Sofar Sounds Gives Indy Music Lovers Unique Concert Experiences
Writer / Seth Johnson
From a world-class theater to someone’s backyard, a Sofar Sounds concert could take place anywhere, as long as live performers and a set of attentive ears are present.
A movement that was originally started in 2009 by three Londoners who were tired of attending noisy concert venues full of chitchatting, Sofar Sounds has now grown into a global movement of artists, hosts, fans, travelers and more, putting on hundreds of secret, intimate events per month, across 325 cities around the world. Having now become prevalent in Indy over the past several years, city director Steven Rutherford explains the Sofar way is one built on bringing a city together through music.
“I want people to leave with a special experience that they’ll never have again,” Rutherford says. “Even if you come to 20 Sofar shows, every single one of them is going to be different. The energy is going to be different. The lineup is going to be different. I want folks to leave feeling like they have community. We have an open heart, open minds, open ears and we’re here for the city.”
Following in the footsteps of former Indy Sofar Sounds director Jeff Nordyke, Rutherford regularly curates concerts for local music lovers to engage with all over town. In keeping with the spirit of Sofar’s mission, Rutherford specifically aims to put together shows where a variety of acts are presented, in the hopes that everyone in the audience might discover something in line with their musical taste.
“We try to curate lineups that you wouldn’t see out at a regular show,” Rutherford says. “Maybe there’s blues, hip-hop and folk. Maybe there’s some bluegrass. Maybe there’s a band from Austin, Texas who brought some slide guitar, or maybe there’s some soul.”
With every Sofar show, an element of surprise also exists. When attendees sign up to attend a concert, they are only given the show’s general location, with no specific lineup.
“We don’t announce the lineup, and we don’t announce where it’s going to take place,” Rutherford says. “We’ll just give you a general neighborhood or part of town. Folks purchase tickets. Thirty-six hours before the show, they’re emailed the location, but still no artist lineup.”
Upon arrival, the show’s emcee gets the crowd warmed up before then announcing what acts will perform. In doing things this way, Sofar Sounds subverts the typical concert experience even further.
“We’re able to put together these super diverse lineups, and we take people to different parts of town,” Rutherford says. “I feel like it lets people get out of the normal headspace they’re in when they walk into a venue. Folks are more open-minded.”
While potentially discovering their new favorite artist, Sofar shows also allow Indy music fans to come together in a uniquely communal way.
“You hang out for about 30 minutes [before the show], mix and mingle,” Rutherford says. “We really create these spaces for people to meet different people from all walks of life and different parts of town.”
In addition to bringing music lovers together, Sofar Sounds also aims to empower its artists so that they can succeed on an even grander scale. For example, Sofar Sounds shows are recorded to video, giving artists a professional, visual product that they then have to further promote themselves.
“We’re really just empowering artists and helping them find and create opportunities,” says Rutherford, who’s an artist in his own right. “That comes in the form of shows, but it also comes in the form of making sure they get photo content, video content and all the things you need to start building a professional career in music. A lot of people don’t have those conversations or don’t have access to those resources. So more than anything, we’re an artist-first platform, and that’s our biggest goal.”
As Rutherford continues booking Sofar Sounds concerts all around Indianapolis, his hope is that attendees might find their new favorite artist through a Sofar show.
“My main intention is that we bring folks into a new part of town or a space that they never would’ve expected to see live music in, introducing them to a community of people that they never would’ve bumped into,” he says. “[I want to] introduce them to local artists who could play on any bill or any stage across the world. A lot of these people would give your favorite artist a run for their money.”