Harmonizing Hope: MADWOMAN and Max Bleiweis Lead the Way in Uplifting Gainesville’s Music Community

If I could describe the Gainesville music scene in one word, it would be “uplifting.” After experiencing how local music lovers in Gainesville uplift local artists through my involvement in Swamp Records, I decided to explore how these artists uplift each other. Musicians like the soul-funk band members of MADWOMAN and bassist Max Bleiweis stand to redefine the Gainesville art scene by using their creativity to advocate for community wellbeing. I sat down with them to explore how these creatives are using their artistic platforms to build the community and to get a glimpse into the future they envision for us music lovers in the GNV. 

MADWOMAN: “Mad to Live, Mad to Love.”

MADWOMAN is a self proclaimed psychedelic alternative-indie pop band comprised of University of Florida alumni and one current student, Leni Daigle (vocals), Chandler McFarland (guitar), Unmil Patel (drums), Louis Dager (keys/production) and Riley Sechrest (bass). In their music, the band strives to bring people together and foster human connection. After the support they have received from Gainesville music lovers MADWOMAN feel called to give back to the community through participation in local activism. 

MADWOMAN’s mission is to use their soul and funk sound to “speak truth, uplift and capture the human experience,” said guitarist McFarland. 

Performing for advocacy initiatives allows the band to connect with community members of all ages. Earlier this year, they played a set with Gainesville Girls Rock Camp. This organization empowers the youth and LGBTQ+ community to find their voice through music. 

MADWOMAN also participates in farmer’s market shows that support local artists. The members were even asked to play at the “Save the Soul of the Santa Fe River” benefit concert to raise money to protect springs near Gainesville. 

“We wouldn’t be anything without the community,” said singer Daigle.

MADWOMAN relied on local support to get their start. Swamp Records created social media campaigns, booked shows and conducted promotions on MADWOMAN’s behalf to strengthen their image. MusicGNV, a local recording agency, gave MADWOMAN a grant that allowed them to record professionally produced music for the first time. 

According to Daigle, these resources are unique to Gainesville, but there’s still more to do to foster the growth of local artists.

“What I would like to see more of in the community is people who have the power to invest more in the arts,” said Daigle. “Especially our youth. There is a lot of disconnect between the younger community and the older community [within the music industry].”

MADWOMAN is committed to fostering a community in Gainesville. “We are always trying to think of ways of getting the local Gainesville community as involved as possible,” said guitarist McFarland. “At the end of the day, artists uplifting other artists is the way this all works.” 

Some of these ideas include bringing local visual and physical artists to their shows. MADWOMAN also wants to work with vendors and collectives like “Spatially Fed” that host local creatives meetups. MADWOMAN recently collaborated with other Gainesville talent via the DION DIA records label, by connecting with local Gainesville rappers like FARO. 

MADWOMAN’s mantra is “Mad to Live and Mad to Love.” 

This is all about “being excited about life and living the most full spectrum,” said Daigle. 

Through outreach, MADWOMAN hopes to spread this mantra throughout Gainesville and create a more connected community. 

Max Bleiweis: “Collaboration over Competition.”

Max Bleiweis is a Gainesville changemaker. He uses his platform as a musician to advocate for mental health awareness. When I sat down with Bleiweis, it was evident that his work came from a place of genuine passion. 

“Artists have a bit of a responsibility to advocate for things that improve life. I see it as an obligation, like a personal, moral thing,” said Bleiweis. “I perform sober, and I tell everyone to get home safe. After all, I want to ensure I spread positive messages because people are coming to see me and listen to me.” 

Bleiweis is from Gainesville and came home after graduating from Cornell University with a degree in psychology. He is the current bassist for Lo-Minds and also worked with Xarissa, both well-known in Gainesville. 

His passion for change shines through not only with his music, but also through his work with UpBeat GNV, a volunteer organization breaking stigmas about mental health and providing support to artists in Gainesville. Bleiweis serves on their board. 

According to Bleiweis, all communities, especially artistic ones, experience mental health stigma.

Bleiweis spoke about some of the music industry’s unique mental health tensions, describing the irony of being unable to be vulnerable within the competitive culture of the industry yet the necessity of vulnerability in your music. 

“It is a cutthroat industry, and it doesn’t have to be, which is why UpBeat GNV is about being vulnerable with each other,” said Bleiweis. 

The organization provides a safe space for musicians to open up to each other and discuss their shared mental health struggles. Bleiweis emphasized that the work of musicians is not stable, and COVID-19 launched musicians into further instability in their careers, himself included. 

“Here, we can find common ground and be honest about it,” said Bleiweis. “Not everyone can relate to this lifestyle, including the long hours you work, performance anxiety, imposter syndrome, the individual responsibilities.”

Bleiweis is excited about UpBeat GNV’s next steps. They recently applied for 501(c) status. 

So far, UpBeat GNV’s main focus has been curating an affordable care and resource guide for artists to find and access mental healthcare information. 

The resource guide is credited to Alex Klausner, founder of UpBeat GNV and drummer for Reheaser. He built it on the premise of his own struggles with finding resources. At first it was “Why is it so hard to find a consolidated list of places I can go?” said Bleiweis, until Klausner built his own solution. 

He described the main impact of the organization as raising awareness of and breaking down barriers for a population that “disproportionately suffers from mental health issues.” 

UpBeat GNV does this work both online and in-person, with booths set up at shows.

“We are going in the right direction, but it needs to be expanded on,” said Bleiweis.

Bleiweis believes that increased funding for the arts and more events would enhance UpBeat GNV’s mission both within Gainesville and throughout Florida. 

Bleiweiss also has ambitions to transform Gainesville into a music sanctuary like Athens, Georgia. Athens has a rich musical history. The city is known for being an early hub for African American jazz and the center for the evolution of alternative rock with bands like R.E.M, Pylon, and The B-52’s. It is also praised for its iconic music venues. 

“We need to forge ties with other Florida music scenes and bring together a musical identity for the region,” said Bleiweis. “Musicians need to feel enough opportunity in Gainesville, which is why we need to support financial opportunities for the city and support local venues like Heartwood Soundstage.”

Through his involvement with UpBeat GNV and his musical work generally, Bleiweis seeks to collaborate, not compete, with other musicians to break down barriers for a healthier, more connected community.  

As long as artists like MADWOMAN and Max Bleiweis’ presence and music continue to vibrate throughout Gainesville, the future of our swamp looks bright.

Zoe Punjwani, the author of this article, is a former FCI intern. This article is also featured in BONKERS Magazine.

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