Secret Pop-Up Concert Series Sofar Sounds Relaunches in DC

Secret Pop-Up Concert Series Sofar Sounds Relaunches in DC
New York band City of the Sun performs in a Sofar Sounds DC concert. Photo by Henry Gallagher.

Sofar Sounds has a shaky history in Washington. Three years ago, the community of pop-up concerts hosted a few shows here before shutting down. In January, DC native Fitz Holladay brought the concerts back. But after a handful of gigs, Sofar Sounds went on hiatus again.

Now the concerts are back for a third run–hopefully for good this time. On November 12, Holladay hosts his first concert in five months, and he’s planning to make this gig better than ever.

With networks in about 187 cities all over the globe, Sofar Sounds throws secret, invite-only concerts. Those who want to attend can sign up for email updates or apply online. Applicants are randomly selected; once they’re in, they pay what they want for a ticket. (A suggested donation accompanies each event.)

There’s also an element of spontaneity. Guests won’t know the line-up or location until the concert date. So even though the concerts are technically free, you have no idea who will be performing–or where–when you sign up.

That hasn’t deterred anyone from applying though. Having featured artists such as Leon Bridges in Dallas and Bastille in London, the network can get 3,000 RSVPs for a show with a capacity of 40, according to Holladay.

In the past, he has invited local names, like the Walking Sticks and Stronger Sex, to headline shows at venues like Union Station’s Shake Shack and the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Now he has a new strategy: He wants to pair up-and-coming artists with big-name musicians. The combination will help fulfill Holladay’s mission of supporting young artists, while also attracting sufficient star power to generate some serious hype.

“One of Sofar Sound’s core functions is to help incubate artists and musicians that are local,” he says. “What we want to do here in DC is get some really buzzworthy artists for each show and have some local artists that don’t have a lot traction but we think are really talented to play alongside them.”

He’s planning to book some shows with established artists who might be performing at venues like 9:30 Club and can squeeze in a casual concert with Sofar Sounds. “There’s no pre-show promotion, so they’re not violating their contract with the venue,” Holladay says.

Details are slim for next week’s gig, but a spokesperson for Sofar Sounds promises one thing: It’ll feature an “exciting” lineup of well-known indie artists.

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