Sofar, So GOOD

Jacksonville joins the world in embracing Sofar Sounds


People in the business of presenting live music typically take a maximalist approach to promoting, using every means at their disposal, from flyers to radio ads and everything in between, with modern times seeing a growing emphasis on social media, which has become both ubiquitous and indispensable in the music business. Sofar Sounds, on the other hand, goes minimalist, which you can see for yourself on Friday night, Jan 19. Or maybe you can't.

"Intimate secret gigs in 397 cities, all around the world" is how the website touts their brand. The gimmick has its genesis in 2009 London, when Dave Alexander played for eight people in a flat shared by Rafe Offer and the appropriately named Rocky Start. From there, things progressed faster than Tim Tebow's baseball career, and now "Sofar Sounds is a community of thousands of artists, hosts, fans, travelers and more, putting on hundreds of secret, intimate events per month, across more than 350 cities around the world," and a global staff of more than 60. There are nine core cities with full-time staff: New York City, London, Chicago, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Dallas/Fort Worth, Oslo and Madrid. Beyond that, basically all cities have hosted these gigs-and, now, even ours!

On Jan. 19, Jacksonville will become the 397th city to host a Sofar Sounds event, the third in Florida, after Orlando and Gainesville. At this writing I (having already committed to attending) have no idea who's playing, where they'll be playing, or how much tickets will cost-all of which is by design. I was sent a link to the event page; its delightful ambiguity instantly piqued my interest. All it said was that it's BYOB, which presumably means "Bring Your Own Beer," but, like a good presidential ad-lib, the meaning is left open to interpretation. You apply for tickets online, and your name is entered into a lottery; selected winners will get an email telling them they're invited, at which point they can purchase tickets for themselves and up to five friends (unless you're me, in which case you're already on the list, LOL).

The host's address will not be revealed until the day before the show, which is a very good idea for a variety of pretty obvious reasons, and the lineup is not revealed until show time. This requires a leap of faith for attendees, whose presence (in this case, on a busy Friday night) reflects confidence in the tastes and tendencies associated with the overall brand. As it is a first in the River City, this aspect of the dynamic becomes even more interesting. The first thing it reminded me of was the old "rent parties" held in New York City at the height of the Swing Era, a concept that evolved years later into the Rivbea loft concerts presented there by the late, great Sam Rivers in the 1970s.

But then my thoughts drifted to a concert by Sonic Youth, Gila Monster Jamboree (Sonic Death, 1992), which I bought on VHS tape from the old Stripmine Records in the late 1990s. Their much-hyped L.A. debut performance was recorded 100 miles deep in the Mojave Desert on Jan. 5, 1985; guitarist Lee Ranaldo later wrote: "[Y]our ticket entitled you to a map to the gig site which was not handed out until the morning of the show (to prevent scams). Else you could buy a place on one of the buses hired to transport those transported souls with better things to do than cope with the road.

"The gig started early in the day with Psi-Com, which featured a barefoot Perry Farrell skanking in the sand and waxing poetic. Redd Kross followed, and by the time we went on it was about twilight. ... We'd waited a long time to make it west, and this was a pretty perfect introduction." (The whole thing can be seen in segments on YouTube; like everything they ever did, it comes highly recommended.)

Fast-forward 32 years to Dec. 19, 2017, when I was referred to Sofar Sounds Jacksonville by founder Jacob Cummings, a new colleague from an unrelated media project that you'll be hearing about soon enough, over cocktails, craft beer and sea-meats at Firebirds Wood Fired Grill. Cummings is a recent University of North Florida graduate, a musician with a special interest in production and sound mixing, particularly in the live setting, so one can immediately grasp why such a project would appeal to him.

So far, Sofar has failed to reach only one continent, Antarctica, and that's only because nobody actually lives there year-round. But all it will take is for one enterprising scientist at Vostok Station to pull out an acoustic guitar while their colleagues pass a bottle of vodka around, and Sofar Sounds will have achieved total global saturation. With Duval now joining the fray, world domination now seems a fait accompli. Good for them!

Fri., Jan. 19, 7-9 p.m.

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