Fans of independent music, charitable giving, portmanteaus and staying at home may be in luck thanks to the music festival Couchella.
Couchella is the creation of Abby Miracle of Opelika, who started the festival in 2019 to bring together independent musicians and raise money for charity.
“It started out as bringing independent music to other independent musicians and to people who like independent music,” Miracle said.
The festival maintains the same basic premise as a typical in-person festival: the attendee gets to watch a bunch of different musicians perform all in the same place. That place is typically a field or a downtown park, but with Couchella that place is on a computer.
Videos are uploaded to Couchella’s website throughout the length of the festival, which Miracle plans to last for three days this year, April 17–19, during which Coachella will also be held.
This idea is not new. In fact, Miracle was inspired to start the festival after a similar festival that she performed in, Couch by Couchwest, which was held for the people who couldn’t attend South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, was discontinued.
So, taking the spirit of Couch by Couchwest and combining it with a desire to help others, Miracle decided to start Couchella, choosing to send the proceeds to the music therapy organization MyMusicRx.
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“I just kind of decided on a whim, I was like, ‘I kind of want to do this because I enjoyed Couch by Couchwest so much, and I like the cause of MyMusicRx’” Miracle said. “I thought it was so cool.”
MyMusicRx is the flagship program of the Children’s Cancer Association that aims to help hospitalized children manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. Musicians visit these children and play some songs, or teach them how to play an instrument.
“It’s kind of like music therapy to keep them going while they’re stuck in bed,” Miracle said. “I feel like that’s a cause that’s close to my heart, so I wanted to do something to help them get the instruments and stuff that they need.”
So, Miracle got to work, alone. She set up a Facebook page, and started messaging musicians she knew that had original songs.
“I think it was March, I started planning it, and it was going to happen in April,” Miracle said. “I just messaged some friends I knew that had original songs and said, ‘Hey is this something you’d want to do? All you’d have to do is upload your original song performance on YouTube, and I would do the rest.’”
She got a few responses in that time, as some musicians filled out the application on the Couchella website and sent her their original songs.
There were various reasons why they signed up, whether sympathetic to a humanitarian cause or simply interested in a neat idea. But as a musician, there were some career-related perks to agreeing to perform in the festival, Miracle said, despite it being entirely non-profit.
“Other than the focus of raising money for [MyMusicRX], it’s to bring the musicians together and bring their music to new crowds that maybe wouldn’t have found them by chance without a festival like this,” Miracle said.
So within her network, word spread. But one person in particular helped recruit a large portion of the lineup: her friend, Grammy-award winning musician Larry Mitchell, who lives in Opelika when he’s not on tour.
Miracle met Mitchell at a music camp in 2016, where Mitchell helped the campers record a song together.
“We just kind of clicked as friends,” Miracle said.
They kept up after the camp, recording songs, performing at each other’s gigs, catching a movie — basically, being “normal friends that play music sometimes,” Miracle said.
When Mitchell heard about the festival, he saw no reason not to invite some other performers.
“Why not? I thought it was a good thing, and Abby’s cool,” Mitchell said. “I contacted a few of the musicians that I knew that I thought would be good for it, that would be into doing it, and a few responded nicely and participated.”
Ultimately, 14 musicians submitted their videos and performed in the first Couchella in 2019.
When the time of the festival arrived, Miracle got to sit back, watch her hard work and listen to the music of fellow independent musicians.
“I loved sitting down at the end of the day when I had done all of the social media posts and promotion and everything, and just kind of watching the festival myself as if I was kind of separated from it. As if I wasn’t the one behind the website and all,” Miracle said.
Videos from the first festival are still up on the Couchella website, couchellafest.weebly.com, and can be viewed by anyone.
She’s unsure how many people “attended” the festival, meaning watched the videos of the musicians as they were uploaded, but she said she raised around $200 last year. That money came entirely from donations and T-shirt sales, since there’s no price for admission.
Miracle said she hopes to raise $300 this year. She’s been working on planning and organizing the festival since November, which, as a one-person operation, she said takes a lot of time.
“Oh gosh, it takes a lot,” Miracle said. “I pretty much work on it everyday for about two hours. It’s kind of tedious, but it’s rewarding in the end.”
Until Feb. 20, when the application for performers closes, she’ll be sending emails and reviewing applications. For the month following, she’ll be reviewing performances and getting them ready to go on the website. And all throughout that time, she said she’ll be trying to spread the word via social media.
The work she puts into Couchella is managed around her schedule of working as a transcriptionist to pay the bills and trying to get a gig playing music somewhere. The festival can be a nice break from typical day-to-day responsibilities, she said.
“It’s like an outlet that I’m familiar with, but also something completely different,” Miracle said. “It’s giving me a creative outlet without it being just my music.”
The festival is a bit of a relief from being a career musician, which is tough, Miracle said. It’s a mixture of “fun, and discouraging as well.”
But Miracle said she still believes in music, in its power to lift someone out of a low place and its therapy.
“Sometimes it’s a lot easier to write [music] when you’re sad or when you’re hurting, because it’s like they somehow feel like stronger emotions — I guess because they don’t feel as good as positive ones,” Miracle said, chuckling to herself. “You can have music that you play or you write or that you listen to that’s so connected to a memory or a feeling, it’s almost like it can kind of take you to a different place.”
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