Sofar Sounds: Intimate Venues for Music Lovers

SoFar Sounds. Josh Whitehouse playing in Los Angeles

Do you love good company, great music and trying new things? Awesome – me too. I recently discovered Sofar Sounds in my hometown of NYC and have to say I’m hooked on the experience.

Sofar stands for Songs from a Room, and they’re all about creating magical, intimate concerts in obscure and special venues.

Where did Sofar Start?

The idea for Sofar was born out of London where the founders Rafe, Rocky and Dave once attended a small concert. They grew frustrated by the audience’s lack of attention. As many concert-goers can relate to, this London show back in ’09 was packed to the brim with a bar full of people chatting, texting and idling about, not really paying attention to the artists.

The guys wound up talking to one of the bands and inviting them back to their flat. The band played as a few of their friends comfortably sat on the couch, soaking up the sounds and absorbing the experience wholeheartedly.

2 of the SoFar Sounds Founders Rafe Offer & Dave Alexandar at the first SoFar Sounds New York gig in 2010.

2 of 3 Founders Rafe Offer & Dave Alexandar at the first Sofar Sounds New York gig in 2010. Photo credit: Sofar

That intimacy has carried Sofar to where they are today- a global phenomenon that’s one of the word’s best kept secrets. You can find a show on any continent in over 350 cities around the world (well, except Antartica, but I think it’d take a lot of prep to play in an igloo). While unique to every culture and its customs, the general ambiance of Sofar remains the same.

It’s a great way to meet other music lovers, discover new artists and explore genres or styles you may not have otherwise considered, all while watching live. The tickets are cheap and they let you bring your own booze. A typical show includes about 3 performances, with brief intermissions between each one so you have some time to mingle with the other attendees. Everyone is friendly, mellow, and open-minded. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you may even find yourself sitting next to one of the performers.

No matter the performance, you’re guaranteed to be part of a thoroughly engaged audience. Here, one of their only rules is to keep your phone usage to a limit. Sure, you can take a quick Snapchat if you’re lovin’ the music, but in general, you won’t find any iPhones in the air obstructing your view of the band.

How does Sofar work?

It depends on your city, really. Sofar is massive in the U.S. and London. In addition to the British city across the pond, if you’re in NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, LA, Dallas or D.C, there are bound to be dozens of shows to choose from in any given week. Averaging 500 shows a month globally! In some smaller cities, there may be less options to choose from, but that just means your show will be that much more intimate. And you’ll likely run into the same folks over and over again if you keep attending Sofar’s.

To get a ticket, go on their website, choose a city, and then select a show. Usually, all you know about the event is the date and neighborhood of the performance. That’s part of the fun – Sofar keeps most details a secret until the last minute. Once you have a date in mind, click on “Apply for Tickets.” If you’re selected, Sofar will send you a follow up email.

This is how they keep shows small and intimate. I usually apply to 5 or 6 shows in any given week, which increases my chances of getting selected. Once you are chosen, you pay for your tickets ($15 here in NY) and decide whether or not you want a Plus 1.

On the day of the show, Sofar will send out another email with the address of the venue. If you’re really curious, you can do a Google Search to find out more details about what the scene may be like, but in general, you figure it out once you arrive. I’ve been to furniture stores, thrift shops, rooftops, strangers’ apartments – really, the sky’s the limit at Sofar.

What types of artists can you see at Sofar?

There is so much raw talent just waiting to be discovered that you are bound to enjoy yourself no matter who the performers may be.

Some of the artists I’ve seen have included Cosmos & Creature, an indie-rock duo that performed their new song Young. At the time, it had just launched and was already in the top 3 downloads on Spotify.

Another show I went to included a string trio that killed it on their violin and cello rendition of Sweet Child of Mine (Time for Three) and an awesome poetry slam by Savon Bartley that really got the crowd feeling emotional (and evoked a lot of laughter). I’ve also seen a beatboxer, a woman playing not one but two giant harps, and an Israeli brother/sister duo singing soulfully over bongos. Really, the variety is endless. The only constant about Sofar is the quality.

Everyone has an amazing story, too, so if you have a chance to talk to the performers after the show, I highly recommend it. When I hosted a show at my apartment, one of the guitarists told me that he had just picked up everything and moved from Russia to NYC to start his music career – literally the night before.

At another concert, we were transported from a co-working warehouse to the Seven Seas of yesteryear. Son Of Town Hall dressed to the nines. In between their folky acoustics, they told a fictitious, albeit highly entertaining, story of their time at sea, transporting us back to 1492 when Chris Columbus discovered America and people actually sent letters to communicate.

musicians Streets of Laredo performing at a SoFar Sounds Show

Son Of Town Hall duo

All in all, you definitely won’t regret paying a visit to a Sofar Show. All I ask is that you bring me with you!

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Olivia Poglianich

Olivia lives and works in NYC, living the Mad Men life with a day job in advertising. She’s also an avid travel blogger and adventurous eater – trying any and every ethnic restaurant she can get to, plus the weirdest foods she can find. So far she’s had grasshoppers, rat, snake and zebra to name a few. You can read about her adventures and travel tips at lostwithliv.com (shamless self promotion).

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