As torrential thunderstorms spanned North Texas one day last August, a petite woman stood clutching a clipboard on the large wrap-around porch of a colonial-style home in Munger Place. The two-story house was the seventh setting for one of Sofar Sounds' perpetually secret locations in DFW. Musicians hurriedly lugged gear in and out of the side of the house, giving the event an additional air of excitement.
Once inside, the sound of an acoustic guitar poured through the large home. Soaking wet hair cascaded over familiar Dallas faces sipping on craft beers and red wine. Whispers and friendly hugs were exchanged at the back of the room as people inched toward whatever vacant floor space was left.
What began in London three years ago as a gathering of friends in U.K. songwriter Passion Ate Dave's living room is now Songs from a Room, otherwise known as Sofar Sounds. Their purpose is to showcase talented musicians in the region via small concerts in intimate settings, so as to forge a connection between artist and audience. Since 2009, the organization has gone international, hosting more than 150 shows in 25 cities around the world.
"We have made a conscious decision to keep our shows small and private and we try to have the majority of them in living rooms, even when larger venues are available for our use," says Joanna Jurgens, Sofar Sounds' regional coordinator.
Dallas made its way onto Sofar's radar a little more than a year ago, hosting a secret show every one to two months ever since. It's tough business securing a spot on the guest list for Sofar's invite-only shows. You first have to email them, indicating your interest in attending a show, then wait to see if you made the cut.
However, Jurgens says she tries to keep a healthy rotation of guests, so it isn't the same people at every show. She does this in order to "get new ears to the bands while still bringing in a few already-established fans of the bands playing." Addresses are kept secret until a few days before the show, mostly out of respect for the hosts, who are also private homeowners.
One thing about playing a small to medium-sized room is the tendency to tone down the music a little bit.
"We're normally louder," said The Angelus lead singer Emil Rapstine back in August, when they played that Munger Place living room. Local violinist Petra Kelly also performed with them.
"It was a really fun challenge to take the music and figure out how to accurately convey the sound in a living-room setting," Kelly says. "Plus, I play the violin, so I'm always excited to have other instruments come to my level, rather than trying to amplify and John Cale my own sound."
Curious about Sofar's next secret show? Here's a hint: It's moving to a little college town north of Dallas on Saturday. Sofar Sounds never announces the lineup beforehand, but to give you an idea of what you might be in for, past performers have included Fox and the Bird, Whiskey Folk Ramblers, Seryn and The Beaten Sea.
The goal is to be at around 500 shows per year, globally, Jurgens says. Right now they are averaging 10 to 15 shows per month, with a definite upward trend.
"Even when it doesn't come off perfectly, the audience tends to appreciate the uniqueness of what they are seeing," Jurgens said. "We have had quite a few song debuts and several spur-of-the-moment collaborations that really add magic to our shows."
Visit sofarsounds.com for more info on this weekend's show and future gigs.