Ask a bunch of Clevelanders about their favorite music venues, and you’ll probably hear similar responses: Beachland Ballroom, The Grog Shop, Aragon Ballroom, The Bop Stop, and a laundry list of other well-known favorites.
Ask Jeanette Sangston, and she’s likely to reply with less obvious places like Skidmark Garage, Cleveland Whiskey, Praxis Fiber Workshop, or BurkleHagen Photography Studio. Over the last six years, all of these spots have served as makeshift music venues for Sofar Sounds—the unique live music concept Sangston brought to Cleveland in 2014.
“Our first show was at my best friend’s house in Broadview Heights with 30 invitees in attendance,” says Sangston. “Since then, we’ve sold out every show and are growing like crazy, which is great for Cleveland.”
Burkle Hagen brought it all home for Sofar Sounds Cleveland as they celebrated their fifth anniversary.In fact, Cleveland will become one of Sofar Sounds’ “full-time” cities starting in February—making the city one of just 27 full-time cities out of 444 total Sofar spots around the world. The designation will ramp up the amount of shows from one or two to at least 10 each month. Designed as intimate performances held in unconventional venues, each Sofar Sounds show features a lineup of three acts playing four songs each.
“It’s an opportunity to strip down their music and share the stories behind the songs,” says Sangston. “I liken it to a ‘VH1 Storytellers’ session where the artists get the chance to be up close and personal [with listeners].”
Two of Sangston’s favorite shows to date are a "Big Lebowski"-themed show in which the bands set up on bowling lanes at the Slovenian National Home, and a rooftop performance atop Barge 225 on North Marginal Road. “Listening to music while watching the sunset with the Rock Hall as the backdrop—there are no words to describe it,” she says.
Sangston also enjoys curating the various acts and watching them rise after their initial Sofar Sounds appearances. With a blend of local and national acts, performers to date have included Ben Gage, Ray Flanagan, The Modern Electric, Ottawa, and The Twilight Sad—which Sangston booked for the very first local Sofar Sounds show six years ago and watched rise to stardom as the openers for The Cure’s recent world tour.
Now preparing to go full-time with Sofar Sounds as it amps up its Cleveland presence, Sangston is looking forward to more opportunities to unite local music lovers in unexpected spaces.
“What I’ve tried to foster here in Cleveland is just as much about community as it is about the music,” shares Sangston. “It’s like shared humanity set to a magical soundtrack.”