Dancing in the Streets

by Catharine Huddle

Mavis Staples rocked the street in front of the Zoo Bar during its 46th anniversary in July 2019, bringing her legendary rhythm and blues and gospel to a street full of hot but happy fans. 

The bar, a legend itself, hosts the Zoo Bar Festival each July,
bringing in players and music lovers from all over the state and around the country. 

For long-time patrons of the bar, the weeklong bash that moves onto the street for the weekend is a lot like a great big family reunion—with much better music. 

The emphasis of the bar at 136 N. 14th St. is the blues, but it offers everything from blues to funk and soul to country and comedy.

Zoo Bar founder, the late Larry Boehmer, took the music outdoors to celebrate the bar’s 25th anniversary in 1998. That first festival lit up 14th and P streets. In the following years, festivities moved to N Street briefly before returning to the street outside the bar. 

Current owner Pete Watters said putting on the festival, which has hosted blues giant James Harmon, roots rock master Dave Alvin, the Grammy Award-winning Brave Combo and scores of local and national acts, is stressful every year.

“This is Nebraska. Every month is terrible (weatherwise),” Watters said.

He takes out rain insurance, but mostly hopes the temperature is not too scorching and that the hundreds of volunteers it takes to pull the festival off every year show up.

Contrary to popular wisdom someone shared with him that first year—that just 50 percent of people who volunteer for such events show up—Watters said more than 90 percent of those who sign up turn out to serve beer, take tickets and do everything from setting up the stage to tearing down at the end of the two nights outdoors. 

“If they can’t come, they’ll call to apologize,” he said.

Watters said city government has been very supportive of the outdoor party, which draws several thousand over its run. So have fans. He said he hears about people coming in from Philadelphia, Southern California and elsewhere.

The legendary bar offers live entertainment  seven nights a week. The 2020 festival is tentatively set for July 10-11. Keep up to date at zoobar.com or Zoo Bar Fan Club on Facebook.

The 19th annual Lincoln Arts Festival—long held at SouthPointe Pavilions in south Lincoln—moved downtown in 2019, celebrating the arts and joining several other downtown mainstays.

The Sept. 21–22 arts festival moved to P Street between 13th Street and Centennial Mall and teamed up with the week-long Lincoln Calling music festival, as well as these celebrations. 

  • Play on P, a placemaking festival of contemporary art, ran along P Street from the Haymarket to 17th Street. 
  • Streets Alive, an outdoor movement that promotes active living and healthy nutrition across America and the world, let people play in the streets along a two-mile traffic-free path. This year, the festival was hosted by the South Salt Creek/Cooper Park area.
  • Lincoln Children’s Museum, P Street and Centennial Mall, offered activities for kids and families in its Creative Zone.  
  • Nebraska History Museum, also offered a Creative Zone at 131 Centennial Mall North..
  • The Johnny Carson Center for Emerging Media Arts showed student films and offered interactive art activities at 1300 Q St. 
  • Doane University Professor Eric Stearns and students demonstrated ceramics techniques and offered a spot at a pottery wheel.
  • LPS Arts and Humanities Focus Program displayed student work.
  • Tower Square at 13th and P streets hosted live music and performances.

Moving the Arts Festival downtown offered more space for artists, music, performances and interactive art activities on four blocks.

  • P Street between 13th Street & Centennial Mall
    • 14th Street between P and Q streets
    • 13th Street between P and Q streets and Tower Square

See more information at artscene.org/events/lincoln-arts-festival, and check out Lincoln Calling at Lincolncalling.com

Jazz in June

Each Tuesday in June, Jazz in June gives jazz lovers the chance to hear beautiful music and enjoy the grounds around the Sheldon Art Museum on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. Lawn chairs and blankets dot the landscape while family and friends enjoy the music. The show starts at 7 p.m., with the Jazz in June Market starting at 5pm at 12th and R streets. 

The concerts are free; free-will donations help keep the long-running Lincoln tradition going.

Artists for 2019 were Naughty Professor, Evening in Brazil, Marquis Hill Blacktet and Nubya Garcia. Check it out at jazzinjune.com.

So long, Ribfest

The annual meat-loving gathering, Ribfest, brought vendors from around the country to Lincoln for 22 years. This year, the meat- and music-fest sponsored by Nebraska Pork Producers and SMG-Lincoln/Pinnacle Bank Arena pulled up stakes.

In announcing the end of Ribfest in late June, organizers said interest had started to decline and cited increased attendance at local music venues, as well as the fact that many more places offer barbecue in Lincoln today than 22 years ago. 

Meadowlark Music Festival

Called “the Festival to Watch” by Chamber Music America, Meadowlark Music Festival was founded in 2001, the nonprofit organization’s website says. 

Meadowlark’s mission includes presenting world-class musicians in comfortable, interesting venues and at a fraction of the cost of larger organizations. 

The venue is different for each concert. Performances for the July 2019 festival included Wine, Women and Song, Renata and Friends and Howard Levy’s Brazilian Fantasy.

Tickets are subsidized to allow access for all, and Meadowlark musicians perform in local schools and cultural centers. Children younger than 16 always get in free. Check the festival out at meadowlarkmusicfestival.org

Czech Festival at the Pla Mor

Pla Mor Ballroom at 6600 W. O St. hosted the 50th annual Czech Festival on May 5. 

The free event is open to the public and runs all day long, featuring Czech vendors, heritage demonstrations, choir performances, accordion jams and lots of polka dancing. The festival is sponsored by Nebraska Czechs of Lincoln. See more at lincolnczechs.org.


Like many cities in America, Lincoln holds an annual Juneteenth celebration. For 40 years the Clyde Malone Community Center has sponsored the festival that commemorates the end of slavery in the U.S. This popular family-friendly event takes place in early June in Trago Park at 22nd and U streets with food, dancing, a rap contest, health fair and plenty of children’s activities.

Pride Festival

Star City Pride hosts a yearly festival that promotes and celebrates equality for the LGBTQIA community in Lincoln and across Nebraska. Held at Pinnacle Bank Arena and outside in the Festival Lot, this two-day event includes food vendors, music from multiple performers, dancing, special speakers and a kids zone from 2 to 7pm with face painting and balloon design. Starcitypride.org

Stransky Park

Each year Lincoln’s community-owned radio Station, KZUM, sponsors a series often free outdoor concerts in the bandshell at Stransky Park on 10th and Harrison streets. From blues to indie-pop, Lincoln turns out for the music with lawn chairs, blankets, dogs and kids. There’s even a food truck. 


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