It was the hush while attending her first Sofar Sounds show in Calgary that left an impression on Candy Chou. Rather than the usual ruckus and ongoing conversations she was used to hearing in bars, the audience at this music performance was listening intently. “It was cool that everyone was quiet,” says Chou. “Going to the bar, it’s always so loud, and I can’t hear the music.”

Chou is now the city leader for Sofar Sounds Calgary, a group that organizes monthly, secret music shows around the city. Taking place in non-traditional venues, these gigs are for people who appreciate live music.

“The intent is to have fun, listen to music and make new friends,” she says. “Even though they don’t know who is going to be playing in advance, everyone is focused on the music.”

Sofar Sounds operates in more than 400 cities around the world, from New York City and Toronto to London (both England and Ontario). The frequency of shows and type of venues—performances take place anywhere from living rooms to factories—differ in each city, but what unites them is an appreciation of live music.

Invites are based on a lottery system. Once you have signed up on Sofar Sounds’ website, you’ll receive email notifications for upcoming shows in your specific city—the location and artist are kept a secret—and once a date is announced you apply to attend.

If you are selected, you’ll get an email a day or so before the show sharing only the location. The cost of attending can be by donation, or as little as $10.

Chou says Calgary’s October show was at a virtual reality arcade with electronic-based music, while a show in November was held at the Calgary Petroleum Club and featured classical and jazz music.

“Every Sofar is a different experience, and it’s a great way to check out different cities,” says Chou, who invites visitors to Calgary she meets to the gigs.

“When you apply, there is a comments section you can fill out and people visiting will say, ‘I want to check it out.’ I have spoken to some of the other North American city leaders, and when they see something like that, they invite them.

“It’s usually [locals] who go to Sofar shows, so it is easy to meet someone, and maybe hang out or get shown around the city after,” Chou says.

Read more: 26 Reasons to Travel in 2019, From ‘A’ to ‘Z’


[This story appears in the January 2019 issue of WestJet Magazine]