In February, the open mic bar venue Unplugged celebrated its four-year anniversary with a giant benefit concert. It turned out to be one of its last celebrations.
Jason Johnson, co-owner of the open mic bar, which replaced Cafe Acoustic at its old location at 2605 Frederick Ave., announced financial difficulties have caused the bar to close down.
“We had been ahead of the game for where we should have been at five years and things were looking real good for the future before the shutdown. That just drained us,” he said.
Running the business, as well as performing in several bands, Johnson said the combination of the financial difficulties with the COVID-19 shutdown, as well as the uncertainty that another could happen, it was a storm of frustration he didn’t think the venue could handle.
“There were and still are plenty of friends and family and regulars and wonderful people in our community offering help. But it was more of a decision based on knowing that there’s so much uncertainty ahead of us that my family and I couldn’t begin to think about taking help if we couldn’t promise that we’d always be open,” he said.
After the decision was made to close, the bar was immediately shut down. Johnson said while the owner of the building is allowing them to still occupy the space, he immediately cleared it of all of its alcohol and musical instruments, signaling that there would be no goodbye celebration.
“The tables and chairs and barstools and everything that is an asset to Unplugged LL, it’s all still there. But we did close the doors for business and we are moving forward as if it were done. But you never know what the future brings,”he said.
The bar opened in 2014 as a replacement to the old Cafe Acoustic location, which moved to a bigger space down the road. Johnson opened it with the intentions of keeping it in an all-acoustic venue, with several open mic nights, including a Saturday all-ages matinee, throughout the week. It also was home to concerts from local and regional acts like Robb Sansonetti, Like Rabbits and Battleship Whiskey, as well as comedians like Randy Delp.
Johnson said in that short amount of time, he’s immensely proud of the relationships that were formed, music and art that was doled out at the location and the money generated for local organizations.
“My favorite part of running Unplugged was seeing the community that was developed there and how we really did fulfill our mission of creating an environment there of peace, love and and safety — being a safe place and a headquarters for music,” he said.
Johnson still will have a formidable presence in the local music scene, playing in bands like Kalani & The Mainlanders and Grindstone Creek. But it’s the part his staff and he played at Unplugged, along with the artists and patrons that he’ll miss.
“I would have loved to have retired with the place. But in the four and a half short years, we did accomplish every mission that we set out to do, except for the longevity part,” he said.
What will happen to the Unplugged property remains to be seen. Johnson said if the circumstances improve with the economy, COVID-19 infected numbers and public safety, he will explore the possibility of bringing it back. For right now, it’s too risky of a proposition on which he wants to gamble.
“The building owners have been very gracious. They don’t want to see it come to an end either. The future and the economy and all of that’s going to dictate over the next month whether or not we’re going to have another chance. But we’re not holding our breath,” he said.