By Sarah Lucie
It was an unpredictably chilly November night, but the diehard music fans Sofar brings together could not be deterred. We braved a cold wind and found the little staircase that would lead us off the streets of Chinatown and into a warm musical bliss. The apartment was abuzz as we settled into our spots on couches, pillows and the floor—ready to take in another gloriously intimate night of music that only Sofar can provide.
The Sofar veteran Julia Easterlin started us off with her uniquely intoxicating sound, one that blows us away time and time again. It’s utterly transfixing to watch as she layers varied rhythms and rich harmonies with the help of a loop pedal before your very eyes, and those layers create exciting dynamics despite the fact that she’s solo. Julia’s presence is gentle, peaceful even, and yet, her quiet intensity demands attention as she seeks out each subtle addition to the masterpiece. In what I can only describe as nymph-like, she pulses to her own rhythm, swaying as if under the music’s control.
Next up was Princess Music, bringing a classical/pop mash-up to New York all the way from Denver. What is usually five musicians tonight was three, including Rachel Sliker on violin, Psyche Cassandra Dunkhase on cello, and front man Tyler Ludwick on vocals and guitar. What is most striking is the group’s superb musicianship, from Tyler’s classical fingering on the guitar to complex musical arrangements experimenting with irregular meter and peripatetic melodies. Between Tyler’s soothing voice and the deep, velvety timbre of the strings, Princess Music is a musical oasis.
Jonny Grave then brought us the sounds of the South with his irrepressible blues guitar and soon had the crowd stomping right along with his heavy-heeled boots. Jonny channels the ways of traditional folk and blues with a deep, gravelly voice and slide techniques on the guitar. Sofar was lucky enough to test out a new song—freshly scribbled lyrics on a yellow legal pad—before joining in on a sing-along at Jonny’s request. With that old-time country hospitality, it’s hard to refuse him anything.
And finally, the Bronx-based Rocky and the Pressers offered a completely different kind of hospitality with their relaxed island vibe. Of the seven members of the band, many play more than one instrument, creating an eclectic variety of sounds from the mandolin to the baritone sax to the percussion section of bongos, bells and a tambourine. The sweet lead vocals sing refreshing lyrics—no love songs here, but rather, tales of betting at horse races. With carefree, ambling rhythms, Rocky and the Pressers transported the Sofar crowd to a quick island vacation before we had to venture back into the bitter cold city streets.