How do you convince music lovers to buy tickets to a show when both the location and the artist are a secret? That’s the task of Audrey Marhoefer and Jessica Sweet, who curate concerts throughout Charleston for global music event company Sofar Sounds.
First launched in London in 2009, Sofar Sounds creates intimate shows at unexpected venues with artists who are not revealed until they take the mic.
“I think that there’s such an enticement from curiosity,” Marhoefer told the Charleston City Paper.
Sofar’s Charleston iteration took off in 2015 and hosted shows featuring diverse artists, many of whom have since garnered notoriety. In 2020, however, Sofar took a three-year hiatus.
Marhoefer began working to relaunch the local outpost after meeting former Charleston Sofar curator Nicole Labrecque at Creative Mornings Charleston, the once-a-month networking breakfast frequented by local creatives and business owners. When Sweet moved to Charleston from Washington D.C. in 2022, she also hopped on board.
Now Marhoefer and Sweet are the duo ushering Sofar Charleston into a fresh era.
Both curators find the shows’ intimacy leads to a special connection between artist and audience that isn’t always present at larger events. Artists often feel comfortable expressing a higher level of vulnerability in these small settings.
“[At] our last show, I felt that our artists opened up about some very personal things,” Sweet said. “And it just felt that the more intimate setting enabled them to share from their literal heartstrings, and they were vulnerable. And I think that was well received.”
While there are some music lovers that have no interest in paying money for a show without knowing the artist in advance, Marhoefer and Sweet find many are willing to go in blind for the promise of a unique experience and setting.
“[They are] putting their trust in us that we’re going to curate a quality show with quality artists,” Marhoefer said.
She and Sweet both love creating events and bringing together communities in new ways. Though they both have other roles outside of Sofar, they’re passionate about reigniting Charleston’s outpost and bringing the best listening experiences to the Holy City.
The shows introduce a willing audience to artists they may have never otherwise seen and whose careers they can now support and follow. And likewise, artists can plug into a listening base they otherwise may not have encountered.
“I love that each experience will be different. You will never go to the same show twice,” said Marhoefer.
The concerts are also a way to form relationships with like-minded people in the town, the duo said.
“We try to encourage show goers to introduce each other to a neighbor,” Marhoefer said. “So I think for a lot of people that maybe have moved to Charleston, [it helps them] make their own community, their own network.”
The act of creating a listening room is crucial to the ethos of Sofar. At shows, audiences often sit on the ground in a laid back and comfortable setting that feels akin to listening to a friend play in the living room at a party. It’s an appealing concept to anybody who hates being bumped or spilled on in a rowdy crowd while trying to listen to music, though not without its obstacles.
“One of the things that is challenging is the fact that we are capped, as an entity, in how much we can pay artists,” Sweet said. “And I think, historically, people have followed the pay structure. Audrey and I are both in sync in the fact that we want to be creative and figure out different ways that we can compensate the artists.”
Part of their mission in picking up the project has been to find new ways to contribute meaningfully to the artists. They’re testing ideas like including the artists’ Venmo accounts at shows and passing around a tip hat.
“I think [Sofar] gives the artists a chance to connect with different guests that they might not otherwise be connecting with,” Marhoefer said. “So it helps them grow their reach as well.”
While the show locations are kept secret until 36 hours before the event (when ticketed guests find out the location), artists are now also permitted to announce that they’re playing at a Sofar show as long as the location is kept hidden.
Marhoefer and Sweet said organizing this series has been a respite from the chaos of the outside world, and they hope to bring that same sense of sanctuary to both the artists and the audience who participate.
“Sofar and the music is actually a great escape,” Sweet said. “It creates a space where people can just be present in the moment and let their stress not be in the room.”
Sofar Charleston has a stacked lineup of summer shows, with performances slated for June 23, July 21 and August 8. The location and artists, of course, remain a secret. Visit sofarsounds.com/cities/charleston-sc for tickets.
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