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We Found a Secret Concert in Oakland

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If you haven’t yet found yourself a secret concert by Sofar Sounds, you’re truly missing out. Unlike traditional music concerts, the venue’s location and artists playing are kept secret from concert-goers until just before the event. Because so much of the event is shrouded in secret, there’s some trust and anticipation that brings extra excitement to each event.

Sofar Sounds in SF – photo from their Instagram

I first experienced Sofar about 5 years ago when my friend held a concert in their own living room as a host. She invited me over for a secret show where we watched 3 performers play back to back while sittin’ in her living room and sippin’ on beers we had brought ourselves. The smaller space accommodated less than 30 people, making for a much more intimate and perhaps even more meaningful experience.

This past week, I wanted to surprise my friend who had been having a hard time lately with something that would make her smile. She loves live music and I knew that finding a Sofar show would brighten her week.

Tickets were just $20 each and we weren’t told the exact location until the day before the event. This one, unlike the previous show I went to, was in a local brewery in Jack London rather than a cozy living room. The various venues that you can see shows at are part of Sofar’s fun. You never know where you will be or what you’ll experience but you know the event will feel special and unique.

Sofar Sounds Venue was at Buck Wild Brewing – photo of the space from the brewery

Around 7, we headed out to the secret location (revealed to us as Buck Wild Brewing) in Jack London square. The venue was the back room of the brewery. A small stage was set up in the corner of the industrial space. Pillows in front of the mics welcomed guests. Additional tiered seating accommodated around 30 concertgoers.

Three completely different acts played for us. If you’re a person who just loves going to live shows – you aren’t picky about who you see or where… you will find something you LOVE within the experience. As for me, I love almost all music (except for you, Jazz, I just don’t understand you yet).

Who we saw at Sofar Sounds in Oakland:

Tell Me Tell Me:

: Usually a full band, we got the honor of listening to their lead singer and guitarist, Michael, play some of their original songs. If you love bands like Death Cab for Cutie, you’d love Tell Me Tell Me. Their indie-rock sounds have positivity and deep meaning is woven throughout their music. Some delightfully fun guitar riffs made me smile. Reminiscent of video game anthems in their playful bouncy nature.

Portrait of Michael in Tell Me Tell Me – photo from their Bandcamp

When I asked him about what keeps him coming back to Sofar shows as a performer, Michael said to me, “I like the listening room vibe of the audience. They really want to hear every word, every note, they’re so focused on the music. I feel very heard when I play Sofar shows.” Tell Me Tell Me is playing at Zeitgeist as part of the Noise Pop Festival.

Gabby Allong:

Soulful R&B is the best way to describe Gabby’s music. Similar to the first band, Tell Me Tell Me, her music has deep meaning woven throughout the lyrics. On stage, her presence is soft and effortless. They have a new album out and a new song “Dreams” which premiered on Youtube Thursday evening. Her relatable tales of broken heart and connectedness between humans is sure to move you but her voice will carry you away. Her experience echoes some of the the experience of other performer yet it’s in her soulful voice.

“SoFar Sounds has provided me with an incredibly rewarding and humbling journey to share my life’s work and purpose. I experience life through introspection and depth. My desire is to give the world to what I dream. Pantone pink colors and lush vegetation. A world that thrives. Humanity that gives.”

Portrait of Gabby Allong – photo from her Spotify

Casey Cope:

The last performer of the evening was Casey Cope. It’s hard to sum up the energy we saw on stage in one small paragraph but I’ll try my best. Casey is a rapper, artist, and producer whose energy on stage is electric and at times a bit shocking. For me, it reminded me of early work by Childish Gambino. Similar to songs within Childish Gambino’s album CAMP, you found yourself sucked into the story being told to you on stage and then almost shocked into paying more attention when the lyrics become bolder, sharper and movements become more emotional. Casey has mastered his flow and his persona on stage compels you to stay attentive. Not a single person in the audience was able to take their gaze off him. We were completely locked into every word he had to say, every emotion, and every movement.

There are no headliners at Sofar events. For this event, I thought the organizers did a great job with the pacing of the performers. From a more subtle sound to something more dynamic – in Casey’s own words “abrasive rap shit”. I wouldn’t say he was abrasive persay. However, I would say his performance surprised me in a good way.

Casey Cope performing at a Sofar show – photo from their Instagram

Casey’s thoughts on Sofar Sounds highlights exactly why they are so wonderful to attend. You’re encouraged to sit and give the performer your full attention. I didn’t even take a single photo while sitting in the audience. I was there to listen and learn about new performers. To Casey, this type of exchange – the audience completely soaking in the performance – is why he continues to come back to Sofar shows. The connection person-to-person makes it a much more fulfilling experience as a performer. He told me how appreciates how those who attend “show respect to the performer. Which is rare for performance spaces.” Casey has been performing at Sofar for about a month and a half. He has a few ahead but the location, date and time of those is secret for now.

Where can you experience Sofar Sound Sessions within The Bay Area?

There are SF and East Bay events regularly throughout the month. However, Sofar is a global phenomenon at this point. You can find events all over the world. Past performances have had acts such as Leon Bridges and Hozier. You truly never know who you will see next and that’s part of the fun.

Sofar sounds shows are global but you can find tickets to local shows via their website

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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy has lived in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.