Sounds of the Zoo fest aims to make Kalamazoo music mecca

The brainchild of Jennifer Hudson-Prenkert, the week-long affair at several venues in downtown Kalamazoo will boast vastly diverse performances and a collaborative vibe.

Sounds of the Zoo fest aims to make Kalamazoo music mecca

‘A Sense of Community and Connection’: Sounds of the Zoo unfurls in Kalamazoo Sept. 26-Oct. 2. (Photos/Local Spins)



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Anytime Jennifer Hudson-Prenkert answers the phone, there’s a palpable excitement in her voice as she talks about Sounds of the Zoo, a new multi-cultural festival and symposium taking place in Kalamazoo from Sept. 26th to Oct. 2.

Attendees can expect a community-minded music festival that emphasizes diversity and inclusion.

“I guess my mission is creating change through music. That’s really what I want people to get out of this. I mean, it means so many things, because there’s a lot,” the event founder says.

“I hope people get a sense of community and connection, the ability to connect with somebody. I guess a connection is something that I really want people to take home.”

Jennifer Hudson-Prenkert (Courtesy Photo)

The unique and ambitious festival aims to empower and unite artists, industry professionals and music lovers while creating “change through music.”

Sounds of the Zoo features performance showcases by more than 30 artists and includes a number of workshops at a variety of locations throughout the city.

Artists include Earth Radio, Jordan Hamilton, Kait Rose, Grace Theisen, The Mainstays, Laura Rain & The Caesars, The Bootstrap Boys, Carrie McFerrin, Brian Koenigsknecht, Darcy Wilkin, The Incantations, Samuel Nalangira and Cabildo, among others, covering multiple genres.

The all-ages festival is free to the public. Venue locations include Bell’s Brewery, Hilton Garden Inn, Old Dog Tavern and Bronson Park. Workshops include microphone selection and placement instruction as part of a “preparing to make a record” session hosted by Ian Gorman of La Luna Recording & Sound and a “Start Your LLC” B-Side Session presented by the Michigan Music Alliance.

In addition, busking stations will be set up in four Kalamazoo locations from noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 1 with a wide variety of artists performing.


Kalamazoo singer-songwriter Grace Theisen performs at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 at Bronson Park when she’ll also debut a new single titled, “Master of Fire.” She says she’s “mostly just excited to be part of such a diverse festival.”

“Jennifer is giving everyone a stage and I think it’s incredible. It’s rare you get so many different types of genres let alone highlighting different cultures, genders, age and race in one event,” Theisen offers. “We need MORE of this. … She is setting the tone for a different kind of music scene here in Kalamazoo, one that is not just showcasing incredible talent but is also inclusive, collaborative and supportive.”

Debuting a New Single for Sounds of the Zoo: Grace Theisen (Photo/Chelsea Whitaker)

Hudson-Prenkert has worked in the music industry for more than 25 years, including roles as booking agent, creative director, choreographer and professional dancer. For Sounds of the Zoo, she’s focused on the DIY aspect of putting together this type of multi-faceted event, stressing the importance of flexibility over rigidity.

Looking ahead, Hudson-Prenkert views Sounds of the Zoo as a namesake event that can grow into something bigger than simply an annual festival. She has hopes to host events throughout the year with the annual festival as an anchor.

“I’m trying to build up something in Kalamazoo so it becomes a hub. But we’re also going to be working at the local, regional, national and international level, so that we can help the touring process within Michigan first and foremost, but then, of course, always opening the door for tours coming through the area, so that people come to Michigan,” she says.

“I wanted to create a place where all the people who’ve been busting their buttons in this state forever, could come somewhere and just hang out and create things.”

She adds: “I see it as we’re planting that first root ball in the ground. And then we’ll be the tree with all these branches. And yeah, eventually, maybe more trees will come out of it when the seedlings drop.

We are planting other trees next to us, but this will definitely be a rooted, foundational component to grow organically.”

Jordan Hamilton (Photo/Derek Ketchum)

Kalamazoo hip-hop cellist Jordan Hamilton — who performs in Bronson Park at noon Oct. 2 — hailed Hudson-Prenkert for her enthusiasm in assembling Sounds of the Zoo.

“I know her heart sits with the synergy and support that the Kalamazoo music scene can offer,” he said, noting Kalamazoo sits in a central location with strong support for the arts, boding well for the future. “I’m excited to see and be a part of a festival she is directing and look forward to seeing where it goes.”

Meanwhile, Kalamazoo singer-songwriter and festival performer Brian Koenigsknecht said he’s “always been proud to be included in the hard-working Kalamazoo music scene. I hope this event shines a spotlight on the many talented young bands and musicians, as well as some of us old veterans that have been around for a long time.”

Koenigsknecht, who plays Sept. 27 at Hilton Garden Inn as part of Carrie McFerrin’s Songwriter Showcase, plans to share new songs he’s written as part of his set. He released a new studio album, “The Dirty Work,” earlier this year and is preparing for a live vinyl album release.

SOUNDS OF THE ZOO SCHEDULE (Save this image on your smartphone to take with you)

SOUNDS OF THE ZOO 2022: The Local Spins Playlist

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