“Playing the blues can be a funny thing,” Jimmy Hendrix was once quoted as saying. “They are extremely easy to play, but are difficult to feel.” Thanks to the efforts of Don Chamberlain, Bill Kennedy, and Jim Ludwig in the creation of The Zoo Bar in 1971, Lincoln has been given plenty of reasons to feel the blues. Starting with its conception in 1971 and later the beginning of live acts in 1973, Chamberlain, Kennedy and Ludwig undeniably tapped into an undiscovered niche within the Lincoln community. Along with the help of Larry Boehmer, a local graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the establishment was able to gain unparalleled local and national notoriety within the blues touring scene and thus a local legend would be born. Later becoming The Zoo Bar’s sole owner from 1977 to 2000, in the efforts to promote both local and national acts’ popularity among the Lincoln community, Boehmer was able to successfully gain strong relationships with many critical contacts within the independent blues scenes in different areas around the country; most importantly with Bob Riedy and the Chicago blues scene.
Blues legend Magic Slim first graced The Zoo Bar in 1975.
Though you would be hard pressed to find anyone to argue with you on the significance that such contacts would eventually have on the legitimacy that The Zoo Bar would have on the national blues scene, most likely even Boehmer himself would have been surprised had he known. Arguably the “major” blues act to grace the stage of the establishment came in 1975 when Boehmer was able to use this very connection with the Chicago blues scene to host the now legendary Morris “Magic Slim” Holt. Besides an unbelievable live act, this particular show meant more to music than many people realize, as with this show, The Zoo Bar became the first ever white establishment in which Magic Slim, who previously secluded himself strictly to Chicago’s African-American clubs, would ever perform. Stating that he really enjoyed the environment of Lincoln, Holt would later make a move that would prove to any skeptics exactly how excellent the scene had become as in the early 1990’s Holt would move himself and his entire family away from Chicago to a his new city of choice: Lincoln, Nebraska.
Buddy Guy, 5-time Grammy winner & Zoo Bar entertainer.
With popularity among the touring circuit, The Zoo Bar would do nothing but expand its fan base throughout the following decades, making it a venue of choice for countless big name blues acts throughout the years. Countless notable acts have filled the local venue over the years, helping to give unparalleled success to the small local establishment, and have included the likes of Tommy Castro, Bo Diddley, Tinsley Ellis, Magic Slim and the Teardrops, Otis Rush, and Buddy Guy only to name a few. In 1993, after 20 years of hard work and dedication to the local music scene, the efforts of owner Larry Boehmer were eventually notably realized, as The Zoo Bar received The National Blues Association’s “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award as the most established blues venue of the year for the entire United States. In 2000, Larry Boehmer hung up his hat as proprietor of the club, leaving the future of the establishment up to current partners Jeff Boehmer and Pete Watters in order to assure the survival of Lincoln’s very own iconic legend well into the years to come.
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