When the bar and music venue Unplugged closed its doors, it was a reluctant shuttering.
“It was a tear-jerker,” co-owner Philip Johnson said.
There might be some more tears as people return to the business, located at 2605 Frederick Ave., starting at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 12. It will start with an open mic and continue with a fundraiser featuring Tyler Harman, Jillian Riscoe, Monday’s Child, Kindred and Beacons.
Co-owners Philip and Lynn Johnson said their business was hit hard by the shelter-in-place order in St. Joseph, then took another hit when it reopened and was staring down liquor licensing fees.
“We just decided we couldn’t continue,” Philip said.
There’s a solid chance that Unplugged would remain closed if it wasn’t for three important factors: A supportive landlord, a visionary manager with Danielle Manning and a vocal contingent of patrons willing to put their money where their mouth is.
“It was extremely sad to read all the messages and stuff when we closed. But the amount of messages that we’ve received since we announced that we’re reopening has just been — there’s been a few teary-eyed nights,” Manning said.
When the bar reopens, there will be some noticeable changes. For one, Jason Johnson, co-owner of the bar, will take a backseat as his parents, Philip and Lynn, take over operations and Manning returns as the manager. There also will be some missing decorations and empty spaces on the liquor shelves, as the reopening show will serve as a benefit to replenish the alcohol the bar sold off during its closing, as well as its operating costs.
“It’s just getting us back on our feet so we can set ourselves up for success and in the right direction,” Manning said.
Philip and Lynn said they intend to run the bar in the same way that they always appreciated, as a place of welcoming and friendship, which they consider a tribute to its roots as Cafe Acoustic, originally run by Lisa Hancock, Mary Robinett and the late Beth Downey.
“We try to make it possible to get to know people. You know, not pry too much into their lives, but just ask a few questions about who they are and actually tell them, ‘You’re welcome here. We’re glad you’re here. Please come back.’ And all that stuff. And I think people respond to that,” Lynn said.
Running the place, the couple said that it looks to continue to give new talent a place to play, as well as opening the stage to electric acts. Previously, Unplugged was true to its name and only allowed for acoustic acts to perform.
“The all-acoustic thing took off and that was OK. But there’s a lot of bands that won’t play here or maybe can only play an hour because they only have an hour’s worth of acoustic music. But if we let them play with electric guitars, they could play three hours,’” Lynn said.
It will be a learning process, all three said. But it will be a fun one. As people crowd the bar, take in the music and check out the food vendors, the owners hope people will be reminded that they were the ones that saved this.
“It’s been so sad to see the place as empty as it’s been. (To) have our people back in here, people that we know and love, and to have them be in here, loving being back in here, they’re gonna make us happy,” Lynn said.
The all-ages open mic is free and open to the public. The concert starting at 7 p.m. also is free, but open to people 21 and older. Donations will be accepted for both performances.