Concerts are back at the Minnesota Zoo, but they're a different animal than the shows there in the past.
Thursday night sees the kickoff of Wild Nights at the zoo complex in Apple Valley, a series of nine evening events featuring about six acts per night across three stages in what's being billed as a "festival-like atmosphere."
This week's 6-10 p.m. starting lineup falls under the banner of "Indie Rock" and features buzzing Twin Cities bands Yam Haus, Gully Boys and — a group whose moniker should not be taken as a dare in this case — Kiss the Tiger. Shows continue every other Thursday through Sept. 14.
Wild Nights will feature all Minnesota and Wisconsin acts and not touring performers — unlike the long-popular Music at the Zoo series with concert promoters Sue McLean & Associates, which hosted stars like Florence + the Machine, Brandi Carlile and Willie Nelson.
The Music in the Zoo series was called off after a 27-year run in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Zoo officials opted not to bring it back last year, when an initial run at the Wild Nights series was taken.
"We had a wonderful and historic relationship with Sue McLean & Associates," said Zach Nugent, communications specialist with the Minnesota Zoo, "but when the pandemic hit and forced everything to shut down it gave us the opportunity to rethink our programming, to create something more in-house that has the zoo's mission more at heart."
Attendees on the Wild Nights will have access to all of the zoo's animal exhibits and walking trails from 6-8 p.m., something not offered for Music in the Zoo concerts. Nugent said "connecting with the animals and the beautiful natural setting" at the zoo should be part of the draw for the series, which is open only to music fans 18 and older.
Subsequent weeks include a "Global Beats & World Music" night with Malamanya and Maria Isa on June 8; "Indie Soul & Rhythm & Blues" with Chastity Brown and FènixDion on June 22; an "Americana and Alt-Country" bill with the Cactus Blossoms and Turn Turn Turn on July 6, and "80s, 90s & New Wave" with the rarely seen of late Information Society and DJ Jake Rudh on Aug. 17.
Tickets to each show are available via mnzoo.org for $40, or $30 for zoo members. Discounted three-packs are being sold for multiple nights. Parking is free.
The Weesner Family Amphitheater, which was home to all the Music in the Zoo concerts, will be used as one of the stages for Wild Nights.
Here's the full schedule for the series:
Thursday: "Indie Rock" with Yam Haus, Kiss the Tiger, Gully Boys, the Swongos and DJs Matty Matt and Astrolex.
June 8: "Global Beats & World Music Night" with Malamanya, the Gentlemen's Anti-Temperance League, Siama's Congo Roots, Pan Dimensions Steel Drum Band, Maria Isa, DJ William El Buenon.
July 6: "Americana and Alt-Country" with the Cactus Blossoms, Barbaro, Chicken Wire Empire, Jojo Green, Turn Turn Turn, Trapper Schoepp.
July 20: "Blues, Soul & Jazz" with Joyann Parker, Corey Medina & Brothers Band, Hurricane Harold & TC Blues All Stars, Paul Renz Trio/Lessmeister Jazz Combo, Dueling Pianos.
Aug. 3: "Hip-hop & Reggae" with Nur-D, Fanaka Nation, iLLism, Ka Lai, Pelly, Dred I Dread.
Aug. 17: "80s, 90s & New Wave" with Information Society, DJ Jake Rudh, Mallrats '90s, Polka Police, DJ Shane Kramer.
Aug. 31: "Funky Jam & Boogie" with Frogleg, Mae Simpson, Ellis Cleve, Samantha Grimes & Nancy Bongos Long, Patchouli.
Sept. 14: "Mash Up" with Kat Perkins, Chris Kroeze, the High 48s, Roe Family Singers, Steam Machine.