Most music fans buy their concert tickets months in advance, scouring the internet for codes to lessen the steep price. Then they’ll pay for overpriced, watered-down drinks and stand with others talking, using their cell phones and singing along — badly — with the artist.
Such was the case for Londoner Rafe Offe after he went to see his favorite band at a pub in 2009. He could scarcely hear the music over the chatter and laughter of others. Instead, he decided to invite some mates to his flat for an intimate concert by a friend. Folks sat on the floor, brought their favorite drinks and listened respectfully to the musician. The idea was so successful for both the artist and listeners that Rafe created a full-blown underground music scene with it – dubbing it Sofar Sounds.
Eventually, the idea crossed the pond and found its way to Louisville. It may just be the best-kept secret you need to know about.
“Now Sofar exists in over 425 cities,” says Jayme Trondle, the Louisville curator who heads up Sofar Louisville, which launched in February 2019. “I personally found out about it when I went to a show in Chicago. My friend told me about it, and it was right up my alley. When I went, I was totally captivated by this experience because I’ve always been one to go to shows and festivals but never had that full attention from everyone there. That’s why I fell in love with it.”
Here’s how it works: Visit the Sofar Louisville website, and you can view the general area of town where the concerts will be held. You can also find out if it’s residential or non-residential, but the actual location is a secret. It could be a warehouse, coffee shop, bookstore or sweet art space. You can even see a show in someone’s backyard.
Next, you enter an online lottery for tickets — if you win, you’ll be notified by email. You’ll be allowed to purchase up to 10 tickets at $20 each. The final location and arrival time are revealed the day before, and the events are usually BYOB.
Now, here’s the coolest part: You don’t know who’s playing the venue until you arrive. It’s usually three diverse artists with four sets each, and Jayme says there’s no competition between acts. Phones and loud talking are not allowed, but pillows, blankets and BYOB (if allowed) are encouraged. It’s time to sit back, relax and appreciate the music and the artists.
“It’s a super inviting environment,” Jayme says, “especially for people who don’t know what’s going on. We encourage the artists to participate with them, talk to them, tell their story — so it’s really more of a conversation with the audience and that interaction you wouldn’t necessarily get at a bigger show. We ask our guests not to be on their phones, to not talk during sets and to stay until the end, because we’re really there for the artist. I know all of our artists love playing the shows because they’re not Billie Eilish — they’re not selling out shows. They’re used to playing crowded bars or other venues where other people are talking. And you’d think they’d be happy to be there playing to a bigger audience, but they’d more so play to a more intimate group if everyone is quiet and listening.”
In the past, some Sofar visitors have lucked into secret sets by Ed Sheeran — who showed up in Washington D.C. — an even younger Billie Eilish in Los Angeles, and Hozier, who played two shows in Manchester and Dublin before “Take Me to Church” put him on the map.
In Louisville, the artists who have participated say they dig the experience and appreciate the exposure. “I chose Sofar Louisville because, being a local singer/songwriter, I’m always looking for a new audience to share my music with,” says musician Brooks Ritter. “My experience with Sofar Louisville was incredible! Not only did I get to share my music with a new audience, but the space was amazing and beautifully intimate. Perfect combo. Lastly, the Sofar community goes beyond the reach of Louisville. There’s an opportunity to play in other cities as well — I’m looking forward to playing Sofar Chicago later this month.”
“As someone who has always admired the intimacy of Sofar Sounds shows, I was obviously thrilled to be asked to perform in one,” says artist Owen Stovall, who has played several other venues around town. “Everything about the entire show was expertly coordinated while still coming off with a cool and casual appeal. The venue that housed the show, the guests and the other artists were all amazing and warm and kind. Sofar goes to extraordinary lengths to make sure that every show is a 100 percent unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I think that it is as important to the artists as it is the audience.”
With three shows a month, Jayme says Sofar sees Louisville as a huge market because there’s “nothing like this [here]. We have a couple of other places that will do group shows, but what I love about Sofar is that it’s always changing and moving because the artists are always different. The locations are always different. I know that for the future, we hope to see it growing to be as big of a market as Nashville or Boston, where they have shows three to four times a week.”
Jayme wants each show to be safe, comfortable and inviting. She locates many of the artists through Sofar’s extensive database. Some artists travel through and are here for a little as one night, while others are local or regional. “I just think it’s totally on-brand for our city, and I think people love the secretive aspect of the underground [music scene],” says Jayme.
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