Last Saturday, dozens of people showed up at the Blu Dot, a furniture store in downtown Austin — and it wasn’t because there was a sale on ottomans. Sofar Sounds used the location as a venue for a secret show where three local bands had the opportunity to showcase their music.
Sofar Sounds is a music events startup company that strives to bring musicians and music lovers together in unique spaces. It is in nearly 400 cities around the world, yet it continues to be one of Austin’s best-kept secrets. Steven Cantu has been the city director for Sofar Sounds Austin since 2015 and works side by side with artists to make each showcase unique.
“(We connect) artists with music lovers,” Cantu said. “It is an environment where people are actually paying attention and are actually there for the music.”
The team at Sofar Sounds curates secret showcases twice a month in Austin. There are typically three acts at each showcase and no headliner, and venues range from x to y — basically any everyday space Sofar Sounds can get their hands on.
“It is changing the way people digest music (because) we have curated an interesting environment for people to experience music and for artists to perform,” Cantu said. “It takes all of the white noise out because anyone who is going to get a ticket to go to a show at a place they have never heard of, and for a band they don’t even know, must really love music.”
A local folk band known as the Cover Letter preformed its first Sofar Sounds showcase at the Blu Dot last Saturday. Jacob Shipman, vocalist and guitarist for the Cover Letter, said while it is always nerve-racking to play more intimate showcases, it was extremely welcoming and fun to play to a smaller audience.
“This is one of the coolest things that we have done,” Shipman said. “It is really cool how it is invite only and (Sofar Sounds) doesn’t announce any of the bands so you really get a chance to experience music at the curation of someone else’s finest.”
Guests who are approved to attend will receive the location and time at least 36 hours before the showcase. Sofar enables guests to apply for tickets on their website up to five days before a show, using a lottery system to select approved guests. Each invite comes with a plus one and free drinks.
“To walk into a show with a completely open mind is really rare,” said Angie Vanegas, a vocalist for the Cover Letter. “It is like a little adventure because normally everything is always planned so to implement that element of surprise is really cool.”
Beyond providing a listening room atmosphere where the artists can play their music in the most personal form, Sofar is reinventing the music culture because the focus is no longer on the person filming the entire set in front of you but actually on the artistry being performed.
“What I have noticed is, when we do work with artists, one thing they all really appreciate is the audience and the amount of engagement they get after the showcase,” Cantu said. “They are in this room with these people and they are able to perform for them (while) creating real fans.”