Sofar Sounds: An Intimate Concert Experience

Written by Alexa Rixon


Shoes are lined up outside against the wall, leading to the entrance of the show. Entering the apartment, it was apparent that the stage and floor are one.  


Saturday, Oct. 22 in Greektown, Chicago, Shawnee Dez, Jogford and Emily Nichols shared stripped-down versions of their music with an intimate crowd through the Sofar Sounds music program.


Sofar Sounds is a global network with the goal of bringing the magic back to music, according to their website. Founded in London 2010 it’s now based in 280 cities around the world, including Chicago. At Sofar’s core, music always comes first. By creating intimate music venues, they make a space where people pay attention and put their phones down.


Sofar concert attendees don’t find out the location of the show until the day before, and don’t know who will be performing until they are at the venue. This allows people to release expectations, not knowing what they’re getting into or what they’ll be listening to.


“[It’s] a place where people feel comfortable to be themselves, a place where people are coming in open-minded,” Nichols says.

Photo courtesy of Julian Ramirez

Photo courtesy of Julian Ramirez

The event is completely run by volunteers. For this show, hosts Samir Jain and wife Melissa Jain opened up their home. They went to their first Sofar show about three months ago and fell in love.


“The fact that people can open up their houses and spaces to support the arts really resonated with us,” Samir says.


At many concert venues people are spilling drinks, bumping into each other, talking or on their phones.


“It’s not about the music anymore…It’s about having a party. We wanted to bring it back to the music,” Samir says.


Respect plays a large role in building this intimate environment. One of three rules at Sofar is no talking during sets, though socializing is encouraged between, before and after. Not only is it a more enjoyable experience for people who actually want to listen to the music, Dez expressed that the Sofar audience is one she’s felt most comfortable with.


“Just the eye contact, nobody’s talking. I found a few faces in the crowd that I could actually sing to. Some faces that looked really intrigued or into it made me give more to them and [allowed me to] channel that energy,” says Dez. “I find that I perform better and I feel more confident in my performance when I know that I have a crowd that is actually interested in what I’m doing. It pushes me to give more.”


Musicians are also a part of the crowd when not performing, sitting with everyone else. Hosts, audience members and performers alike, we’re all in it for the music. It is not uncommon to be on both sides of the coin.


Nichols has been both host and performer.


“Sofar has one of the most receptive audiences I’ve ever performed for or been around. The people are just so willing to listen to whatever you have to say, so non-judgmental,” Nichols says.


She believes the intimate setting promotes such attitudes within the crowd. 


“Normally I’m on a stage and there’s kind of a separation. There’s monitors, lights and I’m playing through an amplifier. It was really nice to feel like I’m playing for my friends at their house,” Kenneth Kruse, a member of Jogford, says.

Photo courtesy of Julian Ramirez

Photo courtesy of Julian Ramirez

Being literally on the same floor and in such close proximity to each other, the barriers between artist and audience are broken down. Performers don’t feel as intimidating, but rather a lot more equal. The tight-knit room full of people that are all engaged in that one moment, and it feels almost like a family or close group of friends.


“I’m super not into iconography... you know how some famous people put on this higher pedestal. And when you do have a concert, or a bigger performance, people are held on a pedestal and that’s not me at all,” Dez says. “I want people to connect with what I’m saying. The world around me is what inspired me to write and sing anyway so I would like for them to get that full experience and for us to see eye-to-eye.”


Sofar provides that opportunity for everyone to see eye-to-eye. Sofar even works to include younger people, who might be accustomed to a show of spilled drinks and inattention from a drunken crowd.

Ruby Anton, Student Ambassador of Sofar Sounds, is a music business major at Columbia College Chicago.


“The bigger the show is, the less you feel connected to the artist. When you’re so close to them and have the ability to talk to them after, and to hear their story instead of paying $30 and leaving right after, it makes you appreciate music more,” Anton says.


Anton believes we can create a new culture of music appreciation, especially with younger audiences.


“There’s so many great artists that are inexperienced but have so much potential. If college communities knew about them it’d be easier [to grow],” Anton says.  


Her first initiative with promoting Sofar for college students will start with Columbia College Chicago.


On Nov. 10 there will be a Columbia College student exclusive Sofar Sounds show where student IDs are required. Free tickets can be won through entering with Facebook.


You can find more information about Sofar Sounds Chicago and purchase tickets here. 


All photos courtesy of Julian Ramirez. Contact Julian by email at 

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