PravdaFest celebrates 38 years of independent Chicago label
When Kenn Goodman was enrolled as an art student at Northern Illinois University in 1984, he and his roommate Rick Mosher thought it would be a good idea for them to start their own independent label – expressly to release vinyl records and cassette tapes. by their fiery pop guitar band, the Service.
Nearly four decades later, Pravda Records is one of Chicago’s oldest and most tireless independent imprints. Sporting a multi-artist, multi-genre talent roster and a massive library of titles, the label celebrates its 38th year of continuous music on June 24-25 with PravdaFest, an outdoor celebration on the grounds of Skokie Sketchbook Brewing. Co.
“People ask me, ‘What’s that 38th?'” Goodman noted with a laugh. “Well, we had planned to do 35 – but it was sidelined by the pandemic. And we don’t want to wait until it’s 40. So Pravda 38. We like the sound of that.
“[And] What’s a music festival without beer? Goodman asked rhetorically, noting that Sketchbook will unveil its brand new brew, Pravda 38 – characterized as an “indie-rock lager” – at the anniversary festival.
Pravda’s longtime art director Sheila Sachs, who met Goodman at NIU in the mid-’80s and has worked with him ever since, came up with an intricate, organic design for the can label. It incorporates the names of the 37 artists who have recorded for Pravda.
Eight of these artists, spanning the label’s impressive timeline, are scheduled to perform at the festival; four different groups per night. Venerable punk-fueled sibling, the Slugs, Pravda’s second signing after the Service, reunites for the occasion, as does the Service.
Josh Caterer, idiosyncratic crooner of the ’90s lounge-punk combo the Smoking Popes, fronts his own band (which Goodman says features plenty of popes amid punchy vintage standards like “My Funny Valentine” and ” At Last”) . The caterer is headlining on Friday evening. And Goodman’s “newest signing” The Handcuffs will feature the provocative, gritty glam-punk of their just-released second album, “Burn the Rails,” which is the Chicago quintet’s debut album for Pravda.
“Releasing music is always exciting, always something to look forward to,” Goodman said, reflecting, “When I started the label I was 22, I was really starting to understand life. It became a way of life for me – and I’m lucky, because I love it There’s nothing else I can think of that I’d rather have done that lasts 38 years.
Right from the start, according to Joe Shanahan, founder of the first live music venue Metro Chicago, “Kenn and Rick had a basic understanding of DIY, connecting the elements of the ecosystem that are so important to the lifeblood of indie music. “
Beginning in 1986, the Metro lobby housed Pravda’s newest venture: a veritable physical record store with all inventory independently sourced: records, t-shirts, additional musical merchandise.
Artists playing in the Wrigleyville Concert Hall would make pre-show appearances at the Pravda store, which doubled as Metro’s ticket office, and then everyone would hang out there after the show until they closed the store at 2 a.m. in the morning.
“Kenn and Rick were stewards of the message that the independent spirit clearly had a place in Chicago,” Shanahan pointed out. “We all wanted to be part of the business that was driving the DIY scene: for a touring artist, [cash from] ticket sales and merchandise sales were your money to get to the next town.
Even after moving from Metro’s ground floor in 1991, the Pravda Records store continued to offer day-long gigs to a number of the label’s artists, including Dag Juhlin and Mike Halston of the Slugs, as well as the late Rob Warmowski of surf-punk band the Défoliants.
Over the decades, Goodman says, the Pravda label has managed to stay afloat, and even thrive, in an ever-changing industry. As vinyl and cassettes gave way to compact discs and then streaming, Pravda branched out by licensing its music to film, television and commercials.
“You hit a low point, like finding out that one of your distributors is bankrupt,” Goodman said. “What they inevitably do – everyone and you don’t get your merchandise back.
“Then sometimes, out of the blue, you find out that one of your songs is going to be used in a movie, and there’s going to be a sudden influx of money that you didn’t expect. In a way, that makes up for the other things that happen.
This happened recently with the Diplomats of Solid Sound label, whose song “Soul Connection” Pravda was originally released in 2008. Goodman said, “It was in several shows and movies” – among them the romantic comedy “ 50/50” from 2011, with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anna Kendrick – “and that ended up on various Spotify playlists. It turned into 25 million plays. And that actually turned into revenue.
Diplomats of Solid Sound perform at Pravda’s 38th anniversary festival on Saturday night, just before headliner Handcuffs.