Music and Kitty Litter: My Sofar Sounds Experience
I had to keep explaining to people what I was doing last Saturday afternoon. No one believed me.
-So you are seeing a concert in someone’s living room?
-Do you know who you are going to see?
-Why are you doing this?
-For an intimate musical experience.
Versions of the above conversation took place even when I arrived. I sat down on the couch of a complete stranger’s living room and the couple who made room for me had no idea what to expect. Other than music, of course.
I was about to participate in the Sofar Sounds experience. According to an episode of NPR’s All Songs Considered, Rafe Offer founded the community in London in 2010 because he would go to music venues and never be able to hear the band. His solution was to have volunteers open up their living rooms to audiences eager to see musicians perform intimate shows. Guests arrive on time, have no idea who they are seeing until arrival, and bring beverages of their choice so there is no waiting at the bar. There is no talking during the show except the designated breaks between sets.
Sofar shows are now taking place in 271 cities worldwide. Bands like Hozier got their start performing at Sofar gigs. According to Lisa, a volunteer who helped start Sofar in Phoenix, no one expected the concept to catch on in Arizona. That was a year ago. Judging from the small volunteer crew of videographers, photographers, and sound technicians, Lisa has proved the naysayers wrong.
The show I attended included two local bands and one up and coming national band. Each of their genres varied, but the overall experience was pleasant. Despite the smell of kitty litter emanating from the host’s nearby laundry room, I would get lost in the music. I was tapping my feet and moving my head back and forth.
I’d be lying if I said that I loved every band I saw that afternoon, but the experience of seeing them up close and very personal was unforgettable. There were no sound problems or annoying audience members taking away from the moment. Cell phone photography was allowed, but most attendees kept it to a minimum.
My only problem with the afternoon came from the MC, a local DJ. She stated that she was finally starting to see signs of musical life in Phoenix. Having been a freelance music journalist in town for several years, I took issue with that statement. Phoenix has given birth to bands like KONGOS, AJJ, and Diners, to name a few. Then there are the artists I’ve talked to working in the trenches doing anything they can to get their music heard by anyone.
I see Sofar as a great launching pad for eager audiences to start diving into local music, but the idea of keeping the shows small and secret only helps the artists to a point. It would be interesting to see the passion for a local music experience both inside and outside a stranger’s living room.
Afterward, there was some mingling with the bands. I spoke to Lisa, who seemed concerned that this special thing she and her wife started wouldn’t be able to sustain itself if they moved. They have built a great foundation and have nowhere to go but up. Almost makes me wish I was a homeowner again so I could host a gig in my living room.