Kansas City has a reputation as a home for talented artists, said Hank Wiedel, but restricted resources limit the potential for grassroots performers to reach a global — or sometimes even local — audience.
Sofar Sounds — an international event series operating under the radar in the metro for two years — reimagines live shows by providing curated, secret performances at which attendees are kept unaware of the location — or if they’re even attending —until a couple nights before. They also don’t know the lineup until the night of a Sofar Sounds performance, said Wiedel, director of the series’ Kansas City branch.
“It’s not like in a normal show … when you have an opening slot and you hope that people show up before the headliner,” he said. “[The audience is] there and they’re listening. I saw the value in that as an artist [myself] and as somebody who also works in the industry.”
Originating in London in 2009, founder Rafe Offer began by orchestrating a small gig for a room of friends, said Wiedel. The shows now appear in more than 350 cities around the world.
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Wiedel brought Sofar to KC in November 2016 after experiencing a disconnect between performers at packed concerts and shafted artists who were beginning shows in empty venues, he said.
“[It’s] a wonderful concept for artists who are just looking to get their name out there and build a fan base in new markets that they normally couldn’t [reach] if they play the normal club show for up to 15 people,” he added.
Each lineup is intentionally diverse, Wiedel said, citing music ranging between rock, pop, country, electronic, and even Americana artists from Sweden singing in different languages — whatever seems conducive to the listening environment, he said.
“I see it as a way to improve my listening skills as a music lover,” said Wiedel. “It just kind of brings it on home as to why it is that we do the shows and why we love live music.”
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Wiedel’s own beach rock, indie band and played a set in between an emo band and a folk artist on a Sofar stage at a firehouse in St. Louis, he added.
“Next thing we know, there’s 70 people in the room, dead silent, all eyes on us,” he recalled. “It was kind of nerve wracking … [but] from an artist’s perspective, it was also exciting just to know that there’s a resource out there that provided an environment for our music to be heard in the way that we would want it to be.”
Wiedel’s band saw a sizable increase in its following after the show — because people took the time to listen, he said.
“All of us remember our first concert and we remember why we were there — it was because we loved the band and we really wanted to see that band. That’s really the only reason,” he added. “The benefit that it has on a guest is that it [gives them a chance to] respect the artist and the environment … and just kind of eliminating any distractions that might inhibit them from enjoying that experience.”