On April 22, in the dusty glow of twilight, approximately 60 strangers gathered inside the empty storefront at the corner of Broad Ripple and College.
One email three days prior confirmed I was 'on the list'. A second email, with only an address, arrived a day prior to the event. I only knew two other things: music would be involved and BYOB was encouraged.
I was officially in the SoFar Sounds club.
Those same 60 strangers lefts with smiles on their faces, new merch in their hands, a venue baptized, and some new friends to go with it all. After a show of hands from first-timers – almost everyone – and a moment of silence for our dearly departed Prince, there was a brief introduction by Sofar Indianapolis founding member and City Director Kiefer Berry before the main festivities. I loved the simple décor, the intimate ambiance, and the giddy anticipation of seeing new live music. No one looked twice at my choice of drink (lemon water) and I made sure to chat up a few of the more fashion-forward members of the party. I felt at home immediately.
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On this evening's agenda: Brooklyn's Noble Kids who had recorded a Daytrotter session earlier; Des Moines's Christopher the Conquered, a one-man show no one in attendance is likely to forget any time soon; and Amy & the Engine, a Boston-area band with enough energy and personality to fill big venues very soon.
“Sofar Indianapolis had it's first show in May of 2015, and we're working on one show a month for the first year,” says Kiefer Berry. “In 2016 we are looking to grow by working with local businesses and sponsors. Sofar was founded by Rafe and Rocky in London in 2010. They were tired of going to shows only to witness people being too drunk, looking at their phones and generally just not paying attention to the bands that were pouring their hard work out to people who didn't care.
“So they started hosting gigs in their living rooms and basements where people would just sit and watch the music happen. No phones, no drunkards, just great music getting the attention it deserved,” Berry says.
I would say Sofar Indianapolis has met, and exceeded, those goals.
The show itself reminded me of my youth in Northeast Ohio during the '90s. Homemade fliers made the rounds before shows, DIY venues could be inside or out, and run the gamut from a local Y, a KofC, a basement, or even in my own case, a plastic card company's warehouse. Cover charges were small, canned goods for local charities were often accepted for a discount or free entry, bands hit the road in the spirit of music and toured in small groups or solo with only vague notions of where they could crash after the show. New friends were made, camaraderie was high – a scene's energy could fuel shows for months on end and a mention in a zine like Maximum Rock & Roll could boost a band's popularity overnight.
Sofar Sounds seizes this nostalgia and capitalizes on our yearning for community while tapping into our desire for the new, the mysterious.
“Our audience is usually in awe by the intimate and unique nature of the show,” says Kiefer. “We constantly have people asking how they can host or get involved. Artists are typically amazed at the fact they have an audience just sitting there staring at them, taking in their music the way it was supposed to be heard.”
He's right. At this show, the performers were in their element – soaking up the uninterrupted attention.
The few times audience phones came out was during a break between acts, or when fans were encouraged to take photos of the performers and hashtag for social media: #sofartours. There wasn't the usual melee and mosh of a standing room-only crowd, nor the dazed slouched of assigned seats. Sofar crowds are on the floor, on pillows, or leaning in to the center of it all – the audience is not on stage but simply as close as they can get to the magic. And there's no burly bouncer to break the aesthetic distance.
“Past performers for Sofar Indianapolis include Sirius Black, Bigfoot Yancey, Saint Aubin, Automagick, and many more,” says Berry. “Sofar Global has hosted acts such as Hozier, Karen O, and Bastille. We aim to bring some bigger acts in the future to play with some of our amazing local talent. All in the living room.”