Intimate Performances: Sofar Sounds Honolulu

Jan 8, 2019

Credit sofar sounds

You’ve been to a stadium concert, you’ve been to a concert hall, but have you ever attended a concert in a neighborhood pet store or a willing stranger’s home?  It’s that living room kind of intimacy, plus a big dollop of mystery, that Sofar Sounds is all about.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa reports, an international hub for intimate performances is getting a foothold in Honolulu.

(l-r) Rachel Lee, Zoe Moriwaki, and Mackenna Bell are the Sofar Honolulu team these days. They welcome new talent of all kinds, and are also always open to new ideas for venues. Find them at the Sofar Sounds Honolulu website or Facebook page.
Credit Rachel Lee

In this story, we heard Taimane Gardner, Kapali Long, Evan Khay, and Keilana from their Sofar Sounds sets.  For a primer on How it Works.

Wonder how the lucky few felt, when Taimane got onstage at a Sofar Sounds show in Honolulu?  Kimie Miner, Izik, Thunderstorm Artis, and Billy Sage are among the many other perfromers who have appeared since Sofar Honolulu began in September 2017.

Sofar Sounds Honolulu founder Rachel Lee says she first ran into it in Sacramento.

Lee:  My friends were going to these events in the summertime, and I asked to go with them and they’re like, Oh, it’s secret, you can’t come. Then I looked it up on my own in Honolulu and there wasn’t any.

Sofar Sounds creates intimate performances in ad hoc places, people’s homes, retail shops, back yards, etc. in 425 cities around the world.  You can find intimate performances in unexpected venues in Hyderabad, La Plata, Malaga, Ulaan Baatar, Reykjavik, Rochester, Seoul, and Tblisi, among hundreds of other locations.  

After Rachel Lee wrote to the Sofar Sounds headquarters voicing the need for that kind of experience in Honolulu, she was drafted to run it!  In some cities, London for example, it’s big business, with paid staff and hundreds of performances a year. 

Dave Clark and friend in a Sofar Sounds concert in the former Kou Working space in Kaka'ako.
Credit sofar sounds

Lee:  Honolulu, we will never be full time, because we live on an island, we just want to sustain the intimacy of one to two shows a month.  I didn’t know how much work it’s be.  But it’s a lot of fun.

Rachel’s friend, Mackenna Bell jumped in, then Zoe Moriwaki started handling talent.  Here’s the deal:  You find the date and town online, and apply to go.  If you make it in, the venue address is sent a day before---it can be anywhere.  And you never know the line-up.

Here’s singer, songwriter Evan Khay.  He’s performed at Sofar and says it’s different from his hotel gigs.

Khay:  That feeling that you get when people really connect to your music and connect to the message you’re saying is powerful, and I experience it too little as a musician myself.  it’s the weird irony that you won’t know unless you try.  It’s the uncertainty of making the gamble that stops a lot of artists and creatives from making the jump in the first place. 

What jump?

Singer, songwriter Evan Khay perfroms solo and with others at the Leilow and other commercial venues. He has also performed at Sofar Sounds Honolulu, where he often hosts the event.
Credit Noe Tanigawa

Khay:  The jump to putting yourself out there.  Betting on yourself and your artistry and your music and your creativity. You don’t know when you get into it, where you’re going to be 5 years, ten years down the line.

In August of 2017, Khay released an album, Retrograde, which was nominated for two Na Hōkū Hanohano awards that year.  He played Sofar Sounds a couple months later

Khay:  That was really when the live performances of my original music really started happening and started getting noticed.  Because a lot of times when we’re musicians performing at hotels and restaurants, we have to dictate our music to what patrons and guests want to do.  So I do hours of cover music (popular songs written by others).

Khay:  When I performed at Sofar in 2017, it was all original music and to see the audience connect and react to what was really one of my first times performing my original music, to see how well it was received, it kinda clicked in my brain, Oh, this could be a thing.  I do credit the very welcoming energy of Sofar Sounds for the reassurance and affirmation that I was headed in the right direction.

Khay:  Plus, now I’m able to now connect with all these different Sofar networks in all the 400 plus cities across the world.

Tickets to attend are $15, which is split between the Sofar Sounds organization and the musicians. This gathering happened in the Banan shop on University Avenue.
Credit sofar sounds

You could go to Warsaw and try to get on the Sofar docket there?

Khay:  Absolutely!

Khay knows of artists touring based on Sofar gigs, and he says he's found many new favorite performers through this service.  The Sofar website archives performances from around the world, a valuable repository of new talent and outreach. 

You’re not going to get someone just emerging from their bedroom, by the way.  Lee says performers have to be established, you have to have your social network counts, you have to be involved in the community and you have to be passionate.

Lee says they're not just looking for music, they welcome comedians, poets, magicians, just talent of all stripes.

Lee:  On January 13th, Sunday, it’s in town, and I hope everyone can make it, because it’s going to be amazing.  Some amazing musicians are performing.  We think they’re going to do 3-4 songs and then a hana hou, but you never know.

Elijah Sky performing in a co-working space in Kailua.
Credit sofar sounds

Lee mentioned a perk for downloading the Sofar app, you don’t have to apply to go, you can secure up to 6 tickets right off the bat. 

Most dates are BYOB, and all so far, have sold out.  No wonder at $15 a ticket, which goes to the Sofar organization and the musicians.  Sofar Honolulu is always looking for talent ---- and for hosts.