On carpets and couches: Sofar Sounds brings live music to unique environments
A&E

On carpets and couches: Sofar Sounds brings live music to unique environments

It’s a different type of concert setting. Tucked away in Vanderbilt University’s campus, ten people set up a room in Alumni Hall.

The only clue that a show is about to be performed are the few chairs and couches arranged in a semi-circle around a fireplace. There is no distinction among the musical artists and crew.

It is an hour before the show, and there is no sign of stress or a rush to finish any tasks. There is just a relaxed atmosphere to match the casual setting.

The mood sums up the whole point to a Sofar Sounds show – to create community by fostering an intimate connection between the audience and the artist in a unique setting.

The distinct experience of a Sofar show begins even before walking into the venue. The venue is kept a secret until one day before, when it is released to those who were selected to attend from a lottery. Audience members do not know who will be performing until they arrive.

The Sofar crew looks for diverse locations to hold its shows, whether that be on Vanderbilt’s campus or the top of an adventure tower.

“I love the work as much as I love the environment of Sofar,” said Garret Keafer, the Nashville city leader for Sofar Sounds.

The majority of the Nashville Sofar crew are volunteers. As the team announces at every show, anyone who attends and is passionate about Sofar’s mission is encouraged to join the team.

As the city leader for Nashville, Keafer works to organize volunteers and build the Sofar community.

“The whole thing is family. We want Sofar to feel tight and intimate, and you meet new people whenever you come,” said Keafer.

As the performances get closer, volunteers mingle at their different spots, such as the merch table or registration, while others bounce around the room checking in on everyone.

“My favorite part is whenever it’s coming together just before hand. The guests are about to show up, and the artists are just hanging out with the crew. The volunteers are working, but not really. Part of their work is to set that tone of a hangout environment,” said Keafer.

“It doesn’t feel like volunteering; it feels like a club,” said volunteer Shamita Nagalla.

Audience members begin to fill the room 30 minutes before the show starts. Many sit on the floor and fill the open space with blankets. At these spots, they will be less than 10 feet from the artists.

“There is no stage, and we try to avoid stages as much as we can. We have an artist standing on a carpet tonight,” Keafer said.

“As soon as that stage goes up, there is a wall there. That is the opposite of what Sofar is about.”

The first artist of the night, Ali Lakhani, or LACKHONEY, drags a stool to the middle of the carpet. He is given a short introduction and begins to play his stripped-down set. He introduces each song with personal stories and often interrupts his own raps to encourage audience participation.

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A typical Sofar show is formatted to have three different artists play with breaks in between each performance. The breaks are intended for audience members to spend time with the artists.

“You get to go and mingle with not only the music but also with the person who makes it. I think that is really key to, not just Sofar, but to the growth of the music industry – to make that intimate connection with music again,” said Keafer.

Keafer describes Sofar as a grassroots movement that focuses on “demanding more value to music” and building a basic connection between artist and listener.

At any Sofar show, there are few rules: be on time, stay for the whole show, don’t talk during the performance and stay off of phones.

“You’ll see during the show that no one is speaking. The artists have the audience’s undivided attention, and that’s not something you find easily,” said show leader Iriza Baranyanka.

This is an inviting feature for music lovers searching for a community, as well as for artists searching for an engaged crowd.

“This Sofar program is a place where people really want to hear what we’ve spent our hours, energy and effort on,” said frequent Sofar performer Jordan Slone of Hounds.

As LACKHONEY finishes his set, the second artist, Chaz McKinney, or Spazz Cardigan, begins his set-up. It is an improvised arrangement as he places his large kick drum on a keyboard stand.

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The Sofar team aims to expose audiences to a diverse lineup of artists at each show.

“People trust us enough that we will curate good enough artists to capture them for the night,” said Baranyanka.

The show closes with a performance from Katie Buxton. When the show ends, nobody hurries out the door. Instead, audience members, artists and crew hang out and get to know one another.

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It’s an experience that isn’t found after a concert at the Bridgestone Arena.

As Sofar Sounds continues to expand in Nashville, it aims to cater to more audiences. This show in Alumni Hall was exclusively for Vanderbilt students on their campus. Keafer is also interested in spreading Sofar to other campuses in the city.

“Sofar is really everywhere in the world. So, it’s mostly that we, as a city, try to bring out the best of what the city has to offer,” said Baranyanka.

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This article written by Lindsey Falgoust. Photos by Trent Millspaugh.

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