Sofar Sounds

June 30, 2019

A Boise Concert Experience Unlike Any Other

By Greg Nelson

Photography by Emma Thompson and Submitted by Rase Littlefield and Keely Humphrey

As the Treasure Valley continues to grow, many facets of the community are changing. Year after year, Boise sees more people, new restaurants, festivals, and events to keep residents busy. With all these new additions to our lovely home, a newcomer in the live music industry has just landed in Boise, and it is not conventional by any means.

Say hello to Sofar Sounds, an international organization aimed at bringing a unique approach to the way people experience live entertainment. Sofar was created by Rafe Offer, Rocky Start, and Dave Alexander in a London flat in 2009 out of frustration with the cacophony that often accompanies traditional concert venues. Since then, it has expanded to over 400 cities across the globe. The shows provide musicians and concertgoers an alternative way to share and consume music without the obnoxious crowds and shenanigans that can ensue.

What exactly makes Sofar concerts so unique? The answer lies in the format of the shows themselves. “Secret shows” have existed for years, but Sofar is more than just your standard secret show. How it works is simple: when a concert is announced, that is all concert-goers know: that a show will be happening on a certain date.

“You can go onto the website and it’ll have the next available show,” shares Boise Sofar Curator, Sydney Lyon. “Really, all you get is the date and the neighborhood.”

Ticket holders are notified of the specific venue 48 hours before the show. The performers, however, remain a secret until show time. In larger cities, entertainers such as Ed Sheeran, Leon Bridges, and Billie Eilish have been known to stop in for an occasional Sofar set. However, the primary purpose is to give lesser-known artists a chance to gain exposure to new fans.

“[Artists] don’t need to worry about promoting their music,” Lyon explains. “You’re basically playing for a room of people who are quiet and listen to you. Possibly, you might become their next favorite band because they might have never heard of you and they get to see you in an intimate, cozy space.” And cozy it is—artists play only 20-minute sets, and drinks are bring-your-own. Say goodbye to those 10-dollar beers and long lines.

Lyon got involved with Sofar Sounds earlier this year. Being an avid music fan herself, she reached out to the organization in order to bring it to the Boise area. Since then, she’s helped produce about one show per month. If you want a ticket to the next show, however, diligence is key as space is limited in order to maintain the personal vibe that makes Sofar shows so special. “Depending on the venue we cap it at about 50 to 60 people. The ones in Boise so far have been closer to between 30 and 50,” she said.

The response in the Valley has been overwhelmingly positive. Local artist ZERO shared his admiration for the events. “I’ve played at venues that hold up to thousands of people screaming at the top of their lungs. My performance with Sofar was at a mediation center, where we had to take of our shoes, and couldn’t yell or clap, so we had to snap fingers to applaud. Normally, I would be all over the stage, but instead, I sat on a stool and did my first ever hip-hop acoustic set…and loved it!”

These stripped-down performances are standard for Sofar. Artists who typically perform with a highly produced full band find themselves on stage with minimal instrumentation. Local recording-artist, Ana Lete, shared how refreshing it was to see bands that she knows well playing more acoustic sets. “Seeing a band like Messimer, who usually has a fully amplified band, playing an acoustic set was pretty special.”

Despite all the success Sofar Sounds has experienced around the world, it doesn’t come without some previous bad press. “Back in 2017, there was an issue with artists not getting paid. That’s been fixed, but the [rumors] still resurface. We have a new grant, a big new pot of money to pull from. I just want to make it clear that is nonexistent and especially doesn’t happen here,” Lyon said.

So the next time you’re in the mood for some live music but don’t feel like wading through a sweaty, dimly lit concert hall with people screaming at one another while spilling over-priced drinks, check out Sofar Sounds.

“How often do you get to bring your own drinks and sit on the floor of a carpet store or pole dancing studio or a warehouse somewhere?” asked Lyon. These idiosyncrasies are exactly what makes each Sofar Sounds experience so appealing – with a Sofar show, you never know exactly what you’re going to get.

To learn more about SoFar Sounds and grab your ticket for the next secret show, visit sofarsounds.com/boise.