By Samantha Plentychief
Photo by Michele Zephier
May 3, 2019

Piicture by Michele Zephier.

Indigenous returned to Lincoln’s legendary Zoo Bar on Wednesday to deliver yet another fantastic performance. The band entertained, enlightened, and enthralled the standing-room-only crowd from the opening chord to the final encore.

The group, including Mato Nanji (guitar and vocals), Kurt Olson (drums) and Justin Cournoyer (bass), filled two non-stop 80 minute sets with Indigenous originals and classic covers. Set one highlighted the trio’s mastery of blues and rock, most notably, a searing version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” and a jaw-dropping Hendrix/Santana medley. Set two featured Indigenous-crowd favorites such as “Both to Blame,” “Good at Feeling Bad,” and “Things We Do.”

Mato, widely recognized in Indian country and beyond as the definitive “Native Blues-Man,” leads the band. The Yankton Sioux Native once again displayed to Lincoln how Indians rock the world. Indigenous’ original line up included Mato and his siblings. However, in recent years Mato has incorporated talented musicians from places outside the Yankton Reservation.

Wednesday’s gig showcased a midwest native and Nashville music-scene workhorse, Kurt Olsen. Kurt grew up around Mato and began his musical journey with Mato at the young age of 16. He fills in with the band at any given opportunity. Olsen says playing with Mato is “the time of my life. No matter how far away I am when he calls, I come running to the venue.”

This go around introduced Yankton, South Dakota’s new-kid-on-the-block, Justin Cournoyer to the Zoo Bar. Cournoyer did not disappoint as he laid the soulful groove upon which Mato and Olsen rode like a smooth wave.

The crowd reflected the band’s electrified energy. While captivated, the audience interacted with each other; taking photos and videos while sharing smiles and hugs.

Although attending any Indigenous show can always reveal musical magic, there is something special about seeing them perform at the Zoo Bar. The long history of Indigenous performances in Lincoln have mostly remained at the premiere national music venue down on 14th street.

The Zoo Bar, has anchored the local music scene since 1973. Pete Watters, who started working there as a bartender in 1986 and purchased the Zoo in 2001, has witnessed most if not all of Indigenous’ Zoo Bar performances over the decades. Watters describes his excitement and respect for the band as “family coming home”.

Indigenous has been playing at the Zoo since the early ‘90s and, according to Watters, Indigenous’ earliest tour included a memorable performance on the 12-foot by 12-foot stage. While that first show remains a legendary show in Zoo Bar lore it also is a significant event in the trajectory of the band’s upward move in the music world.

That initial tour included the first string of Indigenous performances that took place outside of the the Yankton Reservation. Lincoln was the first town the band traveled to and, in true Native tradition, their family traveled along to support and celebrate with them.

The magnitude of grace and rhythm shined through, leaving Zoo patrons satisfied and looking forward to their next chance to see an Indigenous performance, myself included. Each time I see Indigenous, they show me new ways and reasons to appreciate the ways that the blues is being respected and reshaped in modern musical moments of brilliance.

Currently, Mato says he is working on a new album that is slated to be released soon. Until then, we will have to await the return of Indigenous to Lincoln. If you missed Wednesday’s show, don’t fret. You can listen to their current release, Gray Skies, available in stores and online now.

Samantha Plentychief is one of the hosts of Native Sounds Native Voices on Thursdays, 10-Noon.