The Zoo Music Awards Showcase sprawled itself across Missoula Saturday night when 45 bands invaded nine venues in one night. Downtown staples like The Palace and Sean Kelly’s, as well as relative’s new spots for music, the VFW and Monk’s, all got in the mix and played host to a variety of acts. Featuring folk, metal, punk, bluegrass and more, each venue showcased a particular genre of music. Throughout the night, a free shuttle helmed by the stalwart diver Merlin carted increasingly intoxicated Missoulians and out-of-towners around town, ensuring they got the most for their $10 admission price. Although it was impossible to catch them all, here’s a small taste of the action.
Sean Kelly’s / 9 p.m.
Kira Means eased Sean Kelly’s singer-songwriter showcase to a start with a solid opening set of guitar and piano ballads. Though young and faced with an easily distracted audience used to Sean Kelly’s open-mic format, she played her instruments with confidence as she switched from guitar to piano. Her voice was strong, but not bombastic. Though it was often buried, her voice transcended the buzz of the crowd during the emotional highpoints, and she received plenty of cheers in between each of her five songs.
The Palace / 9:45 p.m.
Energetic, youthful, and instrumentally schizophrenic, The Trees were the second act of the psychedelic and jam band showcased at the Palace. The four-piece played a set of bright, easy-going tunes that inspired a small but supercharged group of fans to cluster in front of the stage. One guy yelled and danced enthusiastically despite a protective cast around his right foot. The Trees demonstrated some impressive instrument swapping skills when each member except the drummer exchanged guitars, bass, and saxophone in between songs. It was a fun set, although there’s only so many times a chorus with the lyrics, “Ooooh hoooo ... woooo hooo!” needs to be heard before attention spans wane.
Feruqi’s / 10:15 p.m.
Despite a crowd of less than 20, many tucked safely into their bar stools, rapper Frodie busted out a confident set of rhymes about trying to make it as a hip-hop performer, backed by his brother on DJ duty. Frodie gave away CDs to the newly converted and roses to a woman sporting an Oakland Raider’s jacket who was all about it, snapping pictures and shooting video.
Shuttle Talk: A small group of friends discussed President’s Day plans on the way to the Broadway Inn. A trip into Idaho seemed likely, with one question: JJ or Wier for soaking?
Broadway Inn / 10:45 p.m.
DJ Bionic is a big, beefy guy with lots of ink and a penchant for mixing old-school pop hits like Dians Ross’ “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with modern hip hop like Bone Thugs N Harmony’s “Thuggish Ruggish Bone.” The Broadway had an overly lit dance floor, but that didn’t stop a dozen women definitely digging DJ Bionic’s set.
A University of Montana student senator can’t help but fall for the, “Merlin...you cast a spell on me!” joke, and the van enjoys a celebratory pull on a bottle of Jameson when a lost purse is discovered by a man with a rocking set of dreads.
Sunrise Saloon / 11:45 p.m.
Feet were stompin’ and couples were jitterbuggin’ as The Kitchen Dwellers plucked and fiddled their way through the Sunrise Saloon’s Bluegrass and Country showcase. Whether it was the booze, the hour, the music or a mix of all three, the crowd was definitely digging it. And not to engage in stereotypes, but it may be some time before the Sunrise sees that many dudes with dreadlocks anytime soon.
Dark Horse / 12:15 a.m.
Who likes to mix guttural death metal chops and black electric violins spitting out creepy arpeggios? Walking Corpse Syndrome, that’s who. Located in the same complex as the Sunrise, the Dark Horse offered its stage to the gods of metal and punk for their showcase. With all the moshing and kick-punch dancing, this was the only venue of the night that needed a bouncer in front of the stage. Come to think of it, it also had the highest facial piercings to faces ratio.
Sunrise Saloon: Part II / 12:45 a.m.
Though the bill said country, P.D. Lear’s one-man-band said dirty blues. His homemade microphone was so tinny it made his lyrics almost indecipherable, and with all that foot-stomping, his glasses took up permanent residence on the bridge of his nose and even his mouth at one point. Though the hour had started to weed out the early-risers, the hardcore listeners who remained were treated to one of the best sets of the night.
Shuttle Talk: Speech got more slurred, and conversations got more confusing. Merlin was solid as ever and kept the shuttle and his passengers safe ... all three of them.
Ole Beck VFW / 1:15 a.m. to Closing Time!
Despite some shenanigans, the Zoo Music shuttle arrived time to catch the last few songs of Missoula staple Secret Powers at the VFW’s Indie Pop and Rock showcase. These guys have been riffing their version of guitar driven, melodic power pop around the Missoula scene for a while now. They’re slick, assured and they’ve got their shit together, and it was a satisfying nightcap to a hectic night racing around Missoula’s first ever Zoo Music event.