When the Old City club Tin Angel closed its doors in February 2017, owner Donal McCoy vowed to keep alive the storied venue's approach to presenting live music to Philadelphians in an intimate environment.
A year and a half later, the Northern Irish barman is back in business with the Locks at Sona, a listening room that is set to open in Manayunk on Sept. 21 with a singer-songwriter-heavy lineup that will look familiar to fans of the Tin Angel, whose Second Street space now is home to Peruvian restaurant Vista Peru.
The Locks is like the Tin Angel in that it's a second-story club situated above an eatery — in this case the Irish gastropub Sona, at 4417 Main St. It is a joint venture between McCoy and Larry Goldfarb, who booked the Tin for 24 years, along with Richard Kardon and Jesse Lundy of Point Entertainment.
Kardon and Lundy, who book roots music shows at venues throughout the region (and also sometimes booked shows at the Tin), were responsible for bringing in talent at the Philadelphia Folk Festival from 2008 to 2017. They're equal partners at the Locks, which will open with Philly singer-guitarist Jim Boggia.
The new room will hold 125 — 10 more people than the Tin — with cabaret-style table seating that can be removed for shows at which it is more suitable for listeners to be up on their feet.
And those kind of acts — such as Louisiana dance band Lost Bayou Ramblers, who are scheduled to play Sept. 28 — are much more likely to be found at the Locks than they were at the Tin, in part because the space is conducive to hosting more energetic acts.
>> READ MORE: As Tin Angel closes, a look back at 24 golden years
The tiny Tin stage, which played host to a list of talent over the years including Roseanne Cash, John Legend, Jeff Buckley, Donovan, and Gil Scott-Heron, was a mere six foot by nine foot in size. At 12 feet deep by 16 feet wide, the Locks' will be much larger.
"Now we'll have room for two Philadelphia Ukulele Orchestras on stage, instead of just one," McCoy says in jest, referring to the 12-member string ensemble that was a regular guest at his old club.
The goal for the Locks, says Kardon, is to combine the attributes of the Tin Angel with the approach of the Point, his Bryn Mawr club (adjacent to the site of the legendary Main Point) that he ran from 1998 to 2005 and featured such on-the-way-up acts as Norah Jones and the Avett Brothers.
"We're going to be filling a hole in the market for a high-quality listening room that can easily draw from both the city and the suburbs," Kardon says. The initial Locks plan is to put on 70 to 100 shows a year, happening mostly on weekends, and occasionally "turning the volume up," as Goldfarb puts it.
"Nobody's going to be getting rich with a 125-person room," says Goldfarb, who booked acts such as Nina Simone, Tom Waits and Count Basie in a variety of Philadelphia venues during his 50-plus-year career. "But we think we have a real chance to succeed. Maybe we'll bring in some jazz acts, too. We'll see how it goes."
Highlights of the fall calendar include Canadian songwriter Fred Eaglesmith on Oct. 27, country songwriting great Jim Lauderdale on Nov. 3, Linda Ronstadt cover band Ronstadt Revue on Dec. 1, and Englishman-turned-Philadelphian Wesley Stace on Dec. 8.
Frequent Tin Angel mainstays such as Jeffrey Gaines (Oct. 6), Francis Dunnery (Nov. 24) and Kenn Kweder with his Men From Wawa (Nov. 30) are also on the still-being-fleshed-out schedule.
"We're interested in presenting tried-and-true acts, but also casting the net wider," says McCoy of the room, which will have two bars, with food served at the downstairs restaurant. "Artist development was also a big part of both what the Tin Angel and the Point did."
The club, which is just down the street from Main Street Music, one of the city's few still thriving record stores, is called the Locks in a nod to Manayunk's history.
"Maybe the toughest thing in this business is naming a venue," says Kardon. It was through a system of locks that coal and other commercial and industrial materials were transported down the Schuylkill Canal, which runs parallel to Main Street, in the 1800s.
The new club's location is also an asset when it comes to luring acts, says Lundy. The Point books touring acts in suburban venues such as the Kennett Flash in Kennett Square and Steel City in Phoenixville, but many bands "want to be able to say they played Philadelphia," he says. "They want 'Philadelphia' to be on the back of the T-shirt. And Manayunk is in Philadelphia."
Philadelphians love to complain about parking, but the Locks partners are pleased with their venue's accessibility. There's an $8 (till midnight) parking lot across the street, and it's a short walk to a Septa station. And, hey, all you bike riding millennials living in Center City: It's a lovely six-mile ride along Kelly Drive to Sona.
When the Tin Angel closed, McCoy sad he was looking to upgrade to a room closer to 300 in capacity to lure larger acts. He and his partners are continuing to look for a room of that size even as the Locks prepares to open. Should he find it, the plan is to call that room the Tin Angel.
Having a venue that size would allow the team to bring in acts to the new Manayunk room, and then grow them to the larger space. "We're still very much in the hunt for a brick-and-mortar for Tin Angel," says McCoy. "That will allow us to attract bigger acts, rather than lose them."
"That remains to be seen, though," says Goldfarb cautiously. "We're going to make sure we do this one right first."