In its mission to “bring the magic back to live music,” communal music collective Sofar Sounds has expanded its global network to Champaign-Urbana, hosting a succession of secret, intimate concerts held at various locations in the area. Prospective audience members enter their name into a lottery where they find out via email that they have been chosen to attend a performance. At the time of their entering, they do not know what music they are going to see. The address of the show is then given to the selected few as the date for the event draws near. Many houses, apartments, and coffee shops have been hosts to these cozy gigs, and when you attend a Sofar Sounds show, it is not hard to realize just how impactful the performances are for both the artist and audience.
I was fortunate enough to attend a show in April with three diverse and affectionate acts: jug-band Bones Jugs from Urbana, hip-hop duo Grey Lamb, and singer-songwriter Chad Lehr, both of whom hail from Indianapolis. Watching these performances and hearing their stories about what music means to them and using it to communicate to others gave the audience an uplifting feeling that I have not seen at other concert venues.
After attending the April 2nd show hosted at Cream and Flutter, I was able to chat with Landen Rosenbloom, a student at the University of Illinois who is the Champaign representative and organizer for Sofar Sounds.
Smile Politely: How did you get involved with Sofar Sounds?
Landen Rosenbloom: I work in marketing with Universal Music Group and we did a stint of pop-up shows in Sofar Sounds New York with a group called Bahari. I had heard of Sofar Sounds before then, but through that project with the artist, I had gotten to learn more about what the community was all about. I thought, “Wow, this is something that I really want to get more involved with!”
SP: When did Champaign start their string of Sofar Sounds show? Were you the one that brought it here?
Rosenbloom: Yes, I am the city founder for Champaign, and it grew here via myself, where I decided that this was a town that needed and wanted this kind of thing. I had built a team from the ground-up starting back in August 2016 where we did a bunch of live work early on so we could have our first show that November.
SP: What types of artists perform at Sofar Sounds Champaign shows?
Rosenbloom: There’s really no “typical style.” We try to cultivate as much variety as we can at each show. Part of that is because when you’re coming to a secret show, you don’t know what you’re going to see, and our hope is that at every Sofar you’ll see something that you’ve heard before that you know you love, something you’ve heard before that you might not be a fan of, and something that is completely new to you and that you fall in love with. We’ve had everything from Bones Jugs, a jug-band from Urbana, to Molly McLay, a poet from Champaign, as well as rock groups, hip-hop groups, folk acts, you name it. Anything is possible in a Sofar setting.
SP: What do you look for in an artist to play at a Sofar Sounds show?
Rosenbloom: We try and find artists who are really impactful to us. We want artists who share their stories with the audience. I find that the more the artist talks between their songs, the more enjoyable it is for everybody. In a Sofar setting, not only do you get intimacy with the people that you sit next to, but intimacy with the artist. You can’t get that type of experience with anyone else, where you’re five feet in front of the artist and they’re sharing their whole life story with you as well as their heart and soul that they poured into the music.
SP: What do you look for in a venue?
Rosenbloom: Anything really. We want a space that has some aesthetic, but “aesthetic” is a highly subjective term. Because every single one of our shows is held at a different space, we have a different capacity number for every show. For the show on April 2nd, our cap was roughly 50 people. But we’ve had shows with a capacity as small as 30 and will do shows as large as 150. We won’t go higher than that because we feel like it takes away the intimacy of it all. But beyond that we’re looking for something that would welcome in what we’re trying to cultivate, which is a community of music-lovers.
SP: Does it also extend to Urbana?
Rosenbloom: Yes, and we’ve already had some shows in Urbana actually. The name is Sofar Sounds Champaign, but the reality is that we have people coming from over an hour away to see these shows along with artists that are from very far away places. The farthest that an artist has had to travel to a show was about five hours.
SP: Where do you see Sofar Sounds Champaign going from here?
Rosenbloom: Before April, we would do one show a month, but now we decided to scale it to two shows, because we’ve been getting a lot of applicants and have had to turn people away. We want to create more opportunities for people to come so that we don’t have to do that. We will be taking a brief hiatus because people are going to be leaving campus, but we’re coming back this September with two shows a month, which will eventually be scaled to 3-4 shows a month. At some point I’m going to have to pass it on to somebody else, whether it’s another student or a member of the community, because I will be graduating and heading out of here.
SP: What’s been your favorite moment at a Sofar show?
Rosenbloom: One moment that I loved happened at our show last January, which was our second Sofar show in Champaign. We had Eric Stanley from Euriah performing, and he shared a really personal story with one of his songs and then performed it. It was so impactful that when I turned around and looked at the rest of the room, there were very few dry eyes. People were bawling at his words and his music, and that was just so pure and unwaveringly honest. We lose that honesty in mainstream live music consumption where there’s too many distractions from the music and the artist. In settings like Sofar, you get to experience that honesty at its deepest level.
SP: What is music?
Rosenbloom: Music is sonic art that is some form of an altered state of emotion or being, whether that’s effecting the composer or the listener. If it’s affecting you and your state in a sonic nature, then I think that’s all [that’s] needed to really be classified as music in my mind.
Check out additional pictures of Sofar Sounds performances in the gallery below.
All photos taken by CTRL+V and edited by Cory Van Duyne.