Imagine Phoebe Bridgers performing in front of a cheering crowd of fans, tearing up on her prized baritone Danelectro ’56. Suddenly there is a crackle and a popular! like blowing an amp. Who comes to the rescue? Kansas City backstage superhero Ada Brumback.
A rockstar in his own right, Brumback has toured all over the United States with his own bands and while working with other professional musicians.
She joined local post-punk band Regret, the Informer as a drummer while still in art school and played guitar for Chase the Horseman’s live band at venues such as recordBar and The Riot Room.
“I’ve been in a lot of situations where I just learned all the songs on Spotify and got on the plane and joined the tour,” Brumback says.
If there’s one word to describe it, it’s versatile.
“It’s too much to say photographer, videographer, drummer, guitarist, lighting assistant, stage manager, tour manager, merchant and 15-passenger van driver, you know what I mean?” she says. “I sometimes tell people that I want to be like people’s Swiss army knife.”
Brumback even has a song named after him: “Ada” by The Greeting Committee, one of KC’s most beloved bands. She directed the accompanying music video and inspired the lyrics from her experience as a trans woman.
Although Brumback recently moved to LA, she was in KC for May 31 Meeting tour date and spent two days resting in addition to the local show date. It made for a bittersweet experience.
“It was weird because we are in this Covid lockdown where we are not allowed to see anyone, do anything or go to public places. We’re limited to walking outside of the hotel or to the show,” Brumback says. “If we are around people who are not in our bubble, we have to wear masks. So at KC we had a private session at Inner Space Yoga. It was the most beautiful place I have ever lived. It was so perfect. I left and touched the door of my old apartment, then continued.
Brumback spent his free time riding around on Bird scooters and showing his family around their favorite spots. After the show at Starlight, she was able to briefly reunite with her friends.
“It was crazy to be there from a production standpoint,” she says. “I just didn’t expect to be on the other side of that stage. And it was really cool. It seemed like a big deal to me. So my mom was there, you know, and she was dancing, and clapping, and she was really excited for me. It was cool to be like, ‘I’m here to do this thing. All my friends can see it.
At the time of this interview, Brumback is staying at Hotel X in Toronto as Bridgers’ guitar tech and backline manager. Meeting round. It’s her day off, but she’s still doubling two mini cups of coffee. When room service knocks on her door, she orders more Nespresso, even though it makes her uncomfortable to ask them for anything.
His main job on the tour is to set up and maintain equipment. This may include tuning guitars, arranging equipment orders and manifests for international travel, and maintaining inventory.
Life on tour is not particularly glamorous. Brumback has a designated berth on one of three Meeting the buses. She keeps a humidifier, three bags of clothes and shoes at the foot of the bed. His time on the road taught him to travel light.
Still, it’s much more comfortable than where she started.
Brumback found the touring life exhilarating the first time around. Regret, the informant traveled in a Hy-Vee catering van with no back seat or window.
“We would sit on the floor in sleeping bags because it was so cold,” Brumback recalled. “Because there was no insulation, there was just sheet metal, like bare sheet metal. And we were broke, so we ate kidney beans, or whatever. Like, we were literally in Boston and went to the dollar store and bought all the canned vegetables. And then next door was an Asian market, so I grabbed a bottle of Sriracha. We would, like, throw Sriracha in red beans, and it was a meal. A can of beans was a meal. We were broke as shit, but we were living the dream.
Brumback says she lost about 40 pounds on that tour. Now she eats meals cooked by the team leader.
“It’s weird to finally have something recognizable as a hit,” Brumback says.
In 2021, her close friend Megan Mantia took advantage of a favor from Brumback. Mantia was working as a producer and production designer for Mitski’s “Love Me More” music video, and the budget was tight. Brumback worked as a behind-the-scenes photographer as a one-time giveaway to help keep the team’s costs down.
She took photos of everyone on set, the day’s filming activities, and the crew’s individual experiences. A few months later, she was hired to do the same for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, rockers she’s admired for much of her life. Their live performance of “Maps” at the 2004 MTV Movie Awards was a turning point for her, and she still remembers much of the set design.
“I grew up in a quaint town called Wellsville, Kansas,” Brumback explains. “Wellsville is an hour south of Kansas City. It’s like 1,000 people. It’s a pretty country. My parents separated when I was 13, and I moved to the suburbs [in Olathe]. I finished middle school and all of high school there. It was the first time I had cable TV, which was crazy. It was so crazy that I could watch something that wasn’t public television. So MTV was always on, and I remember sitting there and seeing this really great performance.
Working with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was the first time Brumback felt she had come full circle. While she says she doesn’t fully understand the circumstances that got her to this point, she attributes a lot of it to persistence and enjoying the ride, despite being exhausted from touring.
Brumback maintains a connection with KC by working full-time for Seen Merch throughout the year. At home, she repairs guitars and works on photo and video projects. She rarely has a break, but takes it all in stride.
Part of the reason for her tireless work is to fund her transition, which she began in 2015. The expense has posed additional challenges.
To help raise funds, Brumback raffled off a custom Gibson guitar which she stripped, painted, and tweaked. The winner was announced on January 1, 2022, and the guitar has found its new home with owner Arizona Trading Company.
Brumback says she didn’t know her transition had any meaning for others until she played guitar with Potty Mouth in 2019 and was approached by a fan while plugging in her pedal board .
“This girl came up to me and was like, ‘Hey, my girlfriend thinks you’re really cool. Could she take a picture with you?'” Brumback said. “And I was like, ‘C’ is weird. I’m just the hired guitarist. Like, I’m not even in this group. I’m not on the poster. Who am I?’ And I looked up and realized his girlfriend was trans. She was so happy to see me perform and represent who she was on stage.
Amplify Lawrence, formerly Girls Rock Lawrence, is another avenue where Brumback passed on her identity. She led guitar workshops for beginners and supervised groups of marginalized women and gender identities aged 12-18 as they wrote an original song for a week, then performed on stage in a camp showcase. .
At the national Girls Rock Camp Alliance conference, she worked with committees on issues related to trans identity to ensure the organization’s language is inclusive and creates a welcoming environment for all young people.
“As my visibility has increased, due to accomplishments that I’ve made, or whatever, it just happens to coincide with my identity intersecting with that,” Brumback says.
While Brumback is still getting used to her success, she’s already racking up her own fans. She has over 5,000 followers on her Instagram (@adabrumback), where she posts behind-the-scenes photos, her experiences as a trans woman, and personal snapshots of her life.
*Additional reporting for this story by Ellie Booton