A monthly concert series in Cleveland is about to mark three years. But you’ve likely never heard of it. That’s because Sofar Sounds’ performances are meant to be kept a secret. For this week’s Shuffle, we look at this subscription-only concert experience.
Imagine getting a ticket to a show but all the details --- from the performers to the location --- are a mystery until the last minute. That’s Sofar Sounds, or Sounds From a Room. It’s a subscription to intimate pop-up concerts.
"It’s really for the true music lover with a little bit of a sense of adventure that’s willing to go somewhere that they don’t know and be surprised and trust that we’re going to curate a fantastic show for them," says Jeanette Sangston.
Sangston started Sofar Sounds in Cleveland in 2014. The franchise started in a London flat in 2009 and is now in more than 350 cities across the globe. Sangston says not everyone gets into every show. You sign up online and then "apply" to be picked.
"If you’re lucky enough to be put on a guest list then you just confirm your spot and then 36 hours before the show, you get an email telling you where to show up!"
Intimate performances from living rooms to breweries
Sangston books local artists as well as national touring bands and musicians passing through town. And she finds the venues, which can be anywhere from someone’s living room to local business.
The gigs are meant to be small, intimate and quiet, with focus solely on the artist, who shares stories about their music while they perform.
"It’s a privilege to be able to play for an audience like that," Shortt says. "We all strive to build a network of listeners and a fan base that is that devoted and engaged and when you actually get to stand in front of one that is, it’s like a breath of fresh air."
A gig unlike any other
Cleveland singer songwriter Marina Strah, 27, has been playing songs with her guitar since she was in college. And she says most of her gigs have a common aesthetic.
"To make money and to earn my chops and pay the bills, I’m paying a lot of dingy bars where they’re here to hear background entertainment and drink their beer."
Strah played a Sofar Sounds show in March, surrounded by sneaker displays and running gear at Second Sole in Rocky River. She says it was a whole new experience.
"I posted a picture from the show and there’s me with my arms in the air smiling like an idiot and all these people looking at me. I got to read my diary, basically, to a room full of strangers willing to listen," she says.
Strah says her Sofar performance has given her the momentum she needs to finish recording her first full-length album.
"You can’t just walk into the music scene and be like, ‘Alright I’m here! Get me into House of Blues!’ I’ve been working very hard to earn it. I think the tail end of this year it’s going to be hopefully a game-changer. I’m ready to go."
As for Rachel Shortt, she liked her Sofar Sounds experience so much, she’s looking to sign up to play Sofar gigs in other cities in the Midwest.
Sofar Cleveland’s 3rd anniversary show is October 21st.