For many Bloomingtonians, one of the jewels in this community’s crown is its reverence for live music. From downtown venues, festivals hosted atop streets and parking lots, and house shows surrounding the Indiana University campus, it had always been easy to fill a concert calendar within Bloomington’s city limits.
Then, in March 2020, COVID-19 brought touring, concerts, and public gatherings to a halt. Events were canceled, tickets refunded, and public gatherings were deemed unsafe. The vibrant and boisterous community that we know became eerily quiet.
Despite the fear and uncertainty of the pandemic, some members in Bloomington’s music community found various ways to adjust creatively. Here are few.
Over the past couple of years, Mike Adams of alternative rock band Mike Adams At His Honest Weight dove back into recording at home.
In 2020 and 2021, Mike Adams found himself recording at home, similarly to how he was doing it a decade ago. “When I first started making Honest Weight records, it was all just at home with a bedroom recording-type scenario,” says Adams. “Then, the more the band progressed, the more the live band members started to get involved in recording and making the music. The last record we made [2019’s There Is No Feeling Better] featured all of us in a real recording studio working together.”
During the break from touring and live events, the band focused on making and playing music with each other. “Once we all got vaccinated, we started having a weekly band practice, which we had never done before. We were almost always scrambling to get prepared for whatever show was coming up. It’s been great to practice more leisurely,” says Adams. “I feel like we’re sharp in a way that we hadn’t been before. So, that’s been the bright side.”
Adams notes that practicing and recording at home have been welcome distractions from turbulent times, provide more flexibility to spend time with family, and just feel good to do. “It’s been way more for our relief and our sanity than it had in the past,” Adams explains. “It’s been a nice thing to escape into.”
Mike Adams At His Honest Weight returned to the road in April 2022 with shows across Indiana and Ohio. Looking ahead, the band has multiple releases in the works. “I’m sitting on a mountain of new material,” notes Adams.
Listen to more of Mike Adams At His Honest Weight via Bandcamp.
Amy Oelsner, who fronts the alternative rock band Amy O (which also features Justin Vollmar and Nathan Vollmar) and leads Girls Rock Bloomington, was already planning to take time off in tandem with becoming a parent. “And then of course, the pandemic changed everything way more than I was expecting,” notes Oelsner.
Since welcoming her child and taking social distancing measures, Oelsner has been writing songs on her own and developing more of a home studio setup. She has been experimenting more with creating demos at home, which is something she used to do a lot when first getting started in music. “It’s actually been really fun to revisit that and just do everything on my own more,” says Oelsner. “I’ve been experimenting with doing all of the instrumentation on the demo. I’ve been playing around with adding synth, which I never really did before, and experimenting with a more stripped-down style.”
In 2020, Oelsner won the Emerging Artist Award through the Indiana Governor’s Arts Awards and recorded a show for the ceremony. She also played an outdoor show at the Monroe County Public Library in October 2021. For 2022, Oelsner is working on an album and looks forward to more live performances, as well as touring eventually.
Girls Rock Bloomington (GRB), the rock music camp for girls, trans, and non-binary youth, modified its format during the summers of 2020 and 2021 for safety. It held a weekly virtual workshop series in June 2020, which covered songwriting, zine-making, social justice elements, and DJing. During the summer of 2021, GRB conducted the workshop series outside under a park pavilion, which worked well. Oelsner said that a final in-person showcase was special for the kids and team alike.
In July 2022, the GRB summer camp took place on the IU campus at the the Gayle Karch Cook Center for Public Arts and Humanities in partnership with the IU Arts & Humanities Council.
Listen to more of Amy O via Bandcamp.
Check out Girls Rock Bloomington on Instagram.
For David Dávila González, Matixando has always been about adaptability.
Since forming in Costa Rica in 2011, the Latin-fusion project Matixando has performed with various band formats and rosters throughout Central America, Mexico, and the United States. David Dávila González started Matixando without prior band experience, and he notes that navigating the project through the unknowns of a pandemic carries similar needs for learning, perseverance, and flexibility. “Matixando, more than a band, is an attitude,” describes Dávila González, who says a relaxed approach is key to the very nature of the project.
“Before COVID, we were getting to the point where we had a lot of gigs. We went to Florida with some of the bandmates, played there a little bit, and then COVID came in March 2020,” explains Dávila González. As weeks and months progressed, and it became clear that COVID would be staying for a while, Matixando switched their focus to releasing new music and pursuing local performance opportunities.
In June 2020, Matixando released their third album Breaking Away, featuring Dávila González, Phil Neumann, Kyle Franke, Salem Willard, M. Kares a.k.a. DitLee, Charlie Jesseph, Kurt Baer, and Hunter Dux. The album was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jake Belser at Primary Sound Studios in Bloomington. Since then, Matixando has performed at Lotus Festival, Peoples Park, Switchyard Park, Bryan Park, Hard Truth Nashville, The Cabin Restaurant & Lounge, and various farmers’ markets.
Dávila González is always creating new music and occasionally plays open mics and solo gigs, such as at Orbit Room. He kicked off the new year in Costa Rica to reconnect and record with musicians there and find refreshed inspiration. “It’s important to keep moving,” he affirms. “And if you can’t move in the way that you dreamed of, or how existing standards dictate, there are other ways to move.” For Matixando, an upcoming goal is to start touring in large cities such as Chicago, Louisville, and Columbus, Ohio.
Listen to more of Matixando via Bandcamp.
At Orbit Room, Mike Klinge shifted focus toward a listening room experience.
Orbit Room had only been open for a year and a half before the pandemic began. They never closed, but they followed county health guidelines and started requiring proof of vaccination for entry in August 2021 — an uncommon quality for a restaurant to have. They added new menu items, switched to table service, and swapped out their original furniture for smaller options to better accommodate social distancing. They’ve become known for specializing in hot dogs — from local beef and brats to vegan chipotle and apple sage — as well as garlic knots, cocktails, and non-alcoholic options such as kombucha and CBD water.
“We embrace that we’re a listening room,” explains Klinge. “When people come here to watch certain bands, they’re here just to watch and listen, not to move around or talk at the bar. It’s a room for bands to play to an attentive audience.” In addition to David Dávila González, acts such as Joe Troop Trio, Henhouse Prowlers, Busman’s Holiday, Rodeola, The Matriarch, and participants of the Cosmic Songwriter’s Club have played at Orbit Room over the past several months.
For booking, Klinge looks for bands that people are happy to sit and watch. Orbit Room now has in-house turntables, so Klinge is also interested in booking DJs — all they need to bring is their records. Klinge also hopes to add camera mounts to offer high-quality video and sound for artists wanting to record video and livestream.
Check out what’s happening at Orbit Room via Facebook.
Alternative rock band ForeDaze formed in the latter half of 2021. Ethan Williams had been playing guitar for a couple of years but had no prior band experience before joining ForeDaze. “I had no idea what to expect with performances and everything during this time, but it’s been a lot of fun. It does not feel like it’s only been a few months, it feels like it’s been a lot longer,” Williams reflects. “There’s just been so much packed into that time already.”
ForeDaze band members Marty Abaddi, Carsen Outwater, Alex Cappelli, and Williams meet two times per week in-person. During COVID surges, they managed to maintain physical distance for safety. Outside of practices, members share ideas with each other online and through text messages. The band has played at venues including the Blockhouse, Funk Fortress, and The Bishop Bar. There have always been rules in place to keep attendees safe, and, accordingly, compliance with safety protocols has been strong.
During the pandemic’s colder months, ForeDaze tended to avoid scheduling shows more than a month in advance, since COVID cases could spike suddenly. For the first half of 2022, a major focus for the band was to strengthen existing songs.
Outside of a pair of siblings, the members of emo band Deity Complex ultimately know each other through high school. Vocalist Jae Gasana, who is also part of the band Punk Rock Cuties and serves as the Teen and Young Adult Advisory Board Leader for Girls Rock Bloomington, describes Deity Complex’s formation in August 2020: “There wasn’t really anything going on. We just knew that we really liked doing music, even though we couldn’t go out and do it anymore.”
Gasana, Erby Burnfield, Bjørn Burnfield, and Erelyn Perry-Layden of Deity Complex started meeting three times a week to work on music together. After a few months, their first concert was a drive-in–style show, with audience members in their cars. In warmer temperatures, they started busking along Kirkwood Avenue and at the farmers’ market outside of Harmony School. “Strangers were just happy we were there making music, and we were happy to be doing so too, because we didn’t know where else we could do it,” says Gasana. Deity Complex eventually performed as part of Midway Music Speaks in 2021, Battle of the Bands at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, and PrideFest 2021 — the latter of which was a longer-term goal that was realized just one year after the band’s formation.
When COVID cases surged in early 2022, Deity Complex found it difficult to schedule more shows. “When it comes to planning performances nowadays, we try to see how we can have the most control over things, just so we can make sure things are safe,” explains Gasana. “We care a lot about the people who support us.” In April, the band participated in the Sustainability Fair at Dunn Meadow.
Along with the end of the Monroe County mask mandate in March 2022, Bloomington has been easing back into its live music groove, with concerts and festivals repopulating our community’s calendars. In an effort to minimize infection risk, many venues and artists continue to require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or a recent negative PCR test to attend shows. For some, it may be a little too soon to sweatily pack shoulder-to-shoulder without masks. However, there is a new gratitude for the ability to comfortably perform and listen to live music together again, and an appreciation for the resiliency of artists.
Publisher’s note: This article is part of a series on how local artists and arts organizations have been affected by the pandemic. It is made possible in part by a grant from the Bloomington Arts Commission, the Bloomington Urban Enterprise Association, and the Zone Arts Grant Program. We thank them for their support!
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