Review: Sofar, so good — Bay area chapter of global pop-up concert series gets legs

The Body Electric yoga studio hosts the latest installment of Sofar Sounds.

click to enlarge Olivia Romano entertains at the Sofar Sounds show in St. Petersburg Saturday night. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Olivia Romano entertains at the Sofar Sounds show in St. Petersburg Saturday night.

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.

click to enlarge The Body Electric Yoga Co turned out to be the venue for the Sofar show on Saturday. The location for the show was not announced until the day before. It is part of the "Secret gigs and intimate concerts" model developed by Sofar Sounds. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
The Body Electric Yoga Co turned out to be the venue for the Sofar show on Saturday. The location for the show was not announced until the day before. It is part of the "Secret gigs and intimate concerts" model developed by Sofar Sounds.


click to enlarge The Body Electric yoga studio was a perfect venue. The acoustics were good and the studio provided bolster pillows (typically used for yoga) as nice seat cushions for sitting on the floor. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
The Body Electric yoga studio was a perfect venue. The acoustics were good and the studio provided bolster pillows (typically used for yoga) as nice seat cushions for sitting on the floor.

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.

click to enlarge Olivia Romano played both electric and acoustic songs for her performance. The 19-year-old's voice tone and enunciation are reminiscent of Norah Jones and her guitar riffs filled with jazzy chords influenced by her father, who plays bass guitar. The singer/songwriter hopes to continue to grow into the R&B scene. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Olivia Romano played both electric and acoustic songs for her performance. The 19-year-old's voice tone and enunciation are reminiscent of Norah Jones and her guitar riffs filled with jazzy chords influenced by her father, who plays bass guitar. The singer/songwriter hopes to continue to grow into the R&B scene.

click to enlarge Singer/songwriter Olivia Romano was the opening act for Saturday’s Sofar concert. She is quite accomplished for having only been in the music scene for four years. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Singer/songwriter Olivia Romano was the opening act for Saturday’s Sofar concert. She is quite accomplished for having only been in the music scene for four years.

click to enlarge Mwiza plays a Dobro when he entertains. Originally from Zambia, the 23-year-old’s music is inspired by gospel and the musicians his mother favored when he was growing up. Mwiza has a soft-spoken singing voice (think Maxwell) but can fill the room when needed. He has been in St Pete since January and frequents the music scene at venues like the Hideaway Cafe. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Mwiza plays a Dobro when he entertains. Originally from Zambia, the 23-year-old’s music is inspired by gospel and the musicians his mother favored when he was growing up. Mwiza has a soft-spoken singing voice (think Maxwell) but can fill the room when needed. He has been in St Pete since January and frequents the music scene at venues like the Hideaway Cafe.


click to enlarge Mwiza demonstrates his soft but inspired voice at The Sofar Sounds concert Saturday night in St Pete. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Mwiza demonstrates his soft but inspired voice at The Sofar Sounds concert Saturday night in St Pete.

click to enlarge Music producer, visual artist and mystic, Jonathan Greye performs his brand of music using an electronic pad and mixer to create live sound. He differentiates himself from DJ's and others who use prerecorded  music to entertain. His sound, while sampled, is all created live. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Music producer, visual artist and mystic, Jonathan Greye performs his brand of music using an electronic pad and mixer to create live sound. He differentiates himself from DJ's and others who use prerecorded music to entertain. His sound, while sampled, is all created live.


click to enlarge Jonathan Greye uses an electronic controller to create the genre of music he defines as Synthwave. Greye is working on the Kosms project, music inspired by vintage science fiction, ’80s music and movies, and ancient metaphysical concepts. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Jonathan Greye uses an electronic controller to create the genre of music he defines as Synthwave. Greye is working on the Kosms project, music inspired by vintage science fiction, ’80s music and movies, and ancient metaphysical concepts.


click to enlarge Comedian Tim Chirikalov has MC'd two of the Sofar shows in the Tampa area. He works regularly at The Improv and Sidesplitters. - Chip Weiner
Chip Weiner
Comedian Tim Chirikalov has MC'd two of the Sofar shows in the Tampa area. He works regularly at The Improv and Sidesplitters.

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.

The Listening Room Festival is scheduled for April 2018 in St. Petersburg, and there are dozens of Concerts In Your Home events scheduled in Central Florida in the next few months.