By Will Roper
Photos by Jay Douglass

Jan. 26, 2018

Samantha Fish performs at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln, Neb., on Jan. 25, 2018. Jay Douglass/KZUM.

A blues phenom found herself back in a familiar place, mixing both an old and new sound with the same, exciting performance she’s become known for in Nebraska.

On Thursday, Samantha Fish and her band rocked the hallowed corridor of the Zoo Bar in front of a jam-packed, sold-out audience.

Fish, making her return to the Zoo Bar after a seven-month absence, said she loves playing in the intimate space of the old blues bar.

“It’s like coming home once a year,” Fish said after the show. “I love it. Everybody here is a music fan.”

Since her performance in Lincoln back in June, Fish has continued her meteoric ascent as one of the best blues and country musicians in the nation. She released two full albums in 2017 – Chills & Fever and Belle of the West – which not only showcase her skills as a blues guitar player and vocalist but also as a country, Americana singer-songwriter. Rolling Stone recently featured Fish as an up-and-coming country artist, while The New York Times put Chills & Fever at 22 on their list of the best albums of 2017.

The 28-year-old from Kansas City is currently on tour across the Midwest and Eastern United States, performing and promoting her latest music up until early June.

The show Thursday night – Fish on lead vocals and guitar, accompanied by a viola, trumpet and saxophone player, as well as the traditional drum set, bass and keyboard – started off with a bang.

Fish and her group began effortlessly with high energy, crowd-pleasing country rock ’n’ roll music, with songs off of her latest album like “Cowtown” and “Don’t Say You Love Me” creating an instant connection with everyone in the Zoo Bar.

Samantha Fish performs at the Zoo Bar in Lincoln, Neb., on Jan. 25, 2018. Jay Douglass/KZUM.

From the get-go, the fusion of Fish’s soaring, passionate vocals and breathtaking guitar chops immediately set the small blues bar on fire. A large portion of the show was simply powerful, face-melting guitar solos from Fish, who only seemed to gain more and more energy as the night progressed. When not performing a solo, Fish and the band meshed flawlessly, creating wave after wave of harmonious blues, country and rock ‘n’ roll sound.

The few moments of recuperation, with softer songs like “Belle of the West,” really highlighted the wide range of music Fish and her group were capable of creating. The change of pace from bouncing around to bluesy rock ‘n’ roll to swaying with coffeehouse country folk was a combination that worked perfectly.

While the Zoo Bar venue, according to Fish, may be better suited for the bluesy rock ‘n’ roll, she said there’s still a place in the set for folk music.

“This environment in particular is like a party atmosphere, so I feel inclined to say rocking out is a little better,” Fish said. “But I still love doing the folksy stuff, too, because I love Americana and country music. You sneak it in when you can, just to give some diversity to the set. But this is definitely a rockin’ crowd.”

As the crowd feverishly demanded an encore, Fish and her band graciously obliged, providing one last euphonious mixture of brass, rhythm and blues to the sold-out show before calling it a night after two hours of playing. After her performance, Fish stayed behind to greet fans, take pictures and accept the occasional birthday gift (her birthday is Jan. 30).

In short, Fish and her band brought one hell of a performance back to the Zoo Bar, leaving people feeling as though they got one of the better deals of the new year for only a $10 ticket. Fish’s vehement voice and incredible guitar skills are everything this local blues bar was made for. The tightness and unity of the entire band also can’t be understated, and for the most part, everyone in the group was completely in sync with each other from start to finish.

As Fish continues to gather tremendous acclaim for her new albums, it’s hard to say whether she’ll be back in Lincoln any time soon. This performance, however, will definitely give the blues and country fans of Nebraska something to remember for a very long time.

[slickr-flickr tag="fishzoobar2018" captions="on"] View photos on KZUM's Flickr.

Will Roper is an editorial intern with KZUM. Jay Douglass is a volunteer photography contributor.