Under normal circumstances, inviting 40 strangers to your apartment has the potential to be a catastrophe, but Sofar Sound’s latest Boston show proved otherwise.
Sofar Sounds is an international music collective that organizes shows in over 280 cities, showcasing both up-and-coming artists and established acts such as Bastille and Leon Bridges. It’s like Couchsurfing for concerts; people volunteer their apartments, stores, restaurants, backyards, etc. to host shows, and then Sofar selects a handful of volunteer musicians to play. Space is usually limited and the selected audiences are in the 30-100 person range.
Sick of disrespectful audiences and muddling white noise at bar gigs, Rafe Offer, Rocky Start, and Dave Alexander established the Sofar collective. Sofar shows allow one to enjoy the music without distractions as no talking or texting rules are enforced and audience members are strongly encouraged to stay for the duration of the show.
Show addresses are secret until the day of and performing musicians remain undisclosed. There are no openers or headliners; Sofar treats all artists equally. The most recent Boston Sofar show, featuring local musicians Covey, Kristina Stapelfeld, and Hayley Sabella, took place in the Fenway area on Oct. 27. Out of courtesy to the host, guests took off their shoes and padded around the apartment in socks and bare feet and this oddly intimate gesture somehow assuaged the inherent awkwardness of strangers meeting in a very personal setting. Casually sipping beer and sitting cross-legged on the living room floor, people chatted and introduced themselves before the music began.
Before playing, Sabella commented on the setup of Sofar shows, noting that “they set the musicians up for success because it’s not like anyone has any expectations—it’s not like people are going just for a headliner.” Singer-songwriter and English-born Boston resident Tom Freeman of Covey began the show with three songs from an unreleased EP he’s currently working on and one older song, “Comes and Goes,” a 2013 single.
The audience was dead silent and completely still, while Freeman sang in his somber, folksy voice. With a harmonica, electric guitar, and a charming tinge of a British accent, Freeman captured the room with an aura of sad romance.
In the Halloween spirit, Sofar coordinators encouraged people to come in costume. Only a handful of people dressed up, including Stapelfeld who came as “the wall” from the TV show, “Stranger Things,” donning an alphabet shirt and colored Christmas lights. She performed next, prefacing her set with a story about a couple in the audience whom she met during their engagement.
The rest of her set continued with similar anecdotes. After the first song—“Doldrums” from her self-titled album—she explained to the audience, “sorry my songs are so short, but once I get to the hook, I’m like, ‘what’s the point?’” She followed with “Hell Night,” a song about a zombie, and “Head/Heart.” “This song isn’t about a zombie. It’s about a jerk,” she said.
Any heavy sentiment was immediately dissolved with Stapelfeld’s between-song banter as she cracked a joke about wanting to go on a Tinder date with everyone in the audience preceded by a shout-out to her boyfriend in the crowd. She finished her six-song set and handed the stage over to singer-songwriter and Massachusetts native Hayley Sabella.
Sabella performed five unreleased songs from an album she’s currently working on. Before performing her song “Maria,” she told a story about a man who approached her outside of a cathedral in Barcelona which inspired the chorus: “Can I call you Maria? / It’s your smile, it’s your face / It’s your fire, it’s your grace.”
She finished her set with, “Cape Cod,” an apology for criticizing her hometown. Describing her teenage angst and urge to leave home, she sings, “I turned around at 17 / Learned to drive and went the other way / I said anywhere but east from here / is where I want to be.”
The beauty of a Sofar show stems from the intimate settings that allow performers to share the stories behind their music. While guests never know who they’re going to see at a Sofar show, they continue coming to performances because they know they’re guaranteed a special experience.
- Unique concept
- Personal experience with local artists
- Fun way to meet new people
- Exclusive, hard to get tickets
- Limited space
- Can't decide ahead of time who you'll be seeing