Originally Published in Atlas Magazine’s print issue
SoFar So Good
By: Jackie DeFusco
The beaten, urban street is quiet. Bottles of wine and fresh, italian bread in hand, a group of friends looks cautiously at the industrial building. A friendly face catches their eye, standing at the door with programs that read “SoFar Sounds.” Thick graffiti clutters the narrow hallway. Four flights up, a door is propped open. Anxious chatter and guitar strums fill the room. The show is about to begin.
The venue is a loft style apartment. It is the home of a local artist, whose paintings line the walls. Pots, pans and plants hang from the ceiling. The audience spreads out on the furniture and floor. Rust-stained windows watch over the city’s skyline. The sun begins to set, flooding the room with brilliant colors and warm light as the host introduces the first performer.
SoFar Sounds, a movement that brings music lovers together by organizing exclusive, pop-up shows, began seven years ago in a London apartment building. Today, these performances are in over 260 cities worldwide, including Boston. Fans can apply for tickets to upcoming shows on SoFar Sound’s website. Guests are randomly selected to attend and are allowed a plus one. An email is sent out to those who are chosen. As there is usually a waiting list, applicants who receive this email must confirm their attendance to be officially put on the list of guests. A donation of any amount can be made in place of a ticket.
The location of the event is kept secret until the day of the performance. The performers, on the other hand, generally sit amongst the crowd and are kept under wraps until the moment that they step on stage.
Some cities, like New York and London, have multiple SoFar shows a night and over 70 shows a month. Others, like Boston, have only a few per month. Regardless of the quantity of performances, SoFar shows come with an expectation of quality that keeps fans coming back.
Though several artists apply to play at these events, a team of music-loving volunteers for the organization will hold a vote to decide on the most talented musicians. SoFar shows generally feature three acts that perform four songs each.
Dave Ash, intern for SoFar Sounds, has helped book shows in art galleries, an italian kitchen showroom and even a recording studio. “You just never know where you are going to end up or who you are going to see,” he says. Ash first got involved with the organization after going to a SoFar show, where he spoke to the volunteers running the event. From that point on, he started volunteering whenever he could. In fact, most of the people who run the SoFar scene in Boston are unpaid. “Everyone is there because they frickin’ love it,” says Ash. “I love working for SoFar; it’s so fun.”
SoFar has shows world wide, which presents a unique opportunity for people working in the organization. “Anytime I go somewhere, there is always an opportunity to meet the local team,” says Ash. For this reason, working at SoFar has allowed him to expand his network of contacts, as many volunteers are in the music industry or are full-time artists themselves.
Ash has also performed in a SoFar show with his band, Truth of a Lyre. “From the artist’s point of view there’s not much you have to do for it; it’s a guaranteed audience. That’s probably the biggest draw of SoFar shows,” he says.
According to Ash, the organization started because the founders, Rafe Offer, Rocky Start and Dave Alexander, were tired of going to live shows where no one was paying attention to the music. They were frustrated by fans who would only show up for the headliner at the expense of the opening acts. This is why, at SoFar shows, audience members are asked to arrive on time and stay for the entirety of the performance.
The secrecy surrounding SoFar shows also helps keep all of the artists on a level playing field, giving them equal opportunity for exposure.“The secrecy works for them because the shows have such a good reputation,” says Edward Williams, who recently played a SoFar show in Boston with his band, Whitherward.
Williams speaks to the intimate atmosphere of these events: “There’s an exclusivity element to the show, the audience acts privileged to be there.” Boston SoFar shows are often hosted in private homes or apartments buildings, adding to this sense of exclusivity. “A lot of people that host are just big music fans that want to be a part of it,” Ash says.
Whitherward describes their style as indie-folk, though they also incorporate elements of jazz, americana and rock. At their Boston performance, they played four songs, all with completely different sounds. “It didn’t really seem to matter to the crowd what we played; they were hanging on every word,” says Whitherward member Ashley Norton.
The show Whitherward played in Boston featured an eclectic mix of artists. “When I’m booking acts I want them to be, well, one: awesome; but I also want diversity,” Ash says. Of the shows Ash has booked, his favorite lineup featured a folk artist, beatboxers and a soul group. Some of the acts played original music whereas others played covers.
As the shows generally draw a younger crowd, artists tend to walk away with a few fresh followers. “It is really exciting to have people taking pictures of us at the shows and putting them on their social media,” says Norton. Fans, on the other hand, often walk away with a few new favorites. “It’s a mutual exchange: we are giving art and they are giving attention,” Norton adds.
SoFar gives new bands a platform to make a name for themselves in their community, and as the organization grows, many artists have had the opportunity to play in cities across the country. Whitherward has taken advantage of this music-loving network as they work to establish themselves touring full-time. They were initially confronted by a SoFar ambassador at an open mic in Phoenix, Arizona, where they would eventually play a show. In addition to Boston, they have also played in Chicago, Illinois.
“Artists shouldn’t be afraid to be independent. There’s not a single way to be successful in the music industry and there’s not a single definition of success,” says Williams.
Norton emphasizes how fulfilling these shows are for artists just starting to pave their way in the music industry. “Fans are out there,” she says. “SoFar shows that you don’t have to be a huge, famous artist to be validated in what you are doing.”
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