TableTalk itself is geared toward fostering conversations that matter in and around educational institutions. The movement started their Emory University chapter in 2013, and has since organized six Couchellas. These events have been harbingers celebrating the final stretch of spring semester at Emory for years, and this year’s Couchella was no exception. When I mentioned to my friends that I would be covering Couchella for the Wheel, I was met, without fail, with a nostalgic smile and excited response; everybody seemed to have a Couchella memory to share.
Despite having to postpone the initial concert due to rain and thus having to move around some performers, the event took place on April 21. The performers were as numerous and idiosyncratic as one would expect from the University’s large and varied art scene: Some examples included mj dehn (Michael Dehn, 23Ox), Jackie & Ivy (Jackie Hampton, 26C; Ivy Leach, 26C), NoFace Band, Sarah Baig (23C), Hon Sencho (Eitan Lehon, 25C), an Emory Jazz Quintet and DJ Gorelizard (Lauren Namer, 23B).
From the artist bios alone, Couchella clearly brought together a lot of strong personalities, each with their own creative flair. The artistic representation was sourced from all across the University, including first-year students, graduating seniors, Oxford College musicians and international undergraduates — all of which would normally be disparate groups on campus. As described in their verbal introduction of the event, TableTalk Emory designed Couchella to bring the Emory community together through the power of music.
The concert took place on Asbury Circle, one of the most frequently trafficked locations on campus, yet TableTalk Emory managed to make the space feel intimate. Instead of rushing past students on their way to class or waiting in an impossibly long line for some food truck grub, I sat comfortably on an inflatable couch next to friends, enjoyed provided snacks and experienced my peers’ art. TableTalk Emory hung up a beautiful, hand-painted “Couchella” sign in the middle of Asbury Circle, in front of which stood a mic, some cozy rugs and a few instruments. This year’s theme was the ’70s, and the decor was spot on: ’70s-themed postcards were stuck to the trees, with twinkly fairy lights and vintage records hanging like a canopy between them.
Whether students were intentionally stopping by to watch their friends and favorite musicians perform or simply intrigued by the tunes lilting through the air as they left the Dobbs Common Table, students began to fill the couches and picnic blankets. At some points, students, parents and staff stopping to enjoy the art and the good vibes covered the entire hill between Asbury Circle and Alabama Hall.
The evening began with a bang, literally, from Lady Gadget & the Rigamarole, the 2023 winner of Emory Musician’s Network’s Battle of the Bands and all-around fierce foursome. A jokingly self-described “EGOT nominated family band,” they set the tone for the evening with songs ranging from “Sugar, We’re Goin Down” (2005) by Fall Out Boy to “Before He Cheats” (2005) by Carrie Underwood.
In the same vein of musical range, Drew’s Underwear and the S*** Stains performed Radiohead, mj dehn covered Billy Joel and DJ Gorelizard mixed chill EDM tunes, all before the first hour of the concert was over. I went from wanting to boogie with everybody to wanting to nap on the hill as the music floated into the crowd. While the vibe shift between musical styles and performance types was at times hard to keep up with, the space cultivated an energy that kept the evening feeling consistent. Between sets, the murmur of friendly introductions, the smell of popcorn and the early spring evening breeze filled the air.
After intermission, the Emory Jazz Quintet brought the crowd back to the space. While I was used to listening to their performances in the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts, experiencing their tunes while surrounded by nature was refreshing. Even though the acoustics of Asbury Circle could never beat those of the Schwartz Center, the birds and the wind outside seemingly became instruments for improvisation themselves. The Cox Bell Tower, ringing every 15 minutes, should decidedly have been listed as a performer on the setlist.
More solo artists filled the second half of Couchella, including Baig’s spoken word performance titled “I Would Lie” and Rayna Weitzman’s (24C) impromptu performance of “Pool House” by The Backseat Lovers. These performances, paired with the setting sun, brought an air of vulnerability to the event, showcasing the support of and familiarity with student artwork that is key to fostering community. As the evening began to wind down, the artists embraced the relaxed setting and were celebrated by the sundry Emory community gathering in Asbury Circle.
Multilingual indie rock band NoFace Band, student rapper Hon Sencho and beautiful covers of songs from Jackie & Ivy capped off the concert.
Finding three hours to devote to uninterrupted artistic experience is difficult, but Couchella did not demand that commitment from its viewers. Instead, this concert asked people to approach the space and the students’ artwork with open hearts and minds. No matter if you stayed for 10 minutes to see your friends play or all three hours to support the event, TableTalk Emory encouraged everyone to start conversations, embrace a comfortable energy and applaud the effort of student artists across demographics.
Zimra Chickering (24C) is a born and raised Chicagoan who studies art history and nutrition science. She is also a student docent for the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Woodruff JEDI Fellow, educational committee chair for Slow Food Emory, and Xocolatl: Small Batch Chocolate employee. Zimra loves cooking, visiting art museums, photography, doing Muay Thai, drinking coffee, and grocery shopping. She uses writing as an outlet to reflect upon issues and oppurtunities within artistic institutions, and the unique ways in which food and art can act as communicators of culture.