By Caleigh Horan
Around the fifth consecutive day of lazing around over winter break, I opened up Snapchat to see what my always adventurous friend Sarah was up to. A glimpse into her digital world revealed an dimly lit room featuring a man softly plucking a guitar. Naturally, my hipster senses started tingling, and I asked her what she was up to.
She told me she was attending a concert put on by Sofar Sounds, a “global music movement,” hosted in over 398 cities to date. A concept created by London music fans Rafe Offer and Rocky Start, Sofar Sounds has been hosting secret events across the globe since 2009. Their purpose is simple: foster community through unique, intimate performances through a vast repertoire of artists. Past Sofar performers include Foxing, The National, and Julien Baker. Sofar transforms ordinary places, such as a house or retail shop, into a close knit venue that offers a truly immersive experience between the artist and listeners. Once I learned the premise of Sofar, I eagerly begged Sarah to bring me along to her next concert experience.
Earlier this week, Sarah alerted me that she had scored tickets through Sofar’s lottery system, and that the address would be sent to her a few days before the show. I was enticed by the mystery surrounding this event, both in its secret location and lack of information regarding the artists that were slotted to perform; we would not find that out until the night of. It was soon revealed that the show would be hosted at a house only 2 blocks north of SLU’s campus. My trip north gave me one of the most captivating experiences I’ve had in a very long time.
We rolled up to the location around 7:30 on Saturday night buzzing with wonder, dropped at the doorstep of a lofty, Victorian-era home. As we entered, we were instructed to begin scaling the house through a series of winding staircases, a long journey that made me wonder if this is what my friend Beth had experienced when she ascended the stairs of the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam. We arrived in a large attic space that served as the house owner’s (more to come on him) art studio, adorned with brightly colored canvases of fruit and flowers in addition to an array of potted plants. We promptly popped a squat on the hardwood floor alongside other guests who ranged from college students to grey-haired old folks, all in the same room for the same purpose.
The performance began with hip-hop artist, R.O.E., a self-professed “extremely confident individual” from West Chicago. He made us laugh with his silly and honest banter in between songs, and united us through his cover of The Fugees “Killing Me Softly,” encouraging listeners to sing along. Between his buzzed commentary and detailed verses, R.O.E. transformed his set into a 45 minute journey through the inner workings of his mind.
R.O.E. was followed by another rapper, Zado, a soft-spoken, deep-voiced performer whose short set packed a punch in terms of intellectual depth (is that what the kids call bars?). What I enjoyed most about Zado’s precise performance was a rare, humble kind of confidence that he exuded in front of us. It’s one thing to know that you’re the shit and act like it, but Zado let his music do the talking for him, a subtlety that did not go unappreciated. Although hip-hop is not my first choice in genre to enjoy at a concert, I found myself bopping along to the beat and enjoying myself thoroughly.
In between each set, there was a 10 minute break to allow for the next artist to set up. Following Zado’s performance, my friends and I decided to explore the colossal castle. We zig zagged through floors of antiquely furnished bedrooms and bathrooms, and I honestly felt like I was exploring the ruins of the Titanic. My favorite of these gloriously crafted rooms was a bathroom, fit with an enormous bathtub canopied by tangled vines and shutters that must let in orgasmic natural light during the day time. This house itself was a work of art self. During our exploration, we also met the house’s owner, Stan, a craftsman who once ran into trouble with the law for growing certain illegal grasses in his backyard. He was just as captivating as his home, which he frequently opens up to the public for events like Sofar.
As the break neared its end, we grabbed our seats again and prepared for what became my favorite act of the night, Krystal Metcalfe. Adorned in a feathery, black and white jacket, she was larger than life with a voice to prove it. Backed up by two beaming guitar players, I couldn’t help but smile throughout her soulful and vivacious set. In the middle of her set, she interacted with the crowd in a way that ended up being my favorite part of the night. She asked us to turn to 3 people we didn’t know in the room, greet them with a hug, and provide them with one compliment. This was an act that clearly pushed the boundaries of comfort for many, but I found it a heartwarming way to get to know and appreciate the people around me. I felt immersed in a community of like-minded individuals. On a high of happiness from the warmth around me, we progressed into the final act of the night, Najii Person, another STL based hip-hop artist who wowed me with his particularly woke verses about living as a black man in St. Louis. This was a night I wished would never end.
Before we left the event, we stopped to take a photograph by a large self-portrait of Stan that hung above his fireplace, a perfect ending to a truly intriguing night. In just a few hours, I had opened myself up to new genres of music, new architecture, and new personalities. I exited the house feeling as though I had experienced something larger than myself. I hope to have more experiences like this past Saturday night in the upcoming year, challenging me to explore outside the lines. This was the first of hopefully many wonderful nights with Sofar Sounds.