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Friday, June 14
The Indiana Daily Student

arts

How to burn a couch: a look into the making of Burning Couch festival

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Sunday afternoon was wondrously warm. I sat down with my hot chocolate to meet Ahmed Al-awadi, the outgoing president of Music Industry Creatives and one of the minds behind Bloomington’s Burning Couch festival. He brought his peach ginger green tea to the table, adding just a bit of honey. 

“That’s the tea,” Al-awadi joked. “Oh shoot, I forgot to get it iced.” 

Al-awadi, an IU student studying arts management concentrating on music, saw potential in the club. MIC, formerly known as IU’s Music Industry Networking Club, used to bring in leaders in the music industry to aid IU creatives with building their network. In 2021, the club switched their focus from networking to building the network — and getting the industry’s attention by putting on events, Al-awadi said. 

“Let’s get attention,” he said. “D.I.Y. or die pretty much.” 

The Burning Couch festival is the perfect example of Al-awadi's vision: a space for artists to thrive as well as a networking opportunity for local acts. Instead of relying on Instagram messages, artists can talk in real life to those they would like to collaborate with. 

Burning Couch started in 2022 as a musical response to Little 500, the iconic annual Bloomington bicycle race that became the focus of the 1979 film “Breaking Away.” Instead of watching the race, Al-awadi said he would rather spend his time at an all-day music festival. He decided to name it after the iconic Burning Man festival, changing “man” to “couch” to fit a more college rock aesthetic. 

Related: [Festivals, festivals, festivals: local performances this week]

With around two years of experience working at events for the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Al-awadi knew he could bring his vision to life with the help of his club. Last year’s show took place in a backyard; this year, MIC is taking the leap to Switchyard Park, offering a more accessible venue for the Bloomington public. The festival will take place on Sunday starting at noon.

Last year’s festival was much more spur of the moment, Al-awadi said. “It was beautiful I guess, but it was just disorganized.” 

This year, Al-awadi aims for a more intentional experience. He’s aiming to create a space that fuses both art and music with 26 individual art vendors slotted to peddle their wares in the air-conditioned pavilion at Switchyard Park. Vendors will be selling a variety of items from upcycled clothing to stickers. 

“(For) a lot of them, it’s literally their first time doing a pop-up as well,” he said. “That’s kind of the space we want to facilitate. We’re more music focused, obviously, but our mission is a lot broader than that.” 

As for the bands, MIC aims to include a wide variety of music to showcase at the festival. Al-awadi said he is very into the jazz-hip-hop fusion sound of Ed Winn & the Atomic Misfits as well as the psychedelic rock feel of Tree To Stone. I asked him which band he was most excited to see, and he couldn’t choose one. He hates that question. 

“(We) made a bill that was very diverse in genre, representation of artists that we see in the community that are really coming up and have a lot of great potential,” Al-awadi said. “There’s something for everybody. That’s really what we’re trying to do.” 

He couldn’t help but mention the genre-bending creativity seen in the Bloomington music sphere. Al-awadi mentioned that Citruses, a three-piece lofi-rap group, will bring a 14-piece jazz ensemble to accompany their performances. They’ve been sitting on a new project for almost a year now, he said. Al-awadi is also excited to see Westhead perform their recently released album live for the first time. 

Related: [COLUMN: A Midwestern music mecca: why local bands love the Bloomington music scene]

“We wanted to focus on showcasing as much of Bloomington’s talent in one day,” he said. “And the greater area as well.”  

There are bands coming from all over the Midwest, about a hundred-mile radius from Bloomington, Al-awadi said. 

The festival is slotted for the same weekend as Bloomington Delta Music Club’s BDMC Presents and WIUX’s Culture Shock music festival, providing three days of music for the community. 

“It’s gonna drive a lot of hype for the community to just directly support the artists,” he said. 

Al-awadi does admit that the Burning Couch format offers something different, as each event inevitably will. BMDC offers more educational jam-based music, Culture Shock will be more hardcore and Burning Couch showcases artists of all kinds, from electric sets to acoustic jams to colorful sketches, he said. 

At the end of the day, Burning Couch is Al-awadi's baby. The festival is just in its infancy. He is sure that MIC will put on incredible versions of this festival in the future, as he will be graduating from IU in May. It’s a bittersweet goodbye, but don’t worry — Al-awadi will linger around Bloomington for a little while longer. 

Pre-sale tickets to Burning Couch are available now, with $12 tickets available until noon on Wednesday. Tickets will also be available on the day of the festival for $20. 

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