TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - On a normal day, Club Congress is anything but quiet. Bartenders serve a seemingly endless stream of booze to a seemingly endless crowd outside the intimate indoor stage.
But these aren’t normal days and the lights of Hotel Congress’ iconic venue have gone dark.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown live music scenes all over the world, life at one of this city’s most beloved local stages has been forced to adapt.
The show(s) must go on.
Earlier this month, the venue launched Club Congress TV, a live streaming platform keeping the jams going via the club’s website, giving artists the chance to perform live, albeit behind a screen.
Matt Baquet, the talent organizer for Club Congress TV, said it was a last-minute collaboration with the Southern Arizona Artist and Musician Healthcare Alliance (SAAMHA) that made the project happen.
“I’ve timed it to March 15,” he said. “That day we canceled, like, 10 shows and I realized that yeah, this is happening.”
Baquet said David Slutes, entertainment director for HOCO Fest, board member of SAAMHA and well-known local musician, came up with the idea last month. After they solidified funds for Club Congress TV through SAAMHA’s emergency fund, Baquet, with the help of Congress’ venue director Michael Hayes, launched the first live stream April 1.
And it’s all free to watch.
“We are not trying to make money on this, we are trying to put money in artists’ pockets who can really use it right now,” Baquet said. “We are able to pay a base fee so anyone can tune in and they aren’t doing it for free. … Accessibility is what Congress is all about.”
For local musician Psypiritual, performing on the platform is a welcome respite from COVID-19 news.
The 20-year-old rapper, a regular on the concert circuit who spits lines with local artist collective Ojala Systems, is finding it harder and harder to sit still these days.
“I was always somewhere doing something with music,” he said. “It can be very (expletive) soul-crushing.”
Like so many others, the outbreak hit at an already uncertain time for him. Psypiritual — whose given name is Miguel Angel Valdiva — lost his retail job before the shutdown, so a global pandemic was especially untimely for the budding musician.
Before the pandemic shook the performing arts world, Psypiritual’s music career was on the rise. He started taking shows in different cities and traveling to make music.
Now, it feels like everything is on hold.
“We realize that we take just life, in general, for granted,” he said. “Things were picking up.”
Still, he’s trying to stay positive.
Since Psypiritual released his solo album “Manifesting ALL Illusions” last week, he continues to collaborate with other artists virtually.
The pandemic, which seemed to tear the arts community apart, is, instead, bringing it together in ways Psypiritual is new to.
“Being able to make music with someone online, but in real time, is such a crazy thing for me,” he said.
In fact, Psypiritual is getting ready for his first virtual performance on Club Congress TV tonight, Saturday, April 25, 2020, at 9 p.m. His hour-long set will feature songs from his latest album with support from other members of Ojala Systems streaming from his living room in Barrio Hollywood, where he’s quarantining with his mother.
Psypiritual’s set ends at 10 p.m. That’s when Fat Tony takes over.
The Houston native, who recently moved to Tucson from Brooklyn, New York, isn’t a newcomer to live-streamed shows.
After he dropped his latest album “Wake Up” in February, he had a list of tour dates lined up, including a set at March’s SXSW Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas. At the time, he was on the road creating and promoting his new work.
Soon enough, though, the 32-year-old rapper and DJ noticed crowds at shows stopped matching ticket sales.
“I would say that maybe 50 people who bought tickets didn’t show up and the streets at that time were much quieter,” he said. “So, I knew that something was coming.”
The next weekend, SXSW was canceled. The world shut down shortly after.
Since then, he hasn’t worried about album promotion or creating new music. Instead, when he’s not taking to the internet to keep his community grooving while at home, he’s helping to raise $2,000 for organizations he cares about, like the Houston Food Bank.
“Houston, Texas is my hometown,” he said. “... It felt good to do something selfless rather than going into desperation mode where it’s all about promoting yourself even harder.”
Until he can get back on the road, Fat Tony — also known by his given name Anthony Obi — is enjoying Tucson from his new house, where he is quarantining with his partner Jeneva Parks, a law student at the University of Arizona. Between moving in and cleaning up, he’s dropping beats for audiences all over the country from home.
“I’m going to be playing a lot of music I’ve been into lately and a lot of music I’ve loved for a long time,” he said. “I DJ often, being a live performer and being a DJ are equally important.”
Fat Tony and Psypiritual have a similar outlook: It times like these, positivity, gratitude and self-reflection go a long way.
“Now is the time to dig deep in your spiritual bag, whatever that may be. You need to look toward the things that make you feel whole and give you purpose — that make you feel joy,” Fat Tony said. “Now’s a great time to daydream.”
Psypiritual said he wouldn’t be the artist he is today without the help of his friends and loved ones. Now, he’s trying to put some of that support back to others in the time of the coronavirus.
“We are all local artists and we feel the weight of the world in a really weird way, in a really emotional way,” Psypiritual said. “I’ve been trying to talk to people and reach out to say: ‘Yo, I feel the exact same way. Please keep your head up and please stay strong.’ Just reminding people that creatives are very much needed. The last thing we need is for us to want to put our own light out.”
What: Psypiritual and Fat Tony DJ set live-stream performance
Where: Club Congress TV
When: Psypiritual at 9 p.m., Fat Tony DJ set at 10 p.m.
How much: Free to tune in, donations are accepted via artists’ preferred payment platform