Ben Bernstein has been recording since his brother bought him a 4-track for his 16th birthday. He produced his first record for a local punk band, Stupidproof, in his home town of Sioux City, IA. Fast-forward 15 years later, working on his solo project “Petting Zoo” (2006) immersed him more deeply in the studio environment and his interest in the artistic power of recording deepened. To expand his production skills, Ben enrolled in San Francisco’s leading digital and audio training facility, The Pyramind Institute. After completing his studies and receiving a certificate in Digital Audio Production (2007), Ben began producing local Bay Area artists at his home studio, The Petting Zoo. In 2010, realizing that The Petting Zoo had grown to small for the production needs of his artists, Ben moved operations to Spligittyfidge Studio in Emeryville. Ben's production style relies on capturing the artist in their element, employing a mix of old and new school recording techniques. Visit the sounds page to hear for yourself!
Ben's production Credits include a cast array of Singer-Songwriter, Folk, Indie, and Roots artists. Most notably, he engineered KFOG Local Scene Artist Hyim's 2009 "Sex in the Morning" Album. The single from the album, "Elation", was featured on the 2010 KFOG local scene CD and was nominated for a Hollywood Music in Media Award.
Other notable artists in the Petting Zoo stable include Ian Franklin, The Courtney Janes, and Front Country.
Ben Bernstein’s passion for music began at an early age as a drummer growing up in Sioux City, Iowa. At the suggestion of his high school band director and musical mentor Larry Kisor, Ben switched from drums to the bass, learning both electric and upright. He became a member of the award-winning North High School Jazz ensemble performing at concerts, contests, and clinics around the Midwest, as well as the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival. While with North High School Jazz ensemble Ben was recognized as an outstanding soloist at the State Championships, as well as being selected for the Iowa All State Jazz Ensemble. His professional career started when the Eddie Skeets Orchestra asked him to join the group. With Skeets’ band, Ben performed around Iowa, Nebraska, and the Dakotas in Old Time Dance Halls and playing Big Band, Western Swing, and even the occasional Polka.
At the same time he was touring in Eddie Skeets’ band, Ben started a band with lifelong friend Pat Ford playing guitar. They joined forces with Jay Chesterman on drums and, using the initials from their first names, called the band PB & J. Gerald Poole later took over on drums, but the band kept their name. PB & J were a favorite amongst the High School crowd and performed at many school functions, some clubs around the state, including the very first Saturday in the Park festival in Sioux City. Ben relocated to Chicago to study music at De Paul University. Pat Ford also found his way to Chi-town, and the duo frequented the weekly blues jam at Wise Fool’s and put together a blues band called Little Brother to perform at the 3rd annual Saturday in the Park Festival in 1993.
The following year Ben moved to Austin, Texas to attend University of Texas at Austin Music Department where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Communications in 1996. Having focused on music and audio post-production at UT, Ben’s continued his education in Austin’s fabled clubs, playing bass for Melodious Thunk Jazz Quartet and Karrison Afro-Cuban ensemble. He also started another band with Pat Ford, called Shah-Boogie. After several years on the Austin scene, Ben packed his bags for New York City and in 1999 attended the New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music and studying at The Bass Collective. There, he became a founding member of the city’s premier bluegrass band, Citigrass, and formed The Smoggy Borough Boyz with Citigrass band mates Jordan Shapiro and James Kerr. Ben was also a touring member of Soul Farm, a Jam Band with Jewish Roots led by another Citigrass band mate, Noah Chase.
Seeking more challenges, Ben headed West for the San Francisco Bay in 2002 where he quickly became an in demand bassist, playing blues and funk gigs at the Blue Lamp in San Francisco with Edna Love and the Lovetoys and the Smokedaddies. In the summer of 2002 Ben co-founded the Ho’ Down Quartet and to further expand his bluegrass explorations. The band became a local favorite, performing weekly at the Blackthorn Tavern, and at the 2003 San Francisco Old Time and Bluegrass Festival. The group also toured Colorado with a stop at the 30th Annual Telluride Bluegrass Festival where they competed for a chance to play on the main stage. While in the Quartet, Ben also became a performing member of Tony Mattioli’s Stolen Bibles, performing a blend of “Americana Soul” around the San Francisco Bay Area, and gigging with Samantha Stollenwerk, including a short tour to New York City in December 2003.
In 2004, Ben signed on with New Monsoon, touring extensively throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico. As part of New Monsoon, Bernstein played for large crowds at major U.S. venues and festivals including the legendary Fillmore in San Francisco, CA, Red Rocks Amphitheater, The Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and Bonnaroo in Tennessee. While with New Monsoon, he had the opportunity to participate in the 2005 Big Summer Classic Tour performing alongside and jamming with bands such as the String Cheese Incident, Yonder Mountain String Band, Michael Franti and Spearhead, Keller Williams, and Umphrey’s McGee.
Ben left the band in late 2006 to focus on solo work, music production, and freelance performance and session work. He has since become a sought-after freelance and session bassist in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, including tours with Drew Emmitt of Leftover Salmon.
Solo & Original Work
Ben drew on his vast musical experience to create his first solo effort, “Petting Zoo” (2006) co-produced by his Stolen Bibles band mate Dave Tweedie. Featuring 11 of Ben’s originals, the release highlights his diverse talents as a songwriter, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Recorded partially in his apartment and at Chocolate O’Brien studios in Oakland, CA, “Petting Zoo” includes light and catchy acoustic pop songs, psychedelia and Dylan-esque stylings. Ben is currently working on a follow-up release with long-time collaborator Deborah Crooks serving as co-producer.