It’s all a secret, or, at least, that’s what the coordinators of Sofar Sounds hope for each month.
On a warm night last fall, I pulled up to the home of an address I received in an email for a secret live show. My guest and I entered with zero precedents, our names on a list with 60 others who appreciate the value of live music.
We passed through an East Nashville backyard covered with blankets and lights strung underneath a large, canopying tree. The only visible indicator of what kind of night it would be was a line of banjos and other stringed instruments silhouetted against a fence. Surrounded by several unfamiliar faces, we made our way to the front to figure out what Sofar Sounds is all about.
In 2009, a group of avid concert-goers found themselves in a London flat discussing the state of live music. They decided to begin a secret gig movement that would change the way musicians were heard and audiences listened.
Six years later, there are now more than 100 branches globally, including one in Nashville that began last March. The organization has six contracted workers and each city has a taskforce of volunteers that handle every detail of the show, from selecting the venue to mastering to posting the Youtube videos of the performance.
“It’s very organic,” said Dean Davis, the community manager for Nashville. “We treat [the artists] like family, and people who attend gigs say they feel like family.”
The movement is adamant about preserving the sanctity of live music. The artists are not announced until they go on stage to perform, leaving the guests with no indication of who may show up. It’s all about giving back to the music community and building a network that is a “haven for music discovery.”
“We don’t throw house parties,” Davis commented. “We throw listening parties.”
Charlie Whitten, the first performer at the September Sofar Sounds show said after playing that he “appreciated the atmosphere” because he was able to play songs no one would hear in a loud bar, where most upcoming musicians, especially in Music City, find themselves booking shows. This sets Sofar apart from all other live music venues in the city.
“We use new architecture to showcase the city,” Davis said. “It’s different every time.”
Members of the team choose different artists, guests and venues for each show. All tastemakers are local volunteers, so no politics are involved when choosing performers.
Over half of the attendees at each show are newcomers, which creates a space for the community to come together through local shows to talk about and respect music. Each local team creates strategies in order to build relationships with managers, artists and audiences. Davis says it’s the music that makes it so easy to come together, calling it a “universal language” that everyone involved can relate to.
Sofar Sounds also helps local artists establish a footprint in the music community.
Nashville-based Americana-folk band Judah and The Lion performed at a Sofar event in Nashville before the release of Kings These Days, giving the audience a preview of their upcoming tour. Other notable artists who have taken the stage include alternative outfit Self, as well as To Kill A King, whose popularity is rising in Nashville.
Those wanting to attend must apply through the Sofar Sounds global newsletter emailed out every month which contains a list of all the shows happening that month around the world. Each show draws between 40 to 80 guests who are hand selected by the volunteer team, including people that work in the music business, journalists, musicians and fans of local music.
SofarSounds.com is run by the headquarters and has more information about the organization as a whole, the entities in each city and how to attend a show or become a volunteer.
Follow Olivia Ladd on Twitter at @LivSlaton