SOPAC: Jewel of a Concert Venue

British Folker Beth Orton at SOPAC w Sam AmidonBaristaville is blessed with wonderful music venues, and each has its own virtues and distinct personality, but the intimate size and acoustical excellence of the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOOAC) sets it apart.

While there are only 415 seats (12 rows plus 6 in the mezzanine), and you can actually make eye contact with the performers, it’s not a casual atmosphere. SOPAC is a hybrid jewel, engineered to enhance the experience for both performer and audience yet managing to maintain that often elusive feeling of being up close with the artist. It’s in line with traditional concert halls like Avery Fischer and Carnegie Hall, but small enough to feel highly personal. All of the intimacy, but none of the negatives that can come with small make-shift venues designed for purposes other than live music. Let’s call it a Living Room Concert Hall.

Friday night’s performance supported that concept when BRIT Award–winning English singer-songwriter Beth Orton commented on the size of the space in her banter. “I feel like I’m in your front room,” she told the audience. Orton comfortably conversed with her fans about her playlist, requests, guitar tuning and taking a peek inside the projection room of the adjacent movie theater that shares the building.

Also worth noting is the elegant lobby, which houses the Herb & Milly Iris Gallery along with a full-service bar. Works by New Jersey artists, collaborators Gerard Amsellem & Mikel Frank, and Dan Fenelon were on display (though that exhibit is at the end of it’s run), and added another layer of the top-notch hyperlocal cultural experience.

SOPAC’s got a packed September line up with Loudon Wainwright III, North Mississippi AllStars, John Scofield, NPR funny lady Paula Poundstone, Southside Johnny, Ann Hampton Callaway and Alejandro Escovedo & Shelby Lynne. For a complete schedule and tickets, go to

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  1. I’ve been to several SOPAC shows over the years, and was in the front row for Beth, sweet performance!

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