Even in quarantine, some people have been taking direct action to combat COVID-19. In their fight, they’ve not only raised stacks of cash for charity, but have also spread much needed joy. One of those people is Chicago’s own “Blind Adam” Gogola. I recently took some time to talk to him about the series of online events he’s been curating. Read our conversation below and please support all he does.
Hi, dear friend! Please introduce yourself and the band you play in.
Hello! I’m Adam, I play guitar and sing in Blind Adam & The Federal League.
When the pandemic hit, what went through your head as a touring musician?
I had been keeping an eye on the news and kind of watching it develop and spread from the time we first started hearing about it in December. I was hoping that it wouldn’t be a big deal and kind of blow over but I didn’t have much faith that our current administration would be able to competently contain or prepare for it. Unfortunately, it seems like Trump and his sycophants have handled this even worse than I thought they might.
I hate to sound selfish but it kind of felt that in all my years playing in bands, putting out records, and touring we were in the best position that any band I’ve ever been a part of had ever been in to really go for it and try to move more towards making it a full-time thing.
All of that being said, I try to keep things in perspective, we’re all going through this together and we have to use it as an opportunity to rebuild in a way that is fair, just, and equitable for everyone, especially the most vulnerable, marginalized communities.
How has the quarantine affected your band’s plans for spring? Have y’all had to cancel or postpone anything like so many others have?
As big events like SXSW started getting cancelled I started worrying about our upcoming shows and record release (originally slated for late June/early July) and summer/fall tours, we had some pretty cool plans for this year, and now we’re just hoping to be able to play some shows again at some point in 2020. We are supposed to play FEST in Gainesville in October and as of now, that’s still on. But with the way things are going (or not going) that’s looking like a long shot.
The biggest bummer right now is all the uncertainty. There’s no real, clear end it sight so it’s hard to even know when to try to start booking shows for at this point.
At what point did you start to think “I need to help alleviate some of the burden or negative impact this is causing others”?
Right away, pretty much. I got on the phone with an old friend of mine, Joe Tessone of Mystery Street Recording here in Chicago, and we talked about ways we could help organizations that are providing healthcare and housing services to the most vulnerable as well as organizations working to actively fight COVID-19 and we came up with our weekly series.
Tell me about the quarantine live stream series you have been hosting.
When the COVID-19 pandemic really started to affect us all on a larger scale, I wanted to do what we could to support The Night Ministry here in Chicago. We’ve had them table at a few of our shows and raised some money for them a few times in the last few years so decided to reach out to Joe right away to see what we could put together.
We did the first episode live at the Mystery Street Recording studio on March 18th. Every episode since then has been prerecorded by the individual artists and sent into me, I pass them along to Joe and Geramie at Mystery Street, and we air it as a live video on their Facebook page.
What is your history or relationship with Mystery Street and how has it been working in conjunction with them on this project?
So, Joe and I met in 1999 outside of the Metro in Chicago before an Anti-Flag show. I remember his big, blue mohawk. I had the Argyle Bouncing Souls t-shirt on. We talked a bit and then ran into each other at the local mall not long after. We’ve been great friends since, working together on both music and leftist activism on and off over the last 20 years. When Blind Adam & The Federal League was just getting off the ground we had our first few practices at Mystery Street in early 2017 and have worked with Joe and Mystery Street whenever possible since.
It’s been great working with Joe and Mystery Street, all of our friends that have performed and designed the artwork, everybody that has shared and donated or just tuned in and enjoyed the shows. We haven’t been without our share of bumps in the road and technical difficulties, but it’s been a really cool thing to be a part of.
One of my favorite parts of it is hearing from so many people, friends, fans of the band, other artists, whoever, letting us know that they look forward to this every week. It’s nice to hear that people are getting a sense of hope through out little series, knowing that every dollar raised is going to help us get through this, and we’ll come out the other end of this with that momentum to build towards the kind of world we’ve all been fighting for.
What are some of the organizations you have helped benefit? Are there others you have in mind to aid on future episodes? What drew you to those ones in particular?
So far we’ve raised well over $3,000 over the first five episodes for an organization here in Chicago called The Night Ministry and a non-profit community based science lab out of Richmond, VA called Indielab. The Night Ministry provides housing, healthcare and human connection to people experiencing extreme poverty and homelessness and Indielab is developing innovating testing and PPE for front-line healthcare workers. We plan to continue this work for the foreseeable future.
I’m not sure who we’re going to work with next but if anybody has any suggestions please send them our way and we’ll check it out!
What has the reaction to the series been like so far?
It’s been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve raised a lot more money than I thought and we’ve had a lot of awesome guests with even more rad guests lined up!
Hearing from people that tell me this series is something they look forward to, we’ve had a lot of people, arts that have performed and people that tune in message us to say thanks to us and Mystery Street for putting it on and I just reply thanking them in return. It’s been really nice to maintain that sense of community even when we can’t be together at a regular show.
Who are some of the artists you’ve been working with and what is the booking process like, especially when compared to a standard in person live show?
So far we’ve had a lot of Chicago artists including:
Wild Earp of Wild Earp and the Free for Alls, Damien Wilburn of The Blind Staggers, Gillian McGhee of Hi Ho and formerly Turnspit, Jason Swearengen of J. Douglass and the Sullen Hearts and formerly of Turnspit, Mike Boren of Two Houses and Third Twin Sister, Chel Boren of Third Twin Sister, Michael Garity of Nora Marks, Highway English, Will Bennett of Will Bennett and the Tells, Sam Porter of Kali Masi, Marc Bannes of Typesetter, Chris #2 of Anti-Flag, Lauren Tannenbaum of Gold E Music, Jeff Schaller of Jeff Schaller and the Long Way Home, Mike Fraizer, Mitch Mead, Ben Nichols of Lucero, Ryan Kerr, Aly Jados of Blood People, and this week we have Justin Sane of Anti-Flag, Austin Lucas, Casey Weldon of The Just Luckies, and Chris Defibaugh of Dread Wolf.
Booking for this is not incredibly different than booking regular shows as far as reaching out to people and asking if they’d like to play but in a lot of ways it’s extremely different. Nobody really has much of anything else to do so we haven’t gotten a lot of “no’s.” I just reach out and ask people if they want to do a set and they usually get back to me fairly quickly and we coordinate from there. Joe has also booked a few of the acts. We have a lot of great performers in the pipeline but we’ll wait until the episodes are announced to put that out into the world.
Has the process of streaming itself changed at all as you’ve gone along? It seems as though it has gone smoother each week.
Yeah, the first week was great because we were all in the studio with pro mics, lights, and a nice camera. But with social distancing, we’re kind of scrambling every week to make sure it goes up on time. It’s gotten smoother but it’s still tough to have four or five performers, including myself, sending in videos with different resolutions, different file types, etc. But we’re getting it done!
What has organizing and hosting these events done to help you personally through this time? How do you hope it impacts your audience?
It helps me in a lot of ways! It makes me feel like we’re actually doing something to fight this disease instead of just kind of waiting around and hoping for the best. It keeps us connected to our musician friends all over the country, keeps us connected to our friends and fans. It reminds me that cynicism, hopelessness, and despair are not an option and that we can really build the world we want together. It reminds me that we all have different tools and all of them are valuable.
Some people make the art, so far that’s been you, Ty Dykema, and our buddy John Morrison. Some folks are playing guitars and singing songs. We have people spreading the word on social media, putting the video and audio together and airing the video, people watching, sharing and donating, and then the organizations are using all of that to do the work on the front lines. It’s really amazing to see what we can do together, even when we’re all stuck inside our respective homes.
Do you have the future of this series planned out very far in advance or is it mostly being played by ear and you’re just figuring it out along the way?
A bit of both, kind of. I’m still working full time, from home of course, but it’s hard to plan anything too far in advance right now. I’d say we’re booked about one week in advance or so for the most part.
Do you see potential in streaming being a better utilized tool in the live music industry even after we go back to “normal?”
I’m glad you put the word normal in quotes. Fuck normal, we need to get to something better and I do think that live streaming should be more a part of live music going forward. Even at a show with a live, in-person audience, there’s no reason we can’t find ways to make shows available to folks that can’t make it out to the venue.
What are some other ways you think live music could be made more accessible to people with disabilities? What are some specific things you would like to have made more common that way?
There needs to be incentives for old venues to retrofit their facilities for sure. New venues should receive some kind of financial aid whether it be from a municipal, state, or federal government to build out with accessibility as a top priority. I really do think the Pyramid Scheme in Grand Rapids is a great example of what a music venue can be. I really feel like that place is truly a space for all!
And while we are here, please plug your upcoming record and any details you may want to share about it. What was it like working with the guys from Anti-Flag on it?
We’re still not sure when it might come out but the process was amazing. What do you say we do another interview closer to the release date and we can really dig into the record then?
Sounds great, man! Let’s do that. I can’t wait. Until then, take care.
Thanks so much!