Christen B started Sofar in Baltimore almost two years ago with her wife, but she was familiar with Sofar before that – as an artist! She played eight Sofars up and down the East Coast of the U.S. before bringing it to her hometown. She talks to us about breaking down barriers between artists and guests, what it’s like to lead a Sofar chapter with the perspective of a performer, and what makes her proud this Pride Month:
Favorite Sofar artist she’s seen:
Wildeyes. They were pretty amazing and their harmonies were great.
Her dream Sofar acts:
Erykah Badu, King, Hiatus Kaiyote
If she could attend or play a Sofar anywhere in the world, it’d be:
London. Both because I really want to go there, and what better place than where it all started?
Her favorite queer artists to soundtrack Pride:
I love Jaydee Polo, Be Steadwell, The Peace and Body Roll Duo Boomscat, Danni Cassette, Black Assets, Wifty Bangura and me lol (Christen B). Check them all out!!
Her favorite Sofar moment:
We had our very first team activity outing in October and went bowling. Just to see the whole team of 11 people mesh together and get to know each other in a different environment outside of Sofar shows was my favorite moment so far.
What the Baltimore music scene is like, and where Sofar fits in:
Baltimore artists have a lot of raw talent. In certain cities, everyone is really refined and looks like an artist or has professional videos and photos. It’s like a hidden gem here, where people haven’t quite blown up yet, but their talent is there. It’s just a matter of finding them. There are a bunch of amazingly talented people here that you haven’t heard of yet. The artist community is made up of pockets – depending what genre you lean towards, that’s the circle you run in. Baltimore is very spread out, and it’s very underground, so it can be hard to know where to go or what days of the week to go.
Sofar is great for Baltimore specifically because we blend all of the pockets together. People are able to hear different types of artists in one setting, which doesn’t happen usually in Baltimore. There’s no place you can go to hear different types of music; everything is specific to that space. You can go to Sofar and you might be opened up to new music that you didn’t even know you liked.
What makes her proud:
Being black makes me proud. Being a woman openly in love with another woman makes me proud. Being a part of creating platforms for artists to share their gifts with the world makes me proud. Being an artist who helps others see the beauty in their journey makes me proud. Being a human who leads with love and authenticity makes me proud.
How being an artist influences her as a city leader, and vice versa:
As a city leader, I’m very artist and customer focused, more than just being in charge of a show. Just from being an artist at other Sofars, I know how important it is to be organized, make sure the artist and audience have a great time, and answer any questions they may have. Performing now that I’m a city leader hasn’t changed much, since I’m there just to share my art and not in the capacity of a city lead, but I also see the ins and outs that I may not have noticed before. I’m grateful to have had so many Sofar experiences performing before I started Sofar in Baltimore.
How her identity has impacted her roles as an artist and Sofar Baltimore Director:
My sexuality has pushed me to live a more authentic life. I write my music from a very personal place, so hiding where my inspiration and truth comes from is stifling. Living my life authentically and out loud allows for a more freeing creative experience. My music is able to connect with all people and I am able to connect with all people because my music is honest and I am happy to share the joys and passion I feel being in love with another woman and simply being me… in all my forms.
The Sofar Baltimore team loves being a part of a team that is open and transparent. The majority of our team are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Having a leader who is open allowed them to feel safe and confident in being their authentic selves.
How she tries to break down the barriers artists and guests are used to at a typical concert:
I start with the artist to try to break down that barrier first. If an artist talks to the audience while performing, that breaks down that barrier already. The guests can see that they’re actually really nice and can ask them about the story they told during the set. After, I reiterate to the audience that the artist is available, and they should feel free to talk to them at merch table, give them a hug and grab a business card.
I’m super friendly in general, so I think that comes across while performing. People tend to come up and talk to me when I play, but as far as other artists, I’ve seen a mixture. Some people are more standoffish, and it doesn’t matter how welcoming the crowd is. At Sofars, having downtime with the breaks in between each artist is a great time for guests to get up the nerve to talk to the artists, even if by the last one it’s like, “I’m going to go talk to them!”
We can create the opportunity and encourage interaction and set the example, but a lot of things need to be organic in order to be meaningful. We create the moment and hope people take advantage. Especially if that’s someone’s first Sofar, they’re used to being at clubs and bars, and that’s almost how they show their caliber at those places, by being on a different level and inaccessible. Sofar is a good setting for letting their guard down and enjoying the moment.
What it’s like to perform at Sofar compared to standard venues:
I love performing at Sofars because of the environment. I’m a super vibey person. I love the energy of spaces. Sofar brings a certain person and energy into the space. You have to be open minded to attend without knowing the space or artist. It allows for a more intimate connection. With the music I perform, people really need to listen, to the harmonies and the words. I love being able to talk to people and be that close to them, while also having a room full of people. It’s the perfect balance.