The Zookeepers

Nominee – 1996 6th Annual LA Music Awards

Style: “folkadelic party rock”
Sorta like Dave Matthews meets Van Morrison
Released 4 indie CDs
Performed over 500 shows
Driven over 150,000 miles
Fan base spread over 11 states
Formed in L.A. in 1992
Named one of top 5 unsigned bands in L.A.
Five NACA* Conference Showcases

The Zookeepers stopped touring in 2001 after 500 shows and 150,000 miles when Patrick Vernon sold out and went to business school at UNC. Career highlights include opening for the Mother Hips, Young Dubliners, the Uninvited, and (thanks to some interesting nights in Vegas) the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Kentucky Headhunters and Loverboy. The band performed on Fox TV’s Good Day L.A. show as one of the top 5 unsigned bands in L.A., and capped their career in 2000 with a performance in a 12th century Swiss castle. The band is currently residing in the “where are they now” file while Patrick occasionally plays a little bluegrass in Chapel Hill.

In a world besieged by the resonating beat of gansta rap, the shrill vocals of present-day pop divas and the angst-ridden lyrics of alternative rock, music-lovers seeking fresh, fun, feel-good music have few places to turn. But the Zookeepers’ brand of folkadelic party rock provides a place for those of us who realize that life is pretty damn good if we just stop for a few minutes and take a look around.

Musically, the band’s style is a combination of old and new — sort of Van Morrison meets Dave Matthews with a guest appearance by Jimmy Buffett. The emphasis is on a funky, laid-back sound laced with pop culture references and a tinge of escapism. Their repertoire ranges from bittersweet ballads (“Ordinary Man”) and catchy pop numbers (“He’s Crazy”) to rock anthems (“Set Me Free”) and soulfully whimsical ditties (“The Cow Song”). Smart and sweet lyrics are sung beautifully and carried by catchy melodies and strong musicianship, prompting BAM to call the Zookeepers “an extremely appealing group.”

Patrick formed the band to play catchy, fun, upbeat songs. It was early 90s Los Angeles — everything good was grunge and even the pollyannas were cyncial. Could a fun-loving, rootsy rock band stand a chance? “People thought I was nuts,” he recalls.

Soon “Patrick Vernon and the Zookeepers” began taking their music to the clubs of Hollywood, running against the tide of the slit-your-wrist alternative movement. Based on a strong following from his years of performing solo, the Zookeepers’ local fan base and popularity began to grow — so much so, in fact, that in 1994, Fox-TV named the group one of the top five unsigned bands in Los Angeles. That year, the band released its eponymous debut disk, The Zookeepers, on its own label.

Buoyed by their local success, the band took its show on the road, embarking on a three-state, 17-date tour. “Sure, we were playing to three people in Eugene, Oregon,” Patrick laughs, “but that was three more people who knew the Zookeepers were a good band. And we knew that — God willing — if we could get back to Eugene, there’d be at least six people next time.”

And that’s exactly what happened. Their popularity growing, the Zookeepers stopped touring only long enough to record Set Me Free in 1995 and Leaving L.A. in 1997. Still unsigned, both releases were on the band’s own label. “We’re not militantly independent,” Patrick says. “But we want to make records so we do.”

Today, after four years and more than 300 shows, the Zookeepers are still going strong, playing to packed houses of loyal fans and first-timers. If you haven’t heard them or seen them by now, you should. Whether it’s the lyrics or the music, the vocals or the vibes — the Zookeepers will charm you.