Columbia locals, visitors gather for intimate live performance from mystery artists

With secret locations, mystery artists and ticket sales only available after an application process for their intimate gigs, Sofar Sounds is curating a new kind of concert experience for Columbia.
Audience members trickle in to Sofar Sounds Columbia's September gig as performer Joey Ferber prepares his set. Photo by Reporter Tony Madden

In the backyard of a small, orange house on an otherwise quiet street in East Campus, music lovers from near and far gathered for an intimate gig of three mystery musicians. Just days before, audience members had no idea or indication of where the performance would take place. This was the eighth show for Columbia’s chapter of Sofar Sounds, an organization in 441 cities around the world that curates unique and captivating live music experiences.

St. Louis singer-songwriter Joey Ferber, also a member of the band LOOPRAT, opened the Friday night show with four original songs reminiscent of his upbringing around jazz and bluegrass musical influences. Just hours before the show, Ferber released the music video for his latest single “Break Loose” featuring Ruqqiyah. While this was Ferber’s first Sofar Columbia performance, he has played Sofar shows in Kansas City, Mo., St. Louis, Chicago, Louisville, Kentucky, and Denver.

“Sofar, no matter where you go has a vibe that has continuity, no matter what city,” Ferber said. “It’s always very supportive. People are always friendly and want to come up and talk to you.”

Kansas City, Missouri’s Clinton Wesley Hale performed next, playing a set of three unreleased songs from his upcoming album “Don’t look back,” and one song he released on an EP last year titled “If Paris Falls.” Hale enchanted the Sofar Columbia audience with precise acoustic guitar-picking and spirited, earthy vocals. While his album “Don’t look back” will not be released until Oct. 31, signed advance copies were available for sale to Sofar attendees on Friday night.

Nashville, Tenn. native Merry Ellen Kirk wrapped up the show with a set of soft, intimate piano ballads. Kirk showed off her pop-centric sound inspired by artists like Christina Perri, Ingrid Michaelson, Tori Amos and Imogen Heap. Kirk was perhaps the most well-seasoned musician of the evening, with a decade tenure as a musician under her belt. Her songs have been featured in TV shows like “90210” and “Jane by Design,” as well as advertisements for companies like Vogue, The North Face and The Salvation Army. A hush fell over the backyard crowd on Friday evening as crickets chirped and Kirk sang deep-cut lyrics from her song “How to Find the Way Back Home.”

“Whenever trouble should find you, I pray that this song would remind you to never let go. Wherever you roam, there’s always a way back home,” Kirk sings in the final track from her 2015 album “We Are the Dreamers.”

Sofar, an acronym for “Songs From A Room,” has been curating performances like Friday’s since 2009, when the organization’s founder Rafe Offer gathered eight friends in his London flat for a drink and live music. Now, those who are interested in attending Sofar performances apply for tickets online, and wait to hear back via email whether or not they have been invited.

“You don’t know the venue until two days before, and you don’t know the artist until you show up,” Andrea Jackson, Sofar Columbia team ambassador, said.

While Sofar has helped local musicians from all over thrive, more mainstream artists like Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Bastille and Leon Bridges have appeared at Sofar events.

“We are putting on intimate shows once a month featuring three artists -local, global, regional- in small spaces that are not concert settings,” Erika Skaggs, Sofar Columbia City Curator, said.

Sofar Sounds makes a point to adamantly distinguish their gigs from traditional concert settings. Where a concert may be held in bar or an amphitheater, a Sofar gig may be held in a retail space or suburban backyard. Where concert crowds may be too loud or disruptive during a musician’s set, the small audience of a Sofar gig promises a calmer, more raw and genuine live music experience.

MU student Sewit Belete is a testament to how widespread Sofar has become since its creation ten years ago. While in attendance on Friday evening, she told the story of a Sofar gig she attended in Santiago, Chile while studying abroad in South America.

“My favorite thing about [Sofar] is how I can go by myself and still feel super connected and close with the artists and the people I’m experiencing the show with,” Belete said. “I’ve only attended Sofar Sounds by myself and every time I’ve always met incredible people.”

Self-proclaimed music lovers Bill and Eileen Hennessy were also in attendance at Friday’s Sofar gig. Hailing from New York and Florida respectively, the couple has made a hobby out of travelling the country to attend various Sofar events. The couple, who have been staying in Columbia for the past few months, are routinely impressed with the music scene the city has to offer.

“We get a crowd in New York, but this is really something,” Eileen Hennessy said.

Sofar Sounds Columbia hosts gigs once a month, each time in a different mystery location. Two upcoming shows are scheduled for Oct. 19 and Nov. 9, and applications for tickets can be found at

Edited by Janae McKenzie |

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