So far sounds

Audience members enjoy a Sofar Sounds concert experience. 

Colorful blankets have been laid atop an industrial-style floor to give the room a more casual feel. On top of these blankets are people holding various brands of IPAs and glasses of wine that didn’t come from bags. That’s right, there were no crushed cans of Keystone at this Thursday night event.

This event, and many others like it worldwide, was put on by Sofar Sounds. Launched in 2010, Sofar aims to create intimate concert settings where attendees can expect both good company and music. The catch, however, is that the venue — which could be someone’s house or a small store — is secret and has limited space. This Airbnb-like concert experience exists in 331 cities across the globe, and Harrisonburg’s just been added to that number thanks to the efforts of four marketing students. The show that took place on Thursday was Harrisonburg’s first.

“We’ve been obsessed with Sofar lately,” Charlee Vasiliadis, a senior marketing major and the lead ambassador, said. “We’d seen shows in D.C. and so we decided that this was something that Harrisonburg would really benefit from.” 

Vasiliadis co-founded Harrisonburg’s branch of Sofar Sounds with three other marketing majors and music industry minor friends: Kassie Gesuelli, Katie Yoon and Christi Staufer. Between them, they work to coordinate the guest list, reach out to potential venues and seek out bands to play at these events.

Starting at the beginning of March, people could apply for a chance to snag an invite to the show on March 30. Although the venue and bands were unknown, the mystery intrigued enough people to apply that Vasiliadis had to turn some down. The day before the concert, chosen applicants were notified that this show would be downtown at Blue Ridge Architects.

“A unique thing about Sofar is that no one who signed up for the show knows who’s playing,” Vasiliadis said. “We guarantee that you’ll see three talented artists in an intimate setting in a unique venue and you’re getting the bang for your buck. We’re not going to book amateur acts.”

While not knowing what kind of music you’re about to be subjected to might be a turnoff for many, Sofar Sounds aims to encourage spontaneous music discovery and turn attendees on to new genres.

“That’s part of the appeal,” RyanMichael Hirst, a senior computer science and religion double major, said. “I’m eager to see what genres of music they’re doing. Like if it’s one set mood that they’re trying to create, or if they’ll go for different types of music to kind of give it a mixed feeling. Whatever they play I’m sure I’ll like. I’m not hard to please.”

The three bands that performed this time were Strong Water, Bombadil and Illiterate Light. All three have folk vibes, but each influenced the audience in a different way from inciting laughs to snaps.

While Hirst admits that folk music is typically his least favorite genre, he had a good time at this concert and realized that there’s more to folk music than meets the ear.

“After last night’s show, I fell in love with the genre,” Hirst said. “It seemed to me at least that it wasn’t just folk music, but a mixture of soul and indie that created something more experimental than just traditional folk music. As soon as the event ended, I added all three bands on Spotify to my playlist.”

Once the music starts, it’s expected that everyone puts away their cell phones and doesn’t talk to their neighbors. And since the atmosphere is so quiet, the audience receives a raw sound that would be hard to find at a regular concert.

Bombadil, a three-piece band out of Durham, North Carolina, that performed second in the lineup, enjoys playing in intimate settings like this one for this reason and that its members get the chance to be exposed to new music.

“I really enjoyed Illiterate Light,” James Phillips, Bombadil’s percussionist, said. “I had never heard of them before and they had a really great energy. And a really neat sound.”

Due to the success of this event and their combined passion for music, Vasiliadis and the other three ambassadors plan to continue these shows once a month, with the next one scheduled for April 20.

“We’re graduating soon and I’m committed to making this last,” Vasiliadis said. “We have a platform for future JMU students and just people in the Harrisonburg community to have a unique experience. It also helps Harrisonburg bands get their name out on a global scale.”

Contact Emmy Freedman at freedmee@dukes.jmu.edu.