38 may be an unorthodox year to commemorate, but for Pravda Records, it was a necessary one. A Chicago indie institution, Pravda Records houses a vast catalog of artists. Diverse sounds and genres resound from the label’s remarkable 38 year timeline, reflecting years of discovering and amplifying Chicago’s iconic voices.
After their 35th anniversary celebration was canceled due to COVID, Pravda decided they were much too restless to postpone the event to the 40th anniversary. Their newer artists had recently released records that had yet to be performed for a live audience, and older artists were eager to return to the stage. PravdaFest, a festival spanning over June 24th and 25th, would provide a platform to achieve that and more.
Pravda Records founder Kenn Goodman, a proud Skokie native, had long entertained the idea of having a custom Pravda Records beer that could be distributed at an exclusive Pravda Records event. The opportunity to source this lager from Sketchbook Brewery, a local business that sprouted in Evanston and expanded into Skokie, and to release it at Pravda Fest was one he readily jumped at. Sketchbook Brewery not only offered up their brewing services, but a venue as well—their expansive loading dock.
“It was a perfect space,” Melissa Thornley, director of marketing at Pravda Records, said. “It all came together from there.”
Friday began, quite literally, with a bang, as 90s rock artist Boom Hank opened the night, layers of soulful guitar and infectious vocals setting the crowded stage. Indie supergroup Hushdrops performed next, blissfully carrying this momentum.
The night culminated with performances by the Americana singer-songwriter Steve Dawson and power-pop crooner Josh Caterer, both showcasing their recent record releases.
Keen eyes could spot these very artists in the crowd on Saturday night, as they watched power-pop group The Handcuffs commence the second night of celebration, performing their new album for the first time live. The Diplomats of Solid Sound came after, putting their neo-soul twist on the night as they played tracks from their recent EP. The iconic group The Service—-Kenn Goodman’s college band that served as the impetus for starting Pravda Records— followed, performing live for the first time in over a decade. The same was the case for headliner The Slugs, who brilliantly closed out the festival with a set that transported audience members back to the thrilling 90s DIY indie-rock scene.
Pravda Records’ committed fan base traversed state lines to show their support for this impressive lineup, to experience the eclectic mix of older vs new, female-led vs male-led bands. Fans hailing everywhere from New York to Texas graced the Skokie venue.
“The bands were excited and surprised that so many fans showed up from all around the country. They really appreciated not only our history, but what we’re currently working on,” Goodman said.
The entire crowd seemed overcome with the electrifying sense of community and appreciation that tinged the air. With legendary musicians, up-and coming artists, venue owners, radio station reporters, and proud Pravda Records staff all in tow, Pravda Fest felt like a long-awaited reunion of the Chicago indie music industry.
“All of the blood, sweat, and tears to bring these people together and create this event was totally worth it,” Goodman said.
Pravda Records’ expectations for both nights were not only met, but far surpassed. Merging the label’s acclaimed past and promising future, along with hundreds of buzzing attendees clutching the Pravda 38 Indie Rock lager, PravdaFest presented a memorable scene and a smashing success.
“You can’t have a better Chicago event. Great food trucks outside, great music, awesome people reconnecting,” Thornley said. “It was kind of perfect.”