Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Secret living room concerts in DFW bring new fans to smaller bands - Dallas Morning News

The living room is packed with avid music fans, but the room is so quiet, you could hear a guitar pick drop. Attendees are there to see a handful of bands at a show they didn’t have to pay for, and they weren’t told who they would be seeing. This is a Sofar Sounds show, a grassroots company based out of London whose sole focus is to introduce artists from all walks of life to fans around the world.

Sofar, which stands for Songs from a Room, started in 2009, but now has regular events in Paris, Berlin, New York City, Los Angeles, and Dallas. With only about 50 people on staff who work pro bono, the international organization has plenty to be proud of. They’ve hosted Dry the River, Robert Pattinson (Twilight), and Morning Parade, plus DFW bands Seryn, Doug Burr, RTB2, and Whiskey Folk Ramblers. Each band agrees to play for free, unless the show requires a great deal of traveling. (Then, Sofar will pay gas money or donate an amount to the fund.) Organizers request donations during the show to help pay for unexpected travel expenses and advertising and video equipment for promotional purposes.

Joanna Jurgens, the Dallas area coordinator for Sofar, volunteers her time to find and book bands Dallas fans would enjoy, local or not.

“We want to give the audience something special, something different. The house makes it happy and casual -- they can make that connection with the artist," said Jurgens.

The Dallas shows fill up quickly, many with a waiting list. Participants know about the shows by signing up for a monthly email blast. Then, organizers extend invitations to fans whose music tastes align with the bands chosen. Fans of folk music, for instance, would most likely not receive an invite to a metal show.

Volunteers all around Dallas-Fort Worth offer up their homes for the events. Once the audience arrives and gets settled, the staff asks everyone to be quiet, sit still, and turn their phones off. These shows are meant to be solely about the music and the artists performing it.

Jurgens says that anyone can suggest a Sofar artist on their Facebook page, but the area leaders usually seek out the bands. They aim for three to five bands per show, trying to blend genres rather than linking them. Sofar takes this process seriously: When an organizer is new, they must send their artist suggestions to a committee in London for approval. Once they’ve successfully booked a few shows, they’re granted the responsibility of booking them on their own.

Caleb Dickerson has attended multiple Dallas shows. He heard about the events after local act the Fox and the Bird performed at one. He signed up and waited patiently to be chosen. His first show was Denton band Seryn on May 20. After that, he pushed to get in every chance he got.

“I like how intimate the shows are," he said. "I don’t really like huge shows at places like Gexa and Verizon. It’s more special when you and 30 people are in a living room watching a band. It sticks with you more than sharing the experience with 15,000 fans at Gexa.”

Sofar events are invitation-only, and they are almost always sold out.

He says he found a new band out of the deal, Hauns Mills out of Austin. He saw them at a Sofar event in July and bought their CD after experiencing their folksy, accordion sound for himself.

Jurgens says Dallas is the fastest growing city for Sofar events, saying there’s always a waiting list.

"We try to avoid the cult-like fans; we want to open the artists to new fans. That's the whole point of the folklore,” said Jurgens.

The next Dallas event will be in October, and Jurgens says there are three bands on the books so far. And who are they? That's a secret until the show begins.

Interested music fans can sign up at Sofarsounds.com, but you've got to wait for that golden ticket.

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