The marquee for the recent D.C. SoFar Sounds concert.
When was the last time you attended a concert and could actually see the artist well? If you are like me and you go to many general admission concerts, you might get close to the stage, but chances are some 6’5” guy will end up standing right in front of you. Rafe Oliver understood that struggle, and in 2009, after hosting small performances with friends and musicians in his London flat, he turned his weekend activity into SoFar Sounds.
Today, SoFar Sounds is in hundreds of cities worldwide, including Washington, D.C. Their shared goal: to make live music intimate again by creating a lively, warm, and welcoming environment where listeners can not only see and hear the musicians well, but can also interact with them before and after the show.
Over break, I stumbled upon the website for this brilliant music experience, and applied for tickets. There was an air of mystique around applying for concert tickets, one where I did not even know who would be playing or the location of the venue; these unknowns make SoFar D.C. exciting. Except for occasional unique cases in London and New York where big name performers like Bastille or Karen O surprise concertgoers, most artists are up and coming musicians who apply to perform. If accepted to attend, you buy tickets online and wait for an email the day before the show that tells you the address of the venue. A few days after applying, I received the acceptance email and bought tickets, knowing only that I would be travelling to somewhere near the Wharf.
On Tuesday, Jan. 15, I grabbed a friend and headed out to an address that ended up being a small concert bar, Union Stage. Although this was a location where live music is usually performed, the SoFar concerts can be anywhere, from a local retail store, to a rooftop, to someone’s kitchen.
Inside, we were greeted by a woman in her early thirties checking us in. There were no tickets, just our names. We sat alongside others on purple tapestries draped across the wooden floor. Drinks and snacks could be purchased in the back, though at some events concert-goers can bring their own food. There were about thirty people there in total, most in their twenties and thirties.
The music began; up first, a barefooted, hipster Jesus fronted his self-titled band, Joshua Powell & the Great Train Robbery. With only a guitar, and a bandmate on the piano, Powell picked an electric guitar and sang, delivering soulful, indie tunes reminiscent of a mashup of Bon Iver and Death Cab for Cutie. His music was enticing, but his stage presence and stories regarding song backgrounds were perhaps equally so. Although he covered a Frank Ocean love song, he explained that pop stardom wasn’t in his future, as he did not want to sing about a girl whom he once loved. He wanted to write poetry with his music.
After a twenty minute performance, Powell left the stage and was followed by a ten-minute intermission. Next up: Deanna Devore. She too, was missing most of her band. Because she was equipped with only her acoustic guitar, she had the audience imagine a fuller sound, with more electronic beats. Her new album, Half and Half, features half-acoustic, half-electronic music, with a mixture of the genres throughout the album.
Another ten-minute break was followed by The Colonies, a band from George Washington University. These GW seniors were there to perform, but they also had another agenda; they wanted us all to take their business cards and give them jobs. Their college student relatability did not take away from their performance, but rather enhanced their stage presence and vibe. A sort of D.C. Vampire Weekend, The Colonies jammed to buoyant pop rock. The crowd favorite was definitely “OpenTable,” a song about the restaurant reservation app. Although I still cannot tell whether the most appeal came from the songs themselves, or the charm of a bunch of twenty-something-year-old college guys innocuously singing them, The Colonies definitely were a great end to a fun night.
SoFar Sounds has exposed me and tens of thousands of other listeners to great artists whom we might never have discovered without the intimate space that they provide. My own experience did not end there, however, as we also interacted with the performers. Besides my embarrassing moment of asking Joshua Powell where the bathroom was before the show started (and I knew who was performing), talking with the performers about their music and careers was a wonderful encounter. By the end of the night, we listened (and were able to hear and see!) to excellent music, and we interacted directly with the artists, a combination you seldom experience at any other live music event.
Gorfine is an International Politics Freshman and Reviews Editor.
PC: Alexis Gorfine.