June 1977
capture courtesy YouTube

Omaha Civic Auditorium Arena - Sep. 20, 2009

The June 19th appearance was one of two concerts filmed for CBS TV and used in the production of "Elvis in Concert."  The auditorium was set up for "center stage" performance as opposed to "end stage" which provided better views for the majority of seats.  He would only perform six more times that month which would be the last ever before his untimely death that August.  The production was broadcast the following October.

Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Sen. Dan Quayle debate in Omaha - Oct 5, 1988
Steve Liss/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

In October of 1988, the Civic Auditorium was used to hold the debate between Vice Presidential candidates Senators Lloyd Bentsen and Senator Dan Quayle, during which Bentsen, in response to Quayle's comparison of his lack of experience in the Senate to that of John F. Kennedy's, made the statements "Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy, I knew Jack Kennedy, Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy."

Omaha Civic Auditorium at 1804 Capitol Ave. - Sep. 20, 2009

Omaha Civic Auditorium Arena Capitol Ave. concourse - Sep. 20, 2009

Since then, the phrase "You're no Jack Kennedy," or some variation on Bentsen's remark, have become a part of the political lexicon as a way to deflate politicians or other individuals perceived as thinking too highly of themselves.3

The Omaha Beef of the Indoor Football League (IFL) at the Arena
Photo courtesy Omaha Civic Auditorium

Today, the Omaha Civic Auditorium Arena is home to the Omaha Beef, an indoor pro-football team affiliated with the Indoor Football League (IFL), and the Omaha Lancers hockey team of the United States Hockey League (USHL).4

The Civic Auditorium Arena set up for "end stage" concert
Photo courtesy Omaha Civic Auditorium

Omaha Civic Auditorium Arena - Sep. 20, 2009

Omaha Civic Auditorium Arena - Sep. 20, 2009

The auditorium has also featured concerts by the Dave Matthews Band, R.E.M., Prince and Nine Inch Nails in the Arena and other family oriented events like KidzExplore and the All-Breed Dog Show.4

Civic Auditorium Music Hall - Sep. 20, 2009

Omaha Civic Auditorium - Sep. 20, 2009

The Omaha Civic Auditorium Music Hall accommodate up to 2,453 guests and hosts touring Broadway-style theatrical productions like "Stomp", comedy shows and concerts. Past performances include Melissa Etheridge, Natalie Merchant and Willie Nelson.4

Omaha Civic Auditorium - Sep. 20, 2009

Aerial view of Omaha Civic Auditorium
Photo courtesy web

The Exhibit Hall portion of the Civic Auditorium offers 43,400 square feet of exhibition space and is easily adaptable to any type of event. It has been the home of the Westminster qualifiers for the All-Breed Dog Show, as well as the home of many consumer and tradeshow events and Shrine Circus activities.4

Omaha Civic Auditorium, from the Corner of 17th and Capitol Avenues

Additionally, Mancuso Hall in the Civic Auditorium offers 25,000 square feet of pillarless space and has been used for traditional events such as consumer shows, tradeshows and public sales events. This space is converted into a venue that can host small concerts and dances, parties and wedding receptions. Mancuso Hall can accommodate up to 2,500 fans for a concert or up to 1,500 tables and chairs for a party or banquet event.4

page added October 18, 2009

All ads and articles from the Omaha World-Herald are copyright © The Omaha World-Herald and have been paid for and reprinted here with permission.

1 from "Gal 'Takes it Off' as Elvis Presley Does 'Cooch'" by Glenn Trump Omaha World-Herald - May 21, 1956
2 from "Rock-and-Roll Fans Picket Foes at Birmingham Show" AP story from Birmingham, AL in Omaha World-Herald - May 21, 1956
3 excerpt courtesy
4 excerpts  courtesy Omaha Civic Auditorium website

Backstage in Omaha

For sometime several of these photos were believed to have been taken backstage at the Louisiana Hayride but have since been identified as having been taken in Omaha, Nebraska and confirmed with the following email:

Hello James, my name is Stan Benis and I work at Qwest Center Omaha. But before that I worked at the Omaha Civic Auditorium for 28 years (1974 – 2002).

Hoyt Hawkins, Elvis and Neal Matthews backstage in Omaha, NE - May 20, 1956
Photo courtesy FECC/Tigerman-GB

 Hugh Jarrett, Elvis, Neal Matthews and Hoyt Hawkins in Omaha, NE - May 20, 1956
Photo courtesy FECC/Tigerman-GB

I have seen the photos you sent over and I can confirm that they are from Omaha. They were taken in two locations. One was under the stage where the dressing rooms where located and where there is an open area under the stage. That is where you see the pink poles and blue walls, those were the colors for a long time of the poles and walls in the music hall and arena. The other area is at the back of the music hall stage.

Elvis with paper "What Makes Elvis Tic" backstage in Omaha, NE - May 20, 1956
Photo courtesy Ger Rijff

Elvis and fan backstage in Omaha, NE - May 20, 1956
Photo courtesy Jim Curtin's Candids of the King

The push cart pictured with Scotty sitting on it (see section above) is still at the arena and in use. If you look at the bottom of the cart you can see the word auditorium stenciled on it. All equipment was marked with a stencil “Omaha City Auditorium”.

Elvis and fan backstage in Omaha, NE - May 20, 1956
Photo courtesy FECC/Kingcandids

Elvis and fan backstage in Omaha, NE - May 20, 1956
Photo courtesy Brian Petersen

Elvis and fans backstage in Omaha, NE - May 20, 1956
Photo courtesy Jim Curtin's Candids of the King

I am kind of an Elvis fan myself. I worked the shows in 74 and 77 and have the original lease form from the 56 show as well news paper articles from it. The auditorium use to save a scrapbook of all the newspaper articles on shows. I was able to save a few of the files from the Elvis shows when we renovated the place.

Stan Benis
Director - Event Operations
Qwest Center Omaha
December 27, 2010


All photos on this site (that we didn't borrow) unless otherwise indicated are the property of either Scotty Moore or James V. Roy and unauthorized use or reproduction is prohibited.

Home History Discography Scrapbook Guitars etc... The Studios

The Venues

In the Press Tour Dates Links Search

This site created and managed by James V. Roy for Scotty Moore with the sole intent to help promote the arts and history of American popular music and Scotty's major role in it. Every attempt was made to give credit for any images or text borrowed from the World Wide Web and we greatly appreciate the use of it. Technical difficulties or questions dealing with this Server should be addressed to the Webmaster. Copyright © 2002, 2014