By Will Roper
July 5, 2018

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Zoo Bar in Lincoln. With over four decades of live music in an exceptional small bar atmosphere, the Zoo Bar will celebrate with its 20th ZooFest music festival on Friday and Saturday, July 6 and 7.

Zoo Bar owner Pete Watters  said the festival always showcases a diverse range of musicians and genres.

“It’s pretty humbling – a lot of people say it’s their favorite weekend of the year,” Watters said. “It’s big but it still has the Zoo Bar feel.”

Indeed, this year’s lineup draws on many roots performers who have frequented the bar’s stage, and is headlined by one of the biggest national acts to ever play the festival.

Evan Bartels and the Stoney Lonesomes – Friday at 5 p.m.

Nebraska singer/songwriter Evan Bartels has been making incredible waves in the local music scene with his contemporary take on the Americana country genre. His one-of-a-kind vocals that mix powerful notes with vibrant storytelling have made him a favorite among Nebraskans – and a growing name in the national singer/songwriter scene. Along with Bartels on vocals and guitar, the Stoney Lonesomes are composed of Logan Bartels on bass, Jake Brandt on guitar and Brian Keeling on drums. The Devil, God, and Me is Bartels’ debut album, and packs a diverse range of soulful vocals and deep storytelling.

Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials – Friday at 7 p.m.

Blues slide guitarist and native Chicagoan Lil Ed Williams is a blues singer and musician who’s been performing his blend of bluesy rock since the early 1980s. With a plethora of albums with both the Blues Imperials and on his own, Williams has made his gigantic mark on the contemporary blues scene as a distinctive blues slide guitar player and vocalist who feels the blues rather than simply play it. Along with Williams, the Blues Imperials are completed by Mike Garrett on guitar, James “Pookie” Young on bass and Kelly Littleton on drums.

Los Lobos – Friday at 9 p.m.

“They’re one of the best things I’ve seen in my life,” Watters said, adding that he’s been trying to get the eclectic Los Angeles rock bandto ZooFest for awhile now. They may be one of the most anticipated bands to ever perform at the 20-year-old blues festival. With David Hidalgo, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano, Louie Perez, Steve Berlin and others singing and playing a wide range of instruments, Los Lobos has been putting on a monumental show around the world for decades. Lincoln is certainly in for a special act when they perform Friday night.

Josh Hoyer and Soul Colossal – Friday at 11 p.m.

Hailing from LincolnJosh Hoyer formed his five-piece funk and soul group in 2012. With Hoyer on vocals and keys, the group is rounded out with excellent local musicians Benjamin Kushner on guitar, Blake DeForest on trumpet, Mike Keeling on bass and Larell Ware on drums. The band is known nationally for Hoyer’s unique, powerful vocals, with some describing him as a “soul shouter.” Josh Hoyer and Soul Colossal have undergone numerous national tours in the last five years, and have recently completed their newest full-length album Do It Now which they’ve been performing on tour since this spring.

Blues Ed – Far & Wide and Mannix – Saturday at 1 p.m.

A nonprofit based in Omaha, BluesEd utilizes professional musicians as instructors in a program for middle school and high school students, focusing on musicianship, music history, stage presence, playing in a band and artist development. See the future stars of the stage who are keeping the blues alive for the next generation.

Hector Anchondo – Saturday at 3 p.m.

Omaha’s Hector Anchondo is one of the most decorated blues performers in the state, having won the Nebraska State Blues Challenge two years in a row, as well as Best Blues Band at both the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards. He has also garnered international acclaim by placing in the semifinals of the 2015 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, followed by a finish in the finals the following year. HIs dazzling guitar playing has been honed throughout his entire life and, even as one of the youngest performers on the state blues scene, he had forged his place at the top of the state’s roots music mountain.

Igor and the Red Elvises – Saturday at 5 p.m.

Igor Yuzov from Germany, Ukraine and Russia headlines this eccentric band that has been described as “Siberian Surf Rock.” Dating back to the early 90s, the Red Elvises are best known for their high energy street performances that continuously leave long-lasting memories of dancing and shouting. Yuzov is accompanied by a rotation of talented musicians that bring the fire and energy to their rock tunes they perform all across the globe. Get ready to dance in the late afternoon for this group.

Dale Watson and His Lonestars – Saturday at 7 p.m.

Dale Watson and His Lonestars, heralding from the great state of Texas, features lead singer and guitarist Watson alongside Mike Bernal on drums, Chris Crepps on upright bass and Don Pawlak on pedal steel. Watson, who began writing songs at the young age of 12, has grown into his own genre of music over the years he dubs “Ameripolitan,” which encompasses the classic genres of honky tonk, Western swing, rockabilly and outlaw rock. Watson and his crew have been paving the way for new blends of country and rock over the decades, and Lincoln will get a full taste of his unique Ameripolitan flavor on Saturday night.

Tommy Castro and the Painkillers – Saturday at 9 p.m.

Winner of the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, Tommy Castro and his band the Painkillers have been setting the blues scene on fire for decades. Castro, who has become known as one of the kings of funk and blues with his amazing lead guitar skills and soulful voice. With Randy McDonald on bass, Bowen Brown on drums and Michael Emerson on keys, Castro and the Painkillers have showcased their signature blues/funk repertoire to the world and come into Lincoln prepared to put on a classic performance.

Nikki Hill – Saturday at 11 p.m.

North Carolina singer Nikki Hill will come into town Saturday bringing with her a genuine, explosive performance centered on her amazing vocals and rock-solid accompanying band. Hill and her band have toured the world atop of Hill’s incredible vocal range and varied influences, which feature over-the-top, feel-good rock ‘n’ roll tunes from an exceptionally unique lead performer. Look for Hill to perform her newest songs from her 2015 album “Heavy Hearts Hard Fists.”

This year’s lineup promises to be one of the best in the ZooFest’s 20-year history. For both longtime ZooFest goers and newcomers, Watters said ZooFest is for anyone who likes music and is looking for an exciting weekend.

“It’s a lot of good people having a good time,” Watters said. “The vibe has always been great.”

Tickets on the day of the show are $35 for Friday and $30 for Saturday. Find out more at

Will Roper is an editorial intern with KZUM.