Inside The Zoo Bar

The Creation

In a downtown Lincoln, Nebraska building built in 1921 sits the ZOO BAR, a narrow nightspot that’s been a staple for live music in downtown Lincoln since 1973. Some big time acts have walked through the hallowed club’s doors including Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Otis Rush. Throughout 2020, a variety of bands will play on the same stage graced by those blues legends in honor of ZOO Bar’s 47th Anniversary.

The History

The Zoo Bar is a blues music venue and nightclub located in downtown LincolnNebraska, on 136 North 14th Street. Styled around the Chicago blues clubs, it is a long, narrow venue in a building built in 1921.

Around 1971, Jim Ludwig, Bill Kennedy, and Don Chamberlin purchased the bar. Larry Boehmer, a Master of Fine Arts student at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln at the time, promoted the bar to his fellow artists. He booked the first band in 1973 and was sole owner by 1977.

Boehmer met Chicago musician and promoter Bob Riedy and formed a connection that brought many revered Chicago artists to the Lincoln club. Because of this connection, the Zoo Bar was the first white club that Magic Slim ever played. In 1975 he had never ventured outside the clubs in Chicago’s African-American neighborhoods.

In 1977, Boehmer was the sole owner and the Zoo was established as an important stop for bands on the touring circuit. The first band Boehmer booked to play in the club was The Cotton Blues Band in the summer of 1973. The first national act to play at the bar was Luther Allison in September 1974.

Numerous live albums have been recorded in the club including the famed double album by Little Jimmy Valentine and The Heart Murmers.

Magic Slim and his band were regular performers at the bar, playing week-long stints. In the 1990s, Magic Slim moved his family from Chicago to Lincoln.

In 1993 the Zoo Bar won the Blues Foundation‘s Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Club of the Year.

James Harman wrote a song on behalf of the club called “Everybody’s Rockin’ (At The Zoo Bar)”, which can be found on Harman’s 1995 Black And White CD.

In 2000 Larry Boehmer retired and passed the bar on to his sons, Jeff and Tim Boehmer, and Pete Watters; Pete Watters now owns the club. On September 4, 2012, Larry Boehmer died after struggling with lung cancer. Many not only remember Larry as a visual artist and an incredible blues bass player, but as a community builder who stands out as one of Lincoln’s finest.

In July 2021, the bar celebrated its 48th anniversary.

The Front Door of The Zoo Bar
Pete Watters and the Boehmer Boys
Pete Watters The Zoo Bar
The Zoo Bar Posters

The Bands

Over the years, there has been a long list of absolute legends grace the stage at The Zoo Bar.

Musical acts have included: Bernard AllisonLuther AllisonDave Alvin, Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs, Tab BenoitTommy CastroAlbert CollinsRobert CrayDeke DickersonBo DiddleyChris Duarte, Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials, Tinsley Ellis, Rick Estrin, Anson FunderburghBuddy Guy, the Hacienda Brothers, John Hammond, The Belairs, James Harman, Mark Hummel, Candye KaneJay McShannMatt “Guitar” MurphyCharlie MusselwhiteRod PiazzaAna PopovicOtis RushDoug SahmCurtis SalgadoGina SiciliaMagic SlimWatermelon SlimSon SealsKoko TaylorJunior WellsKim Wilson, and Link Wray. Eddie Clearwater, Mighty Joe YoungClarence Gatemouth Brown, Carey Bell, The Blind Boys of Alabama, and the list goes on.

THE ZOO BAR CALENDAR

February 29, 2024
  • Shithook!-Live Band Karaoke

    February 29, 2024  9:30 pm - 10:55 pm

    Sing with a LIVE karaoke band! They know a TON of songs! No cover charge

    See more details

March 1, 2024
  • Church of Blues - $8

    March 1, 2024  5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

    Join Levi William, Josh Hoyer, Joe Gourlay and David Boye for their performance as Church of Blues! Playing classic Blues to get you groovin and feeling good!
    Admission: $8

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  • Goosehens Debut w/ Saving Fiona and Jet Set- $8

    March 1, 2024  9:00 pm - 11:59 pm

    "Goosehens are an indie rock band from Lincoln, Nebraska. They combine elements of post-punk, surrealism, and 60s-style songwriting to create their own brand of guitar-based dream pop music."
    Saving Fiona and Jet Set will also be performing.
    Admission: $8, collected at the door

    See more details

March 2, 2024
  • The Hangin' Cowboys Album Release Party! - $10

    March 2, 2024  5:00 pm - 8:00 pm

    A high voltage country rock band.

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  • Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal - $10

    March 2, 2024  9:00 pm - 11:59 pm

    Night after night at their live shows, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal leave it all on the table, bringing crowds palpably authentic music. This is a real working band; music for the people, by the people. You hear the veracity in Hoyer’s voice. You hear the strife of a guitar amp being pushed to its limits. You hear keyboards hammering notes home while emboldened horns soar over the top of a rhythm section akin to a freight train. The raucous funk and smooth soul emanating from the stage dutifully pays homage to the past soul giants while simultaneously charging forward, piloting themselves into the modern era. This is soul music.

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March 4, 2024
  • Chris O’Leary $10

    March 4, 2024  6:00 pm - 9:00 pm

    #1 ALBUM 
    The Roots Music Report'sTop 50 Blues Album Chart
    for the Week of Jan 27, 2024
    Chris’s musical background includes duties as lead singer and frontman for rock and roll hall of famer and Grammy award winner Levon Helm’s band, The Barnburners. During the 6 years that Chris and Levon played together they toured across the US and Canada lighting up stages everywhere they went. Chris has appeared on stage with: Legendary Rolling Stones sideman Bobby Keys, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jimmy Vivino, Jeff Healy, Dan Akroyd, Albert Lee, Dave Edmunds, Dave Maxwell and the great James Cotton to name just a few. Chris has also recorded with Bill Perry and Hubert Sumlin, among others.

    No Depression magazine says, “O’Leary’s voice contains startling emotion…reaching an intensity and emotional rawness [that’s] primal. The performances practically vibrate with an authenticity that stays with you.”
    Admission: $10

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  • First Monday BLUES JAM! - No Cover

    March 4, 2024  7:30 pm - 10:00 pm

    Join us at the Legendary ZOO Bar for our First Monday BLUES JAM!!!

    No cover.

    Bring your axe.
    Play the Blues.
    And you know that, man.

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March 5, 2024
  • The Jazzocracy

    March 5, 2024  7:00 pm

    The Jazzocracy is Lincoln's longest running weekly jazz Jam session. Open to students and jazz musicians to come jam or for anyone to come listen. Featuring a wide variety of modern and classic jazz compositions. No cover charge.

    See more details

  • Shake a Tail Feather Tuesday

    March 5, 2024  9:00 pm - 11:30 pm

    Come downtown and hear the sounds of the Bridge Gap Brothers ( DJ Funk Tonne & DJ Relic). Playing all of your favorite dance tracks on wax! There is No Cover so stick around and move the ground!

    See more details

March 6, 2024
  • Cold Stares $15

    March 6, 2024  6:00 pm - 9:00 pm

    For almost ten years, The Cold Stares had toured the world relentlessly as a duo, blowing away
    audiences across the US and Europe with a fierce, blistering live show that belied their
    bare bones, guitar-and-drums setup. In 2023 the band began embracing a whole new kind of
    chemistry and launched into their next chapter, adding a third member and channeling the classic power trio sound they grew up on with their explosive acclaimed album, “Voices.”

    The Cold Stares have created a buzz in the music world that has landed them on the road with the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Larkin Poe, Rival Sons, Reignwolf, Spoon, Grand Funk Railroad, and Thievery Corp, among many others. American Songwriter praised the group’s “hard-won commitment, honesty, and intensity,” while No Depression hailed their sound as a “roots rocking firestorm,” and tunes from their albums turned up everywhere from ESPN, Dodge, Chevy and TNT to the hit video game Cyberpunk 2077.

    Admission: $15, collected at the door before the show.

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  • Vibe Check!

    March 6, 2024  9:00 pm - 11:00 pm

    soulful | groovy | moody | no cover charge
    VIBE CHECK continues its run at The Zoo Bar every Wednesday night.
    The music and vibes continue to elevate with every show.

    See more details

March 7, 2024
  • Shithook!-Live Band Karaoke

    March 7, 2024  9:30 pm - 10:55 pm

    Sing with a LIVE karaoke band! They know a TON of songs! No cover charge

    See more details

March 8, 2024
  • Tinsley Ellis

    March 8, 2024  5:00 pm - 8:00 pm

    "A legend of American blues music…An American music treasure…Ellis delivers a sermon on the power and glory of the blues.” –Premier Guitar
    On Friday, February 9, 2024, Alligator Records will release Naked Truth, the first-ever solo acoustic album from world-renowned Atlanta-based guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Tinsley Ellis. The new album is steeped in the folk blues traditions of Muddy Waters, Skip  James, Son House, Robert Johnson, and even Leo Kottke. To the casual  fan, this might seem to be a new direction, but for Ellis, it’s an extension of his music, as he taps into the raw essence of the blues.
    ****
    $16 Advance | $20 Day of Show.
    Tickets are available to purchase in person after Feb. 1 at The Zoo Bar and already online now at https://www.ticketweb.com/event/tinsley-ellis-zoo-bar-tickets/13467063?pl=fourwinds

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  • Tfbundy w/ The Ulcer Twins and Dip Tet - $5

    March 8, 2024  9:00 pm - 11:59 pm

    Tf bundy, featuring the relentless percussion of Matt Targos, the dense bassline foundation from Jason Holman, the edgy guitar riffs by Jacob Prickett and Brendan Whitney, and the powerful vocal intensity and unexpected saxophone diversions from Tristan Stateler, creates a potent sonic brew. A true post-punk democracy in action, TFBUNDY’s sound is a product of diverse influences, each band member bringing a unique ingredient to the table.


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March 9, 2024
  • Wayne "The Train" Hancock $15/$18

    March 9, 2024  5:00 pm - 7:30 pm

    Since his stunning debut, Thunderstorms and Neon Signs in 1995, Wayne “The Train” Hancock has been the undisputed king of Juke Joint Swing--that alchemist’s dream of honky-tonk, western swing, blues, Texas rockabilly and big band. Always an anomaly among his country music peers, Wayne’s uncompromising interpretation of the music he loves is in fact what defines him: steeped in traditional but never "retro;" bare bones but bone shaking; hardcore but with a swing. Like the comfortable crackle of a Wurlitzer 45 jukebox, Wayne is the embodiment of genuine, house-rocking, hillbilly boogie.
    ****
    $15 advance | $18 day of show
    Advance tickets are available to purchase in person at The Zoo Bar (after 2/1/24) or already online at https://www.ticketweb.com/event/wayne-the-train-hancock-zoo-bar-tickets/13467073?pl=fourwinds
    All tickets are considered general admission standing room only.  We have tables available on a first-come basis.  The bar opens at 3 pm.

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  • Pretend Friend - $12

    March 9, 2024  9:00 pm - 11:59 pm

    $12 at the door.
    21+
    Bending time, space, and genre, Pretend Friend will transport you to another dimension with quick-pickin' bluegrass, spellbinding harmonies, psychedelic jams, and award-winning songwriting.
    All things PF at https://pretendfriend.com

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March 10, 2024
March 11, 2024
  • Emily Bass and Friends (no cover)

    March 11, 2024  5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

    Join us on Mondays at The Zoo Bar for Emily Bass and friends playing up close and personal next to the bar and taking requests 5:30 to 7:30. Good company and always the best way to start your week! No cover charge.

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  • Catalyst Sessions - No Cover

    March 11, 2024  8:00 pm - 11:00 pm

    Hosted by Riley Agena
    THE CATALYST SESSIONS
    8pm-11pm
    ZOO Bar
    Every Monday (except first Mondays)

    Providing a welcoming space for a Lincoln Performaning Arts Showcase!

    Bring yourself and your ideas to gather, connect, create and grow in Lincoln's Historic ZOO Bar.

    This is a night for you to feature your talents and ideas in :
    Instrumental Music
    Vocal Music
    Spoken Word and MC'ing
    Comedy
    Dance

    Come and grow your improvisational skills and collaborate with like-minded creators in our community.

    We hope these nights become the impetus for MANY new projects and friendships!!!

    NO COVER.

    See more details

March 12, 2024
  • The Jazzocracy

    March 12, 2024  7:00 pm

    The Jazzocracy is Lincoln's longest running weekly jazz Jam session. Open to students and jazz musicians to come jam or for anyone to come listen. Featuring a wide variety of modern and classic jazz compositions. No cover charge.

    See more details

  • Shake a Tail Feather Tuesday

    March 12, 2024  9:00 pm - 11:30 pm

    Come downtown and hear the sounds of the Bridge Gap Brothers ( DJ Funk Tonne & DJ Relic). Playing all of your favorite dance tracks on wax! There is No Cover so stick around and move the ground!

    See more details

March 13, 2024
  • James Armstrong $12

    March 13, 2024  6:00 pm - 9:00 pm

    James Armstron has a confident stage presence that combines grace with mischief. Few blues artists know how to play the crowd as James can, shifting dynamics from a whisper to a growl. Wherever he travels around the world his magnetism continues to hush a noisy rabble or entice a crowd to follow him out into the street or down the length of a beach. 
    WATCH: https://youtu.be/gVcrBCK8BRs
    BIO: James Armstrong – (jarmblues.com)
    ADMISSION: $12-collected at the door prior to the show

    See more details

  • Vibe Check!

    March 13, 2024  9:00 pm - 11:00 pm

    soulful | groovy | moody | no cover charge
    VIBE CHECK continues its run at The Zoo Bar every Wednesday night.
    The music and vibes continue to elevate with every show.

    See more details

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