Psst… hey buddy… Want to buy a ticket to a music show? It might be really killer and it might not. All it will cost you is $15 and we won’t tell you where it is or who’s playing. And, by the way, it will probably sell out quickly.
That’s all I had to go on. I love acoustic music and intimate venues. I’ve even had living room concerts at my house. But when a friend told me about Sofar Sounds ("Songs From A Room"), a website promoting this type of music around the world, I looked into it. On the site you can get a ticket, become a host, or sign up as an entertainer. When I first checked several months ago Tampa had no shows scheduled. That’s changed.
It all starts with reserving (prepaying) or applying for (maybe you get in) a ticket to a show at an unknown location and with unknown talent. If you reserve a spot, you just buy on faith. Applying for a ticket means the organization will notify you if they let you in, but then you pay what you want. For $15 to prepay I figured it was worth it. We threw our money into cyberspace and were rewarded with an email stating we had scored the tix, but no other information ("You are on the guestlist," it said. "We will send you an email with the full address the day before.")
Then we waited.
"I like the whole idea of surprise and focusing on the music," Anita Stewart told CL. She's a Bay area Sofar organizer whose father owned one of Latrobe, Pennsylvania's first rock and roll stations, WQTW 1570 AM. She's been organizing Sofar shows since April, and says Sofar currently books just one show a month.
"[The area] has a huge reserve of local talent, musicians [who] are everywhere and trying to be seen and heard. The Sofar Sounds videos give them an opportunity to do that and also provides a global reach."
And it turned out that the mystery was worth it. The show was in an awesome yoga studio with perfect acoustics and very talented local musicians — young, promising songwriters Olivia Romano and Zambian-born Mwiza Simfukwe.
The secrecy around the acts and location is a marketing strategy used worldwide for Sofar Sounds events but may prove a little dicey. The organization understandably puts a cap on how many can attend at a certain venue. The cap for Saturday’s show was 70 but there were only 25-30 people in attendance. The site inexplicably cut off prepaid tickets days in advance, making it seem as if the concert were sold out. It wasn’t, and that’s too bad. It was an excellent show. Folks who applied presumably still got in.
The concept of intimate acoustic concerts is awesome. It's unplugged and personal. The mystery and intrigue of the Sofar ticketing process may work once the demand reaches critical mass. But in the meantime putting up such confusing barriers to attendance doesn’t make sense, especially for the talented entertainers who are trying so hard and working for little money. This show was worth the price of admission, but attended mostly by friends and family of the players. I'm not sure a lot of people are as musically adventuresome as I, and until this process turns into a thing, attendance may suffer. If you like the concept, go! It will be worth your time and money.
Fran Snyder, musician and promoter of house and office concerts and the Listening Room Festival, was there. His operation supports similar intimate shows in living rooms around the area and has been around since 2006. He has seen a slow growth in interest in acoustic and small venue concerts and increasing popularity for the festival. He sees it as a win for everybody. Musicians play for a quiet and appreciative crowd unchallenged by the noise and chaos of bars and typical music venues. The audience gets an intimate experience, avoids the hassle and add-ons of online ticket purchases, and with strong vetting from the organizers gets to see a great show.
Sofar Sounds has its next concert in Land O'Lakes on September 9. According to organizers, they would like to get to the point of offering events twice a month.