When Christen B, a Randallstown-based singer-songwriter, heard about Sofar Sounds — a network of musicians and fans who organize small-scale pop-up concerts in unique venues in nearly 400 cities around the world — she was immediately intrigued. She applied to be a Sofar artist, and began performing at the organization’s shows in Orlando, New York and even Naples, Italy.
“I just fell in love with the feel of it,” Christen B, born Christen Taylor, said. “Typically, when you do shows, people are talking or walking around and not really paying attention. But in Sofar, everybody is there to enjoy the show.”
Given it’s eclectic music scene, Christen B believed that Baltimore would make a natural host for the concert series. She became the city’s ambassador, and tonight, Baltimore’s first Sofar Sounds concert will take place. The event is sold out.
Part of Sofar Sounds’ appeal is it’s a gamble. Attendees are not told who’s performing until the artists take the stage, and the location is not disclosed until 24 hours before the show. The spaces range from churches and breweries to residential living rooms and basements.
“Coffeehouses, bookshops, really anywhere that has a bathroom and can hold at least 30 people,” Christen B said.
There are typically three acts, with no “headliner” designation. While many of the artists are up-and-comers, Sofar has attracted well-known acts like the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O, British indie-rockers Bastille and “Coming Home” soul singer Leon Bridges.
The shows are intimate (maximum capacity is typically 150, she said), and the goal is to keep them that way, which means talking during a performance is prohibited. Christen B asks attendees use the breaks between sets to socialize and chat.
“You hate being background music when you’re an artist,” Christen B said. “We want everyone to have the chance to experience the music the way the artist wants you to experience it.”
The Sofar website states Thursday’s “secret location” is downtown, and the closest subway is the Charles Center Station. Beyond that, Christen B kept mostly mum on lineup details.
“It could be artists that [the audience is] familiar with. It could be artists that they’re not. It’ll be a wide range of genres,” she said. “There’s never a particular genre that you’ll hear in one night, so it’ll be something for everyone.”
Sofar, which was founded in London in 2009, has Baltimore shows planned through January, and Christen B hopes momentum will only grow from there. She encouraged Baltimore artists to apply to perform in the future.
“Right now, we’re getting a lot of people from other places and maybe two or three from Baltimore, but I know there’s so many more Baltimore artists,” she said. “So success would just be getting more local artists to be able to showcase their talent through the Sofar network.”
When she first experienced a Sofar show, Christen B said Baltimore immediately came to mind as a city where it would work. .
“There’s so many different genres in Baltimore, and we kind of exist in pockets, and we don’t really ever connect with other circles,” she said. “I think Sofar is great in that it bridges all genres and all audiences into one kind of pot, and allows people to be exposed to new things, new artists and people they didn’t even know were in their own city.”