Sofar stands for “Sounds of a Room”. The events started March 2009 in London by Rafe Offer, Rocky Start, and Dave J. Alexander who went to a Friendly Fires concert and became annoyed by people talking over the music, gazing into their smartphones or hearing the clanging of beer bottles. As a consequence, they decided to put on their own gig in Alexander's North London flat and invited eight friends over to listen to him play five songs in his living room. For the second gig in London, more people showed up because the word had spread. Soon after, Sofar expanded to Paris, New York City, and other cities, arriving in Los Angeles in early 2011.
Each Sofar is held in a unique space and features three diverse musical acts with no headliner. From retail shops, rooftop decks, and even living rooms, Sofar brings a unique musical experience to the audience every time. Although Sofar events are now held worldwide, they happen once a month here in Cincinnati, and my first time attending one was this past Friday.
When I walked into the art space on 12th street, my only knowledge of what I was about to see was that each act used a saxophone. Cool right? Upon arrival I was greeted by smiles and welcomes, and there was even a tub of beer for anyone who was interested (Sofars are BYOB so this was a score because I was not informed and came empty handed). I asked who the acts were for the night, and for this particular Sofar, all the performers were local. Again, cool right!? Sometimes Sofar combine national and local acts, but tonight it was all Cincinnatians. Bob Ross Trio, Common Center, and Ernie Johnson From Detroit were playing.
As everyone started piling in and mingling, the host of the night explained the process of what will be happening. Each act plays 20-25 min sets, audience members are asked to sit or stand, and not to talk. This is what sets Sofar apart from any other gig. And with that, The Bob Ross Trio began.
Local guitarist Bob Ross has the same name as the famous painter, and rightfully so. His eclectic and intricate jazz style was exactly that. Painting notes into the air as his trio jammed into an improvised first song that had the crowd vibing and rocking. The saxophonist accompanied Ross’s notes perfectly, as the drums held down an impressive variation of styles. Truly a very talented group.
The second act, Common Center, started by announcing their EP release show at Octave later this spring, and then they started their first song. Violinist and vocalist Jessica Graff pulled her bow across her strings and I was immediately hooked. A beautiful folk inspired tune sung back and forth between Jessica and acoustic guitarist Liam Hall, that had hints of The Head and The Heart and The Avett Bros. As the songs progressed however, you could hear the evolvement of style and writing, moving slowly from indie folk and into more experimental progressive rock. They were tight, as a sound and as a band. You will definitely be hearing more and more of these guys.
Lastly, Ernie Johnson From Detroit went on. Fun fact, no one in the band is named Ernie, yet they all wear jumpsuits that have an “Ernie” name tag on them. I’ve seen these guys before, and they never disappoint. They are a fun, afrobeat/funk/jazz jam band. Fronted by saxophonist Wayne Kilgard and Trombonist Collin Thompson, they started their set with a bang. Actually, funnily enough it was Wayne’s birthday too! It was hard not to get up and start dancing like the hippy side of me wanted to do. People were vibin’, bobbin’ their heads, the jams were tight, the solos were supreme, and the night was rocking.
This was honestly one of the coolest things that I got to be a part of, and I haven’t been able to stop talking about it. If you are interested in being involved in this movement, go to the official Sofar website. Take it from me, you won’t be disappointed.