Monkeypalooza Brings the Original-Music Game to Galveston

Julian Zamora is the kind of guy you can’t miss even if you try. A sight to behold, he stands 6’6”. Add the dreadlocks that explode off his head in firework formation, and he's nearly 7 feet tall. Yet Zamora is a kind, soft-spoken and tender-hearted soul, the kind of man you’d more likely find alone at the beach meditating or quietly writing music with friends than flexing his size at the world to watch them cower. The proverbial gentle giant.

Still, with a presence that commanding, it must be easy to get things done. Zamora is the lead singer of local metal band Space Rhino, and he's also running a recording studio from his home and a production company (Shrimp Boat Productions) he started just this year. All of which are taking off on a successful trajectory, to his credit. While all these projects and hard work are admirable, they weren’t borne from his impressive visage.

It was created out of necessity — or at least a musical vacuum.

Zamora recently moved to Galveston Island and met with disappointment when he found that many bars and venues were not interested in booking him or his band. In what seemed to him like a booking bizarro world, they declined to offer him a stage because he played original music.

“They want cover bands for tourists,” Zamora sighs.

While businesses court those tourist dollars, musicians on Galveston Island miss out on many gig opportunities because they refuse to play classic-rock tunes or cater to the middle-age blandness of Jimmy Buffet clones. Zamora hopes to upend this outdated system of entertainment. 

"Yeah, that cover-band crap makes me not want to walk into some of these bars that get the same band or guy to play all the time," he says. "We are trying to resuscitate Galveston and give a breath of fresh air here. The Island is ready for a change. I can feel it."

Now, Zamora has found a favorable outpost for his creative vision at the local watering hole, Drunken Monkeyz, located near the Strand on 20th Street, and set out to create Galveston Island's first original-only music festival, Monkeypalooza.

The night I arrived for the interview, the bar's wide patio was brimming with strings of white lights swaying in the salty breeze over an open mike. It was a welcoming and warm sight, thankfully devoid of trite classic-rock covers. Before long, a small group of musicians arrived with guitar cases and enjoyed some beers at the back-porch bar. Another bar inside was staffed by an attentive and friendly bartender, who was also part owner.

It's the perfect setting to hear musicians try out their talent and enjoy a drink among the company of friends. Owners Mike Hernandez, Sam Fulwood and Brian Hefner are excited about the prospects of hosting a live and original music festival — a progressive and ballsy move for the Island. These businessmen respect Zamora and see him as an entrepreneur much like themselves. 

Who can blame them? Every city, including Galveston, deserves a strong live music scene dedicated to original art, not some pusillanimous puppeteering of yesteryear's threadbare tunes. And if you've never been witness to the cringe-tastic rug-cutting at Club 21 on a Saturday night, consider yourself blessed. One night in that venue will make you religiously opposed to not only classic-rock covers but any combination of dancing, Baby Boomers and the addition of alcohol. 

The lack of an original music scene surely would have been enough to make most musicians pack up and head for the mainland, leaving the two-mile-wide island and the causeway in their wake, but not Zamora. Instead, he saw an enormous opportunity.

“You know there’s lots of talent here on the island," Zamora says, his face brightening like an ocean sunrise at the ideas swimming around in his brain. “I mean, I’ve met a lot of people here who want to play, want to perform. To Whom It May is here, I am here, this island is full of talented people.”

When Zamora first arrived in Galveston, he recalls, he wanted to hear the type of shows typically heard across Houston on any given night, yet was unable to do so. Instead, "I just started throwing parties at my house and booking bands to come play,” he says. When that wasn’t enough of a platform for the musicians on the island, Zamora decided he would throw a festival with as many bands on the bill as he could capably handle.

The thought that he had never thrown a festival or practically created an entire music scene from scratch never crossed the 28-year-old's mind. But Zamora isn’t the kind of guy who hopes to one day stumble across a beautiful shell on the beach by chance; he digs one up instead. Shovel in hand, he decided to build a scene where none existed. 

"This is an effort that eventually will lead to owning our own venue down here," he says. "The local musicians will have a venue to play original music. We are definitely already making waves, and I think this event will really show people the talent we have and [make them] realize they don't have to listen to cover tunes to be entertained."

The booking for Monkeypalooza is solid, too. Headlining the festival is An Author, A Poet, along with Austin's CORE; Ganesha; Kalico; Sullivan's Vessel; Space Rhino; Astoryia; and DJ Night Owl. Jordan Tydings and Matt Cash have just been added to the bill as well.

Zamora promises more than just live bands, too. Monkeypalooza is set to include food from Huli Huli Hut, a blindfolded banana-eating contest and live broadcasting from Punkstar Full Throttle and Reachdown Radio. 

Monkeypalooza kicks off at noon on Saturday, August 13 at Drunken Monkeyz, 20th & Strand in Galveston. Wristbands are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.
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Kristy Loye is a writer living in Houston and has been writing for the Houston Press since July 2015. A recent Rice University graduate, when not teaching writing craft or reciting poetry, she's upsetting alt-rights on Reddit.