Manayunk’s newest concert venue provides a one-of-a-kind listening experience. By Leo Dillinger Photography by Alex Nahas Photography (alexanahas.com) & Matthew Loeberr
The current state of Philadelphia’s live music scene is a modern day David and Goliath story. While nationally known corporations are charging outrageous prices for arena-size shows, independent venues offer their guests an intimate, unique, and affordable concert experience.
One of those venues is The Locks at Sona, the collaborative endeavor from Donal McCoy and Larry Goldfarb of Tin Angel and Richard Kardon and Jesse Lundy of Point Entertainment. Since opening its doors in September 2018, this 110-capacity space located on the second floor of Sona Pub & Kitchen has entertained thousands of guests with a variety of musical acts hailing from all over the country.
“When Tin Angel was gone and this was not yet here, there was not an intimate, seated listening room in Philadelphia, which was bananas,” Jesse said. “We were putting shows into other rooms where the audience showed up and would say ‘Oh, there’s no seats?’ It really makes a difference.”
The Locks is by no means the team’s first rodeo. Richard and Jesse operated The Point in Bryn Mawr from 1998 to 2005 and still continue to bring in acts to other venues and community concert series all across the Greater Philadelphia area. Meanwhile, Larry had spent nearly 25 years booking shows at Tin Angel, even after Donal purchased the club in 2005, right up until it closed its doors in February 2017.
Both groups had never considered each other to be adversaries. In fact, they respected each other’s spaces and eventually found that working together gave them a much better shot at booking bigger names. After The Point closed, Richard and Jesse would occasionally bring in acts to Tin Angel, booking around 45 shows each year in the final years of the venue’s existence. It was this initial synergy that gave way to what would become The Locks at Sona.
In the years following the closures of The Point and Tin Angel, the guys searched all over for new locations to host their concept. After touring numerous buildings, Donal eventually discovered the second floor at Sona Pub and Kitchen, where his longtime friends and co-owners of the business were looking for a way to activate their unused space.
“I went and looked at it and I thought certain things needed to be changed aesthetically, not structurally, but in terms of sightlines and how the sound would flow,” Donal said. “Then I talked to Richard, Jesse, and Larry and said, ‘Hey, I think I have the space.’ The guys came up and we kicked around a few ideas. We spoke to the guys at Sona and they were very accommodating in terms of what we needed and how we needed the room to change.”
The four were in disbelief at how fast Sona turned the upstairs space around. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, they installed a Green Room for artists on the third floor, raised the stage and lighting, and cut out the sightlines so that guests could view the stage from any vantage point in the room.
Of course, any great venue should always have an incredible sound. The guys attribute much of that success to Barb Adams, their sound production superstar from Tin Angel. Not only did she design the whole system, she set up the entire thing overnight just in time for their soft opening last year.
Many aspects of The Locks make it a one-of-a-kind venue to see a show, but its accessibility to both downtown and the suburbs gives it an advantage in catering to two separate audiences.
“In the past, we had customers that wouldn’t want to deal with going into town and some people in town that didn’t want to go to Bryn Mawr, so this splits the difference and fills both needs,” Richard said. “It’s easy access from the Main Line and if you’re taking public transit or Ubering, it’s very close to the city.”
One benefit to having four people on their team is that it gives them the opportunity to bounce around ideas on what sort of acts to book. While most of the acts that come through The Locks fall under the singer-songwriter and Americana genres, they’ve explicitly stated that they never want to pigeonhole themselves to just one particular musical style. They are constantly open to new ideas like hosting book releases, comedy nights, and educational panels, so long as it makes mathematical sense or raises their reputation.
Looking back on the last year, some of their favorite acts they’ve brought to Manayunk include Citizen Cope, Jim Boggia (who played the final show at The Point back in 2005), Ben Vaughn (who played the final show at Tin Angel in 2017), and William Fitzsimmons.
“One of the things that makes my day is at the end of the show when you’re just hanging at the door, people come up to you and they say ‘Thank you’ and shake your hand,” Donal said. “That is golden right there. They don’t know who I am. Even when people take the time to write you a thank you email, it seems like such a small thing, but it means a lot.”
The team at the Locks has also recently partnered with Main Street Music to be their official box office. It’s a mutually beneficial and respected relationship where both parties share new favorite artists with one another and feed into Manayunk’s reputation as a destination for all things music.
“It’s great to be able to work within the community,” Jesse said. “There’s a lot of credibility to having what is essentially the only record store of its kind left in the city. There are other record stores, but they’re punk rock record stores. Not to denigrate their work, but it’s not our people. It’s great to have them right across the street.”
At The Locks, every night is different. But one thing remains constant: the caliber of talent is always going to be top-tier. Having been in the industry for so long, Donal, Jesse, Larry, and Richard have a sixth sense for scoping out the perfect acts for their venue. Even if you’ve never heard of them before, you can rest assured that you will never leave disappointed.
“Our ultimate goal is to be venue-driven as opposed to artist-driven,” Richard said. “Tin Angel was like this and The Point was like this and we’re still working towards this with The Locks. If you want to go out for the night, go to The Locks. It doesn’t matter who’s playing because it’ll be someone you know who you like or you’ll be turned on to somebody who’s high quality.”