Sofar Sounds Minneapolis Hosts A Secret Night of Music At Day Block Brewery

Sofar Sounds is an organization that hosts intimate, acoustic concerts in over 300 cities, all over world.


Last updated on September 20th, 2018 at 07:25 pm

I have no idea what I’m walking into here. This is a Sofar Sounds event, so the whole thing is shrouded in intentional mystery. It’s not too hokey if you allow yourself to succumb to wonder.

Here’s the deal: Attendees will RSVP on their website, then organizers release the date and time of the show in advance, but the location and performers are kept secret until the day of. This is curated live performance, and it necessitates trust. I got an email a few hours ago instructing me to head to Day Block Brewing, and not to be late. I’m here, and a chalkboard sign out front points me to the back of the building where I find an inconspicuous door, guarded by smiling folks with clipboards.

Door guy: “Name and ID?”
Me: “I’m on the list”

Everyone who’s here is on the list, and you can’t get in if you aren’t. I’m feeling very V.I.P. As I get past the door guys I finally get the lineup from a paper flier taped to the wall: Waltzing on Waves, Adam Levy, and The Drug Budget. Two indie-folk acts and a weird dance-punk band. Lucky me! It could have been a prog metal show and I still would have had to stay.

I’m led up the stairs and pushed into a spacious, high-ceiling loft situation with warm-colored string lights crossing paths above our heads. There’s about fifty people here, and maybe thirty of them are sitting on blankets. (Was I supposed to bring a blanket?) The other twenty are in line. There’s a bar! Okay – I’m in line, I’m waiting, I’m watching.

I see my editor and our photographer across the room by the coat racks; an old regular of mine from a long-past stint as a barista (8:45 AM every day large light roast with a couple cubes of ice, why do I still remember this??;) a group of three twenty-five-year-old girls who I can tell have been friends since grade school from the way they laugh at each other; Adam Levy standing in the back corner of the room eating up all of us with his gaze (you really can’t miss him because he always wears big hats;) a hip dude with a scarf whose date has obviously not shown up yet (he’s staring at his phone but keeps eyeing the entryway expectantly;) and a middle-aged couple with matching glasses of red wine who have never once been more in love with each other, unless you count tomorrow. There are many people here and they are all happy.

Okay, there is someone on stage (there’s no real stage, just an empty space in the corner where no one is sitting down) and her name is Nicole, tonight’s host, and she says that our first act is named Jen but tonight you can call her Waltzing on Waves and here she is.

Photo by Sara Fish
Waltzing On Waves // Photo by Sara Fish

Jen is probably thirty-two and has short black hair and asymmetrical spectacles and a ukulele and a smile. She says, “This first song is dedicated to all my awkward people out there. Especially to those of you who feel EXTRA AWKWARD. This song is called Extra Strange.”

Oh, I love her. Ukulele is a great instrument for vocal virtuosity because of its limited harmonic ability (there’s only four strings and it’s tuned like a violin but you strum it) and her voice is indeed virtuosic but it’s also relatable and immediate and close.

She has immense control of her vocal registers, switching from chest voice to the upper register often and seamlessly. I imagine she’s had many years of formal training.

[I talked to Waltzing on Waves after the show and I was right! She studied music in college with a focus on opera.]

Waltzing On Waves Sofar Sounds
Waltzing On Waves // Photo by Sara Fish

She experiments with alternate chord voicings a lot and does not seem to be afraid of dissonance the same way many solo uke-singer-songwriters do. The ukulele is so often typecast as a naive optimist, a grinner in constant agreement, and it’s quite refreshing to see the uke play a darker, more dramatic role for once in its career.

Waltzing on Waves plays seven or eight songs, one of them in Spanish, and leaves the stage without saying goodbye. Like a beachside swell, she is gone before we know just what precisely has soaked our sandals. And we clap. And we get back in line for the bar.

Adam Levy // Photo by Sara Fish

Adam Levy is on now, and his hat is bigger than his guitar (that’s just barely a hyperbole) and he starts off right away with audience participation. This room forms a kind of top-heavy upper-case “L” and he’s got the bottom of the letter singing one part and the top singing another.

We are fairly good singers, the lot of us, or maybe it’s the Sociable Ciders (I got two at the same time when I got here because the bar line was so long) that are pleasantly tricking my ears. Either way, we all sound good together, in this moment.

Adam says, “Okay now I’ll give you all a friendly nod when it’s time for your part.”

And he sings his song. It’s lovely and folksy and cute, but we never get so much as a flick of the neck. Bits of the audience venture in tentatively, but no full-crowd singalong arises. I am, as they say, disappoint.

Adam Levy // Photo by Sara Fish

Three songs go by, I think, and I am lost in it. Everyone is seated cross-legged and there is little movement in the audience. I crouch and sway, hugging my knees. I want to dance but the vibes in the room, comfortable though they are, are constraining. My ears perk when Adam sings this:

If you only have a hammer all your problems are nails
If you can’t find joy all your playgrounds are jails

Woah. That’s a hard line to lift.

Soon, Adam opens it up. He lost his son, Daniel, a few years back. Suicide. He was young. He was an artist. Adam sells his son’s art now, at shows, so he doesn’t fade. Art can do that, it can elongate, extend, remind, immortalize.

“Here is a song about the last place my son’s mother remembers him smiling. There were not a lot of smiles that last year. It was dark.”

Adam Levy // Photo by Sara FIsh

This song is called Naubinway. It hurts us to hear it, but we must listen. It is not often that one sits in such a clear pool of sadness as an audience member. I can see all the way down to the bottom. Adam lets us swim with him. It’s saltwater— it stings our cuts, but we come out feeling cleaner, exfoliated, more buoyant.

Levy ends us on a higher, happier note, once again starting a singalong that he forgets to cue. Applause, bar line, cigarette.

(About the cig: there’s a balcony (!) that I just noticed and we have a nice little view of downtown out here. I bum a lighter from a Brit who’s here on vacation [Sofar is of Londonite origins and he’d been going to these events back home for many years] and he thinks everything I say is ‘TREMENDOUS’ and we both agree that the music tonight is lovely and that Trump is just about the exact opposite of that and that gee, the weather sure is agreeable…)

Drug Budget Sofar Sounds Minneapolis
Drug Budget // Photo by Sara Fish

Okay, it’s the Drug Budget now. This is the evening’s first full band. We’ve got: vox, one acoustic guitar and one electric, electric bass, backing vox, saxophone (tenor,) and drums. These guys have energy – too much for the room. I really need to dance now, but everyone is still sitting down. The lead singer cannot fucking sing, he shouts, the saxophonist has a bell mic but doesn’t really need one. This band is LOUD.

I’m spinning. Mid-set the lead singer gets down on the floor, lies prone facing the audience, hikes his feet up on the kick drum, and does twelve pushups. If this were any other show, I’d probably shout a hearty “WHAT THE FUCK” and chug whatever I had left in my can, but the vibes in here don’t match so I just give the dude sitting next to me a little nudge and a wink. He looks at me like I just pissed on the floor and told him to clean it up. The energy in this room has changed shape on me: what once was a comfortable gathering of mellow chill-heads has turned into a sea of scaredy mouth breathers with a whole collection of left feet. Oh people, please, let’s move!

I hold my knees and sway.

Drug Budget // Photo by Sara Fish
Drug Budget // Photo by Sara Fish

The Drug Budget does a set. It’s fun, dirty, rarely in key. It’s over. I’m drunk.

I’m in a cab now riding home but I’ll leave you with this: I can’t promise you a Sofar Sounds event will make sense, but I can promise you it will be the most fun you’ve had all week. Also, you’ll 100{a43c2147d37bcf8b898f59ebaaf066dc60bd9fbfc7430ae40ed3f9adbaab469e} meet a British dude. Pretty sure that’s contractually obligated.

Written by Harley Patton

Writer and reader in Minneapolis, Minnesota


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