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It feels like an ordinary Tuesday night, but not at the usual place. People are scattered about Hostel Fish in downtown Denver—sitting on the floor and gathered around the small bar—waiting for the show to begin. The mood is expectant, energized. Even now, the guests don’t know anything about the artists they’re about to see on stage.
That’s what Sofar Sounds, an events company that puts on secret musical performances in 429 cities around the world, is all about.
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Founder Rafe Offer started Sofar Sounds in London in 2009, after he grew frustrated by the nuisances of live music events: bad sound systems, people on their phones, attendees talking over the music, etc. To quell these annoyances, Offer and his friends started hosting musicians and friends in their living rooms. Soon, friends and friends of friends started doing the same, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Sofar Denver launched about five years ago, says Brandy Sachen, who heads the local chapter, but it didn’t really start gaining traction until about two years ago. Eschewing traditional advertising, Sofar spread its popularity by word of mouth and some Facebook and Instagram marketing.
Here’s how to snag your invite: Go to the website and check out the upcoming events—the dates are listed, along with an idea of where the show will be. Non-residential venues indicate the neighborhood in which they’re located; residential shows, which take place in a private home, read “secret location.” Pick the show that works for your schedule and apply for tickets. It works on a lottery system; if your name is picked, you will be prompted to purchase tickets (you can buy up to 10 total, depending on the show). If something’s come up, you can decline the tickets and they’ll go to another interested party. Be forewarned: It might behoove you to pick a couple of dates.
“We put on about 20 shows a month,” says Lucinda Walker, assistant director for Denver artists for Sofar Sounds. “We’re often sold out a month in advance.”
Ticket holders will receive an email with the exact venue the day before the show, as well as a timeframe within which you should arrive—but don’t bring any expectations. Co-working spaces, office buildings, a motorcycle showroom, a hostel, or even someone’s home are all fair game, according to Sachen. “We just need enough space to make the magic happen.”
Leah McGirr, a Sunnyside resident, recently attended a Sofar show in her own neighborhood. “We were actually invited last-minute because a friend had extra tickets. I hadn’t heard of Sofar before that,” McGirr says. “At first, I couldn’t stop thinking of the liability and safety factor. But that quickly dissipated once the event started. It was clear everyone was there to enjoy the music and respect the space that had graciously been offered up.”
Each show consists of three performers (there is no “opener” or “headliner”) with two short intermissions; attendees are expected to stay for the entire evening, which lasts about two to two-and-a-half hours. The bands might be local acts (at a recent event, I caught Sister Neapolitan, a trio of singer-songwriters from the University of Colorado Denver) or touring musicians. Some Sofar musicians, like London-based Eli & Fur, play shows in various cities.
“It’s like buying a ticket to the Discover Weekly playlist on Spotify,” Walker says. “You don’t know what it is, but you’re going to love it.”
The unknown is the driving appeal of Sofar—from the location to the talent.
“It was so fun to be introduced to local talent,” McGirr says. “I now follow all of them on social media and look forward to catching another performance.”
As the last band, Denver-based rock band Whitacre, fit their five-person group onto the “stage” at Hostel Fish, the energy was almost visible. With the band performing only a few feet from the closest audience member, it was near impossible not to get caught up in the music. It was a unique experience that, thankfully, can be repeated with each Sofar event.
If you go: Sofar Sounds presents about 20 shows a month; ticket prices range from $14- $18 per person. Visit sofarsounds.com/Denver for more information and to get tickets. Want to skip the queue? Use code 5280MAGAZINE for a guaranteed invite.