Sofar Sounds

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By: Tom Schulte

I have always considered myself somewhat of an old soul. More often than not I prefer a quiet, smaller get-together at a friend’s house as opposed to a night out on the town. Rounds of Setback (Pitch, High-Low-Jack) with the Celtics game on in the background over sitting in the TD Garden’s nosebleed sections. However, more than anything, I despise large concerts & festivals. Far too many times I have found myself out hundreds of dollars to witness performers underperform within venues that better-resemble modern day warzones. Sound quality and acoustics are always the production crew’s afterthought and as a result, I find that the overall experience tarnishes my appreciation for the artists’ work. Nonetheless, when I was offered a concert ticket last weekend for a Sofar Sound show, I begrudgingly accepted with no prior knowledge of what I was in for.

To my surprise, Sofar Sounds was not a mildly well-named band, but instead a platform for smaller groups to organize concerts in more intimate settings. The venues range from quaint retail shops and cafes to unused beer halls and corporate office space—essentially, wherever local business owners allow. In order to keep attendee numbers under 100 per show, you must apply for concert dates in the neighborhoods of your choice. The kicker however, is that they keep the artists and exact address of the venue a secret until hours before the actual show. At first, this secrecy irked me a bit, but I learned quickly that half the fun of these concerts are the uniqueness of their venues. And while you are left in the dark in regards to the address, you know the general neighborhood, which allows for the logistical planning of a pre-show drink.

Our tickets had brought us to the SoWa neighborhood of Boston (South of Washington area in the South End), more specifically, to a women’s clothing store named Ash & Rose. Within a mixed-use building primarily consisting of art studios, Ash & Rose offers the beloved interior exposed brick aesthetics that are synonymous with the South End, along with large northerly-facing windows looking out towards the city. Complete with a makeshift stage and minor lighting equipment, the nearly 100 of us concert-goers found room to spread out, facing the stage. While the organizers of Sofar Sound events do offer a liberal BYOB-policy, they are extremely strict on their no cell phone use rule as well as unnecessary exit policy. These rigid rules are all in place to try and protect the intimacy and sound quality of the show, for which is the purpose of such events—I believe most everyone is appreciative of this.

Over the course of the three hour show, four extremely talented duos and trios played four to five songs each. From rock to rap covers and everything in between, seemingly all types of music were touched upon. Looking back on it, I cannot remember leaving a concert feeling so satisfied. The sound was crisp and clear, the venue was unlike any I had experienced before, and our peers were incredibly respectful and polite. Currently I am on the waiting list for shows in Back Bay and the North End for this spring—the vague and secret acceptance email cannot come soon enough!