A crowd of roughly 80 people gathered in the lobby of the Crocker Art Museum on Thursday, Sept 5, waiting to enter the museum’s historic ballroom for an invite-only live music event.
The velvet chaises and elegant wooden end tables that normally adorn the ornate Italianate ballroom were pushed to the back of the room, leaving space for a makeshift stage, merch tables, a sound mixing station, twinkling lights and bean bag chairs and rugs for guests to sit on.
Though they were buzzing with excitement, none of the concert’s attendees actually knew who was performing until walking through the carved wooden ballroom doors.
Whether on rooftops, in warehouses or at museums, Sofar Sounds is a worldwide organization puts music lovers in touch with local artists in intimate spaces. The group organizes about five concerts in the region per month, said Sacramento Sofar Sounds Director Chinua Rhodes, and hopes to increase to 15 concerts a month by spring.
Each show features three performances, with no openers or headliners, in order to give each artist equal attention and to host a diversity of sounds, Rhodes said. Show lineups are not revealed to ticket-holders beforehand in order to promote open-mindedness.
“We realized that people are always trying to connect and sometimes our preconceived notions really impact how we connect,” Rhodes said. “But when you don’t know what you’re gonna hear but you know you’re gonna hear something good, your brain is open to anything that comes from that space.”
Sofar Sounds was created by self-proclaimed music lover Rafe Offer in London in 2009, after he became frustrated with large-scale concert settings, often plagued with people talking and texting over the music. Offer and a group of friends started inviting local musicians to play in their living rooms to small crowds of dedicated music fans, and the idea spread to other cities.
Now, the organization operates in 441 cities across the globe, and has built a large network of musicians, some who have risen to smashing success. Both emerging and established artists have been invited to perform at Sofar shows, including Ed Sheeran, Billie Eilish, Leon Bridges and Hozier, according to the organization.
Several notable artists have played in Sacramento through the Sofar artist network. Rhodes said most recently, Alessia Cara played a show on a rooftop downtown before she performed with Shawn Mendes at Golden 1 Center in July.
To play a Sofar show in the area, artists must submit their music to the Sacramento talent recruitment department. From there, Rhodes said a group of local volunteers listen and determine whether a group or artist is a suitable match for a performance.
“The listening team votes if they feel the artist is really good, and if they have questions, we have dialogue around that,” Rhodes said. “If there’s artists that we’re not quite sure about then usually I’ll go to a show and see them live myself to see if hey, you know, maybe their live recording that they have on video wasn’t great, because they don’t have a camera or sound person, so they may sound totally different in person.”
Artists may also be recruited by Sofar team members who spend time attending concerts. Rhodes said staff members spend time at local house shows and small music venues to check out the energy of local artists as they perform.
That was the case for The Herald, a folk-country band based in Sacramento. The duo, composed of brothers Jessie and Daniel Spurgeon, performed at the Crocker Art Museum show alongside Vadia and Ode to Saturday on Thursday after being recruited by a Sofar Sounds staff member at a house show.
“For us, playing Sofar was a huge one of our goals this year,” Jessie said. “We got to do all kinds of stuff. And then we were like, we gotta play a Sofar show, and it just wasn’t happening, it just wasn’t happening. We had kinda given up on it, and then lo and behold, we go to this house show.”
While the publicity is good for many emerging artists, Rhodes said organizations and businesses that host shows benefit as well.
“Freestyle Clothing reached out to us to do a show, they just wanted to activate their midtown store,” Rhodes said. “Everybody inbetween (artists) was shopping. We actually asked them, ‘Hey you guys, how’d you guys do with your sales?’ and the managers said, ‘Hey, in an hour’s time we made about $600.’”
To go to a show, fans must first apply for tickets online. When they have been accepted, which Rhodes says happens on a first-come, first-serve basis, they are sent general information about where the concert will be held. It’s not until the day before the show the actual location is announced to ticket-holders.
Evelyn Reyes said she heard about the Crocker Art Museum concert on Facebook and applied for tickets, even though she didn’t know who was performing in the space. Reyes spent time between artists’ sets exploring exhibits around the ballroom, which she said drew her to the event in the first place.
“I’m not into huge concerts, so this just seemed fun to me, especially being at the Crocker Art Museum, since I’ve never been before,” Reyes said. “I like (Sofar Sounds) because I feel like it gives us a chance to come in and actually listen to bands with an open mind as opposed to coming here just for one specific group.”