Sofar Cleveland Ramps Up Programming

Local chapter of global organization books secret shows throughout town

click to enlarge Lydia Joy performs at a recent Sofar Cleveland event. - Jeff Niesel
Jeff Niesel
Lydia Joy performs at a recent Sofar Cleveland event.

It’s a Friday night at Visible Voice Books in Tremont, and a sign on a rope across the front staircase indicates the bookstore is closed for a private event called Sofar Sounds. To those in the know, Sofar Sounds is a global music community that aims to connect artists and audiences through live music in a unique way in more than 300 cities. It launched in London in 2009 before going international.

Acts such as James Bay, Hozier, Emeli Sandé, Wolf Alice, Bastille and Lianne La Hava has played Sofar events. Local reps book artists in their respective cities and sell tickets without announcing the act or the venue. The day before the show, ticket holders receive an email with information about the venue. Tonight, singer-songwriter Lydia Joy, local punk band Napsack and singer-songwriter Kahrin are slated to perform on a makeshift stage set up in a corner of the bookstore. Some guests have found seats; others splay out on the floor.

Andy Schumann, Sofar’s Cleveland rep, has taken on the task of booking shows with an enthusiasm that comes across clearly as he chats before the concert. As a teenager, Schumann booked concerts at his church, Archwood United Church of Christ.

“I went to college at NYU and whenever I was home, for vacation or breaks, I would frantically try to book stuff,” he says.

He eventually graduated to booking gigs at Mahall’s 20 Lanes in Lakewood and then started working with Cleveland Art Workers Collective. He accepted the Sofar gig in November of last year.

“Sofar is nice because it has this DIY aspect and is a little secretive in that you don’t really know what is going on,” he says. “You literally don’t know who is going to play at the show, and you can discover some new acts. It also has the comfort of something that is more streamlined and like a traditional business. Last year, things weren’t as lively [because of the pandemic], but now we’re in somewhat of a renaissance period and people are bursting at the seams to go places.”

In addition to booking shows at Visible Voice Books, Schumann has used Skidmark Garage and Nosotros, the rock climbing gym located in a church.

“The show at Nosotros was kind of funny,” he says. “I didn’t communicate that the climbers needed to be out, so people were still climbing while we were setting up.”

Going forward, Schumann has plans to expand the programming. This coming Friday, he’s teamed up with the Rock Hall for an Oasis sing-a-long that will take place on the Rock Hall’s plaza. He’s also hoping to host open mic sessions on a regular basis. The next Sofar event will take place in Ohio City on Wednesday, July 13, at a place in Ohio City that Schumann says is “pretty cool.”

“Many of these artists can’t play places like House of Blues,” he says. “Their choices are to play small bars or house shows or Sofars. They often find that the pay and merch sales are often better at Sofars, so that’s really encouraging. For me, it’s nice to do these things that I would want to do anyway with the backing and support of Sofar. Because the show has a guaranteed crowd, people will buy tickets because the brand is so strong. I can pick artists I think are good, and people will be there. It could be a band from Denmark, and no one in Cleveland would never know about them, and they could play to a small room but a filled room. That feels really good.”
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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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