On Thursday night, the Heidelberg’s Club Above was crammed
full with an excited crowd that rivaled the energy of the band on
stage. A local band by the name of Roadside Zoo was playing. People
were dancing all over the place, moving their legs and arms to a
catchy beat that could only be described as “funk
rock.” Everyone in the crowd at least bobbed their heads and
swung their hips. It was the epitome of what local music is all
about: good, plain, old-fashioned fun.

Music Reviews
Roadside Zoo, an Ann Arbor band, has a sizeable following around the city. (Photo courtesy of Roadside Zoo)

Three of Roadside Zoo’s four members attend the University
of Michigan, and the fourth is a student at Eastern Michigan
University. The band members were already in college when they met,
and the late start makes their sound a little more mature than
most, seeing as the members of the band are more seasoned at their
instruments and have had more time to sort out their style.

“We just started as an improv thing,” says lead
vocalist and guitarist Darryl Prudich, when explaining the
band’s beginning. “We weren’t really in it to set
up the band at first, but we just started jamming and stuff,”
he said.

Given the lack of fast-fame ambition, it’s surprising that
the four guys who eventually became Roadside Zoo experienced such
rapid local success. After playing at some campus house parties,
their first venue was at Touchdowns Café on South University
Avenue, about a month and a half after their start-up.

That might seem pretty quick, but Cole DeVilbiss, the
group’s keyboardist, says that the band simply “made
some rough demos, thinking that’s something we would
need.”

“Our first time playing (at Touchdown’s) was
actually fun, because it was new to us, and there was a good crowd
there,” DeVilbiss says. After that, the band’s
inclination steered them away from Touchdown’s and on to some
different venues around town.

So what kind of crowd does a local band prefer? “Like the
Heidelberg’s last Thursday,” they said, almost in
unison. They like an energetic and excited group, and having
numbers on the higher side doesn’t hurt either. The band also
appreciates that the Heidelberg encourages original music. Local
bands, at least when starting out, have to play some cover songs to
draw crowds. But if you want to play original music, like Roadside
Zoo prefers, venues such as the Heidelberg or the Blind Pig are at
the top of the list.

“They really promote original music, and so they are
probably the best few places to do that,” DeVilbiss says.
Fortunately, Roadside Zoo is now at a stage in their career when
they usually have no trouble landing a spot in the gig schedule at
local venues. Still, there are tons of groups on the scene, and no
band has a perfect situation.

“Even now we have to wait our turn,” bassist Chris
Ramos says. Certain venues such as the Blind Pig, have long
waitlists, with hundreds of groups coming through consistently.
Even so, drummer Dave Malozzi says that all it takes is a phone
call and an inquiry about the next available spot.

The band agrees that the particular local music scene in Ann
Arbor was especially helpful to their aspirations. “I think
it’s pretty easy to get in places, to put together a demo,
tell a bar you can bring a bunch of people and then you can
play,” Malozzi says.

Still, compared to other cities in which the band has played,
Ann Arbor ranks high in terms of atmosphere. As far as playing
other cities, it’s all about the basics: the crowd that the
other bands draw. This proved successful when Roadside Zoo recently
played in Detroit for the first time, where the other band playing
had drawn a local following. This, of course, made the crowd
larger, the energy higher and the experience a good one. A band
that plays in an unfamiliar city simply has to rely on its
co-performers for a crowd. In other places, such as Kalamazoo, this
hasn’t worked out so well for Roadside Zoo, who says that
their crowd there was less than satisfactory. It was too big to
just goof around, and to small to feel like a real audience.

Size of the audience aside, new venues can always be
nerve-wracking, even for the seasoned pros. Playing in new places
is like “going out and proving yourself again,” Prudich
says. “You are so much more receptive to what the
crowd’s reactions are.” The band has played across the
country in places like Richmond, Va., where they went on a Spring
Break.

Of course, Ann Arbor is home, and Roadside Zoo loves to play
here. The Ann Arbor local music scene has been a great help to them
getting their feet wet, and it only goes up from here as the band
expands and tries new things in true “local artist”
form. To see Roadside Zoo play at one of their favorite local
venues, hit up the Blind Pig on April 13. For more information,
check out their website at
“http://www.roadsidezoomusic.com”>www.roadsidezoomusic.com.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *