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Twitch Music Retreat - Building a Community

In January of 2018, I participated in the first and only North American Twitch Music Retreat in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Twitch is a live streaming platform created in 2011 most often used for video games and is recognized by its purple theme. In 2015 a small non-gaming category was launched: Creative. Within Creative, there are artists, knitters, crafters, jewelers, etc. Most popular within the category however is Music. Matt and Corey were the first streamers that I watched, eventually inspiring me to stream myself. I started with just my guitar, my PC, a teacup drawn in Microsoft paint instead of a webcam, and my bedroom floor. And in the fall of 2017, I met some of the big players in the Twitch music community at 88bitmusic’s afterparty for Twitchcon. Everyone agreed that the afterparty was the best part because it was just OUR community, playing music and having a great time. Thus, the Music Streamers Retreat was born. 

 Coordinated by some of my mentors, Rhiow and DocBizzle (and a long list of amazing moderators who made the technical side possible), it was a massive feat. Twenty-nine of us were there in total, including the high profile partnered streamers, aka the real professional musicians, who I was most intimidated by. My dad and I drove down from Michigan and all of us stayed in an immensely large cabin in the Appalachian Mountains. Right through the front door was the main living room, where the streamers set up their intense performance gear. The first night was magical. Ali and Ryan introduced themselves and what the stream would be for—Saving Music Live. Saving Music Live is a charity stream that at the time was benefiting the Mr Holland’s Opus Foundation which provides music opportunities to lower-income students and schools. The first day was the musician's showcase, where everyone sang one or two songs to introduce themselves and have stage time. After saying that I was forever grateful to Matt and Corey for inspiring me, Matt dedicated a song to me as his ‘little sister’ and said incredibly kind words. 

The next day we made food in a musical brunch stream. I was the youngest person there, only 17, and extremely nervous. Quickly, the music streamers around me eased my nerves. While I was sitting on the couch, Ryan came up and told me how much he liked the song I performed at the showcase. What were you thinking of playing tonight? What key do you play it in? The original? Really?? He took his capo out and started playing House of the Rising Sun while I meekly sang along with it. I told him I loved when other musicians played with me so they could do the solos and show off their talent. Awesome, I’m on it! That night I sang The Animal’s classic song surrounded by some of the most talented musicians and wonderful people in North America. 

When we weren’t actively streaming, musicians would pair off and practice songs together. Rhiow and I worked on What Sarah Said by Death Cab for a Cutie, I did Lego House by Ed Sheeran with Ryan and Ali, Somewhere over the Rainbow with Doc, and spent FOREVER practicing the harmonies of If I Were a Boy by Beyonce with Jennifer and Corey. People were practicing and learning and supporting each other every single second. Every room you went into there would be a new group of people sharing stories, original songs, and favorite riffs. I spent most of my time with 88bitmusic (Trevor) and KristiKates, who were lovely and goofy—we became fast friends. One of the days we went go-karting and I had Chipotle for the first time. It seemed like such a monumental event at the time that I preserved the receipt for my memory box. At the go-kart place, Kristi, Trevor, and I were obsessed with a toy dispenser that, working like a gumball machine, spit out severely deformed stuffed animals. We each bought one and for the rest of the trip carried them around and couldn’t stop laughing. They became a part of our trip personas. 

 The last day was spent in more comfort and love than any other. Trevor played any and all Disney songs that we wanted to cover, improv sessions were beautifully eclectic, and people felt safe being silly. As the day flew by and more people left, we sang goodbye songs where the stage used to be. Tears were shed, selfies were taken, numbers were exchanged. In total, the retreat raised over $20,000 for the Mr. Holland’s Opus Foundation. The community bonded in an intense, powerful way that I believe you can still see ripples of today. 

Looking back almost four years, I am certain that this was one of the most important weekends of my life. I had never before felt the power of a community and the genuine love that can be spread between even random people on the internet. I gained confidence, not just in my musical abilities but in my worth in the world. I can’t thank the Twitch Music Community enough for the love and acceptance that they showed me that weekend and every day after. Over time the community became larger and Music even got its own category on Twitch. By the next year, it was too large a group to do anything like 2018, and the Music Retreat became an early-days memory. Even though I no longer stream, I will forever hold those people, that place, and what we made together, close to my heart.