Freedom Fest features Alex Stein, Bryson Gray, and a Major Thunderstorm
Alex Stein and Bryson Gray performing together toward the end of the night at Freedom Fest '22.

Freedom Fest features Alex Stein, Bryson Gray, and a Major Thunderstorm

The Nebraska Freedom Caucus held its second annual Freedom Fest on Saturday, an event that was dampened by the weather but persisted nevertheless. The first Freedom Fest was held in 2021 in the ball room of the Round the Bend Steakhouse in Ashland, Nebraska. This year’s event was held outdoors at the Sarpy County Fairgrounds — and organizers were hopefully that the weather would cooperate.

Matt Innis hosts a panel on public education

The day started off relatively dry, aside from a few sprinkles. Bounce houses were inflated for children to jump inside, and pavilions for Moms for Liberty, NRA-ILA, Turning Point USA, the Outlaw Streamers, and Beard Vet coffee were up and operating without any precipitation. Matt Innis moderated a panel on education with candidates for local school boards and the State Board of Education, answering questions about Critical Race Theory, Social Emotional Learning, and sex education.

Four previous gubernatorial candidates were also slated to speak, though none got the chance before the rain started. Brett Lindstrom and Theresa Thibodeau appeared briefly but were gone by the time the rain began in earnest. Charles W. Herbster was a no-show, allegedly because he wasn’t afforded an hour-long speaking slot. Only Breland Ridenour spoke, later at the event.

Guest speakers began arriving almost immediately, including “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander and #WalkAway founder Brandon Straka. Headliner Alex Stein also appeared early, meeting with guests and getting photos throughout the afternoon. Organizers were optimistic about a dry evening. “Radar shows completely clear skies tonight,” said a message on the group’s Facebook page at 3:17 PM. “And there’s no rain here at the Fairgrounds now.” One person responded, a few hours later, “It’s raining in Lincoln now. What will you do if it rains there tonight?” Guests would soon found out.

Shortly before six o’clock, the storm hit, sending down heavy rain and upending tents. Brandon Straka, who had been scheduled to speak, bailed shortly after the rain started, while rapper Nick Nittoli arrived in its wake. Nittoli took cover under a large pavilion with Alex Stein and most of the other guests as the worst of the storm broke overhead. Stein and Nittoli performed for guests as the storm passed, Stein cracking jokes about Hunter Biden and Michelle Obama and Nittoli performing rap songs about “Candace Owens” and “Donald Trump my President.” Guests sang along and organizers live-streamed video of the performance.

Once the rain began to let up, the event was moved to an indoor venue — a local gym owned by one of the sponsors — and guests traveled in a caravan a few miles north. Headliner Bryson Gray was already on site greeting guests as they arrived and getting pictures as staff set up audio equipment in the middle of the small workout facility (and lining the carpet with waterproof tarps). The crowd was notably smaller than last year’s, due likely to both the weather and the first Husker game of the season scheduled for the same day — in which they lost in an upset to Northwest.

Around 100 attendees filled out the room before the remaining guest speakers took the stage. First was Dr. Ben Tapper, who spoke about vaccine mandates, Breland Ridenour, who talked about his gubernatorial campaign, and Ali Alexander, who talked about going from “moderate” to “radicalized.”

Country singer Austin Michael took the stage afterward, singing a handful of songs. One song was requested by Ben White, a member of the security team, who Michael invited up front to sing with him. Nick Nittoli then gave an encore (and indoor) performance of a few rap songs next, with Alex Stein joining in the performance. Stein did a short stand-up routine afterward before welcoming Bryson Gray on stage, who performed with Stein for the first couple of songs — both rapping in turn and ending with Stein removing his jacket and collapsing to the floor.

Bryson continued to perform for the rest of the event, hitting several of his recent hits involving topics such as the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago and Hunter Biden smoking crack. His biggest fans, sitting in the front row, was Michael Doyle and his four girls, who drove nearly four hours down from South Dakota just to see him. The Boyles had also attended the first Freedom Fest in 2021 specifically to see Bryson, and according to dad, “If he comes next year, we’ll be here in a heartbeat.”

Nearly all the headliners stayed for the duration of the event, chatting with guests and getting selfies until well after ten o’clock. Organizer Malia Shirley said, “Despite the weather not cooperating, we were inspired by the tenacious spirit and unwavering optimism of the attendees and speakers. Everyone was so adaptable and able to roll with the punches. It makes events that we’ve spent countless hours, energy, and money on worth it.”