Isolation Drills: Adam Monaco (Under The Oak)

Like the majority of you, all of us in the Philadelphia area are staying at home, learning to adapt to our “new normal.” MAGNET is checking in with local musicians to see how and what they’re doing during this unprecedented time. Photos by Chris Sikich.

Monaco: I think I want to help with rainforest preservation. I guess I can’t even go there because there is a pandemic. As young as fourth grade, I started fighting for that cause. I made rainforest T-shirts and sold enough to save 21 acres of rainforest. I would love to volunteer for Habitat For Humanity again, too. I wonder where they would send me, what work I would do … I want to rejoin the fight to stop organizations from testing on animals, another thing I was passionate about from a young age. I wonder if the rainforest we bought is still there? I want to contribute something. Why don’t I do this stuff anymore? On the contrary, when was the last time I just sat and did nothing? I need exercise. Am I giving enough attention to God? Music—what am I doing with it and why? I know: love

That opening paragraph is a small glimpse into the constant waves of questions and wondering that are have been my mind since late March and through the months of social distancing. Yeah, I lost a year’s worth of gigs. It was going to be my best year yet, but it’s OK. I will get them back. I don’t really believe in security anyway. Doesn’t anyone ever truly have it? I am grateful for everything I do have. I truly am.

I started working on my Patreon page and giving it more attention as it was the only thing I was able to do for a while, besides virtual concerts. I have also started working on my solo album. I have instrumental songs that I wrote on mandolin and and songs with vocals. Should I put them all on one album? Or should I make two separate albums? … I think I’m going to make two separate albums. Ugh, I don’t feel motivated to write songs. I know one thing I want to do! Propose to my lady! So, I did! She said yes!! Yay!

OK, so now I am engaged. Thank God she is the same as me and not driven by money, because I really don’t care. I promised myself when I was 13 that I will only do what I love and what I am passionate about. My grandfather always reminded us that we are not buried with our money. It’s true! He lived to 100 years old. He loved feeding the birds every day. I’m not saying I wouldn’t take the money if I won the lottery. I’m just saying it’s possible to live happily without it, too.

I finally found my niche. House concerts! I moved to Philly in 2002 and started out in the music scene and have since played every music venue in the city, and opened for some well-known bands! All fun stuff, but what my experiences have brought me to realize is that I love intimate venues. I like telling stories and connecting with community. You have to work so hard to impress venues, which isn’t bad if that’s your scene.

Story time: I headlined the World Cafe Live two times a year for, like, eight or nine years and consistently had 300-plus people. I also coordinated and hosted Philadelphia’s tribute to Leonard Cohen, and it completely sold out. Then someone new took over the booking, and they literally were like, “Adam who?” Ha ha. I have to start all over. I thought, maybe it’s a sign.

So I happened to pick up a book called House Concert Expert by Francis Dunnery, and then I made the leap of faith. In 2019, I did 90-percent house concerts full time. I built a nice audience, made more money than I ever have, and, man, the connection is deep. The first time I ever teared up during a performance was at a house concert in Boston when I told the emotional story of one of my songs. That was when I really knew. I love this.

I’m going to come back strong in 2021.

Looking back, I can make a connection by remembering that my favorite venue to play in Philly was always the Tin Angel. I realize now that the reason was because of its small size—the intimacy it offered. House concerts offer that feeling, but times 100. I miss the Tin Angel a lot, but these days, I’ve been playing the Sellersville Theatre, another intimate venue that offers that opportunity to be real with your audience. Thank God for them. What an amazing venue with people who really care about community and relationship!

I have performed at Sellersville with Under The Oak. My favorite group I have ever worked with. This band is made up of some talented people: Maggie Pope, Chris Peace and Peter Oswald. We got signed to Winding Way Records and made an awesome record at Rittenhouse SoundWorks. Love this band. It’s not that other bands weren’t good, but this band helped me find myself.

So the summer has ended, and my Patreon page is growing, Maggie built me a new website, I am getting married next September, and I got a new Gibson acoustic guitar that belonged to my Aunt Janet. It’s the best guitar I ever had. My fiancé and my roommate Alyssa bought it for me on my birthday on September 1. Chris got a new microphone that is so amazing, and with some mics that my friend Kerry lent me, I started recording. And the timing feels perfect.

I know I didn’t share a lot of my political views or much about the state of the world. I don’t know if anyone wants to hear it—it’s all we hear now. It seems like every day there’s something new. As I’m writing this, the clouds of smoke from the fires in California are lingering over Philly. I can’t believe there was so much smoke for it to drift all the way here. My thoughts and love go out to anyone facing struggles with this. Same for all the people who are facing struggles from COVID, people who are sick and families of folks who have passed. I wonder when people will realize that we are all connected. That the way we treat one another, our neighbors and our planet—it all effects the whole world.

Just remember to take a breath and appreciate what is in front of you. We are all in this together, and I believe that all of our division is a part of something positive. I have to. I have to believe it’s the truth. Can you? With the truth, we can create change. Are you honest with yourself?

Even though I may not know you, I love you inherently for being an amazing human. Thank you for living. Thank you for contributing what you do to our world.