Sofar Sounds brings intimate musical performances to Detroit this summer in ‘secret’ concert series

Music lovers in Detroit won’t have to travel far this summer to find one-of-a-kind concert experiences.

Sofar Sounds, a U.K.-based music events group that’s been coordinating intimate “secret” concerts in unique spaces across the globe since 2009, is bringing its distinctive experiences to Detroit at private venues in North End (last weekend), North Rosedale Park (July 27 at 7:30 p.m.) and Corktown (Aug. 5 at 7:30 p.m.). Featuring diverse performances across a variety of genres, each upcoming show’s location will be revealed to ticket holders 36 hours before the event.Kindra Parker.

“One of my initiatives and goals is to build partnerships and feature Detroit businesses,” says Kindra Parker, Sofar Sounds local city lead for Detroit, who hand-selected the venues and artists for the concert series — including Seat Detroit, the North End coworking space that hosted the first show on Saturday.

“[Seat Detroit], and that neighborhood in particular, is such a renaissance for the city. I'm really invested in finding really cool spaces and really cool people to feature. [Seat Detroit] was kind of a no-brainer,” Parker says.

Bringing attention to the city’s small businesses amid economic challenges

Que Roland.For Que Roland, founder and owner of Seat Detroit, the opportunity to host an intimate concert with Sofar Sounds was more than just a chance to support the arts. It was also a chance to collaborate with a fellow Detroiter (Parker and Roland are both graduates of Cass Tech) while introducing locals to the company’s beautiful outdoor space, which is available for the public to rent for events, in the wake of several years of economic challenges.

After closing Seat Detroit’s original Eastern Market location, Roland opened the company's current North End location in November that year. Initially intended as a second location, today the 1910-built building serves as both a coworking and event space as Roland looks for creative ways to adapt to a post-pandemic world.

“COVID has changed the trajectory of coworking, so we're pivoting at this time to rebrand — in a way; not necessarily completely, but to market to a new audience. Trying to figure out what are some other things that people are now looking for, because work culture has definitely changed and coworking isn't as popular as it was prior to COVID,” Roland says.

Tapping into that new market was something Sofar Sounds was helpful with, according to Roland, who says she appreciated how supportive Parker and the Sofar team were while organizing the event with her, including finding ways to safely host a small, live outdoor show amid an ongoing pandemic.

“It wasn't just, can we use your space? It was like, what can we do for you? What do you need? How can we support you? And that meant everything to me, because that's so important. As you know, a lot of businesses that were doing fine during COVID are not anymore, because a lot of the funding has gone away. And so we're having to navigate and figure out new ways, and pivoting and trying to continue to grow in a very, very strange market,” Roland says.

Ed Sheeran performs at a Sofar concert in Washington D.C.

Hospitality — and secrecy — take the main stage

In addition to finding the perfect local space to host an intimate show in the city, one of Parker’s key duties while organizing concerts for Sofar Sounds is finding the right artists — and maintaining strict secrecy around the location and performers.

“I'm very, very serious about the secrecy of it all. I don't even tell my friends,” Parker says with a laugh.

For Parker, who is a musician and graduate of Berklee College of Music, the process of selecting artists from Sofar Sounds’ database of submissions is painstakingly deliberate. Because concertgoers are surprised by the artists on the night of the show, Parker focuses on diversity to satisfy a range of musical tastes.

“Each show I curate, there's a variety of genres. You know, if there's hip hop, I try to do rock; if there’s jazz, I'll bring in R&B,” Parker says, adding that she works to be “very intentional” about the artists she selects for Sofar Sounds’ secret shows.

In addition to selecting artists from across a range of genres, Parker says she works to highlight local talent while supporting out-of-state musicians and helping them bring their music to Detroit.

“I like to bring, sometimes, artists from out of town — just to kind of show the Detroit music community’s hospitality, if you will, because it's important. We feature our artists all the time, and that's great. But I also like to show [artists from] other places what our music community is about,” Parker says.

Being part of something bigger

For Saturday’s concert, Parker’s lineup included Cleveland-based jazz singer-songwriter LA Bailey and Detroit musician Trey Connor, whose guitar-driven pop/rock melodies immediately piqued Parker’s interest

Trey Conner. Photo supplied. “I think I found [Connor] on a day where I'd been through maybe like, 25 artists. And I was just like, ‘I know what I'm looking for, what I want to hear.’ And [Connor] popped up and I was like, ‘Yes, he's awesome,’” Parker recalls.

Connor, whose latest EP “In the Clouds” was released last year, had applied to perform for Sofar Sounds months earlier. The musician recalls being excited to receive an invitation from Parker to play an acoustic set at the series’ first show at Seat Detroit on Saturday for around 40 attendees.

“I’ve been wanting to get in with [Sofar Sounds] for a little while, and I'm so excited that I finally did,” Connor says.

For Connor, a Metro Detroit native who lived in Austin, Texas for three years before returning home last year amid the pandemic, being able to perform in front of a live audience again offered a chance to rejoin to the city’s music scene in a unique, meaningful way.

“I'm just really excited to be doing something that's different from other shows. I just love what Sofar (Sounds) is doing. I think they're really just trying to create a personal connection with the artists and the fans, kind of get to the heart of music with the songwriting and the stripped-down sets,” Connor says.

As Connor prepares to work on a new EP (the release date is still unknown), those kinds of direct connections with fans — and the city’s music community — are important.

“It feels really good, especially being a part of a scene like Detroit that's kind of been through the wringer. It's growing, it's up-and-coming, and it's really cool to see it grow. And then, you know, international groups or national groups coming in like this and providing more opportunities — it's really cool to see it and just be a part of it,” Connor says.

Tickets to Sofar Sounds upcoming “secret” concerts in Detroit on July 27 and Aug. 5 are available at
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Read more articles by Erin Marie Miller.

Erin Marie Miller is a freelance writer and photographer based in Metro Detroit whose work focuses on people and small business. Inspired by the genre of New Journalism, she is passionate about connecting people to their communities through meaningful storytelling.