Sofar Sounds has started a movement to bring the magic back to live music, and it begins in a living room.
Founded by Rafe Offer and Rocky Start in London, Sofar is a platform that brings musicians and music-lovers together for concerts often held in the living rooms of volunteer hosts. “Being in someone’s living room…sitting on their sofa or rug…someone is welcoming you, a stranger, into their home. That helps build the intimacy and community [Sofar] wants,” Tony Najera, Director of Sofar Sounds DFW, explains. Currently there are Sofar chapters in 310 cities worldwide, with nearly 500 opportunities for artists to play each month.
I went to a show in a Lower Greenville home on Valentine’s Day by myself, which must have seemed either really sad or really inspiring to all the couples there. Sofar shows make for a creative and intimate date night, so I wasn’t surprised tickets had sold out. Audience members squeezed together on the floor and some sat in chairs off to the sides; the front row surrounded the musicians like kids during storytime. I snagged a spot on the floor next to a wall, got comfy with a blanket and thermos of chilled wine, and I was ready for the music to begin.
Three local groups performed a variety of romantic love songs: The Gibbonses, a husband and wife band who combine southern soul with rhythm and blues; Chris Watson Band, a musician whose taste ranges from “salty blues” to acoustic; and Hello Shannon, an indie/alternative pop band. Performers wove in bits of conversation and stories about their music within their sets, creating an atmosphere of closeness; literally and figuratively. All three groups were hand-selected by Tony, so I wasn’t shocked that all of them gave great performances. It was an eclectic combination of music for an eclectic crowd, who all, believe it or not, followed the Sofar cardinal rules.
Certain rules, or rather guidelines as Tony refers to them, create a unique atmosphere for both the audience and performers. Guideline number one: no talking during performances; give the artists your full attention which also means putting away cell phones. Number two: Sofar requests you stay until the end of the show because “each act deserves the same number of ears.” Last, they ask you to support the musicians, whether that’s buying their music, following them online or simply thanking them after the show. “[Sofar DFW] never has incidents of people being rowdy. Everyone gets it, and we’re unique in that regard. People who want to see music in this kind of space come out to these shows. At coffee shops or bars, you attract a different clientele,” Tony says.
Another unique aspect of Sofar is the secrecy. Each show has a limited number of spots, ranging anywhere from 20 to 60 or more depending on the space, and tickets are awarded by a lottery system. Attendees won’t know if they got into the show until a week beforehand, and they won’t know the location until the day before. As far as the lineup, the audience doesn’t know who is performing until they get there. Each show typically features three acts who perform three to four songs each.
The secrecy of the lineup is part of the magic of Sofar culture; you don’t know the artist, their genre or whether you’ll even like it. Everyone is there to listen, explore and maybe find their new favorite local act who is on the brink of stardom. Artists like Bastille played at Sofar London when they were just breaking into the music scene. Other big names who have performed at Sofar shows include: Hozier, Broods, George Ezra, Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeah and Robert Pattinson. Grammy nominee Leon Bridges performed right here in Dallas.
“Some performers are just shocked after the show, especially since most haven’t heard about Sofar before,” Tony explains. “They’re shocked people could be in a living room, collectively listening to their music and actually fully attentive. Sometimes we get emails that make me choke up, and go ‘Wow, we’re really making a difference in how people appreciate music and how artists are appreciated.’ We’re not just a venue. We really try to make every artist a part of our community and our Sofar family.”
To attend a show, you must enter in a ticket lottery online. All shows cost $15. If you’d like to host a concert in your house or are a local musician interested in playing a show, Sofar DFW will be expanding into Collin County starting in May. More information and how to contact them can be found on their website.