Last Thursday night — with a whiff of protest in the air from Donald Trump’s presidential visit to Philly — soulful folkie Citizen Cope performed yet another sold out show at Old City’s intimate Tin Angel. “One of five sold out shows for Cope — a dear friend of mine,” exclaims Tin Angel booker Larry Goldfarb. “Every show last week and this week is sold out; in minutes yet. Amazing.”
These sell outs are bittersweet affairs though to Cope (“This was the first venue in Philly where I had a warm response”), Goldfarb (who’s been at Tin Angel since its start 24-years-ago) and Donal McCoy, the Northern Ireland-born bartender who bought the 115-seat venue and its downstairs Serrano restaurant in 2005. After the last gig with quirky, one-time local rocker Ben Vaughnon Feb. 4, the Tin Angel in Old City will be no more as McCoy sold the two-story space to partners behind Northeast Philly’s El Balconcito with the intention of opening a Peruvian/Portuguese restaurant.
McCoy owns the bar-and-burger joint Sassafras on the same South Second Street block, so it’s not as if he’s abandoning Old City. “Tin Angel is gorgeous and we made it sound great thanks to the late George Pierson and Barb Adams, but it’s an 8-by-9-foot stage and only holds 115 people,” says McCoy, pragmatically. “I’m not killing Tin Angel. I’m looking to make it bigger without losing its small room intimacy and vibe.” With that, McCoy claims he has a location picked-out and ready-to-roar for Tin Angel 2.0. “Just slightly north of here. I’m sure I’ll open before 2017 ends,” he says.
Vibe is crucial to Tin Angel in the opinion of McCoy and the likes of Citizen Cope, who played larger-sized venues in Philly before landing at the Old City acoustic salon. “There is warmth here; it’s in the walls,” said Cope. Vibe is what McCoy and Goldfarb hope is a moveable feast, when this room closes and the next, roomier Tin Angel opens with the ability to go after “larger acts” while still “nurturing the locals,” according to McCoy.
Still, there is much to reminisce about when it comes to the 24-year-old legend of Tin Angel. The list of musical icons who graced its stage is long — living (Donovan, Robyn Hitchcock, Joe Ely) and deceased (Mose Allison, LaVern Baker, Jeff Buckley, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Laura Nyro, Kirsty MacColl and Richie Havens, whose face is painted onto its walls), and Goldfarb favorite Gil Scott-Heron. “I have a long history with Gil, going back to when I booked the Academy of Music, so I knew that he liked t get lost on Lehigh Avenue. The last time Gil did the Angel, we had to sweat it out as we didn’t hear from him at all. Yet, there he was two minutes-to-show time, hits the stage — better than ever.”
Goldfarb is an effortlessly intense storyteller who has tales of booking legends such as Nina Simone in to the old Chestnut Cabaret and Charles Mingus into the Walnut Street Theatre in the 1970s. “It’s been a long cool trip, and we’re still here, man.” Goldfarb though is equally reverential when discussing new-school folk acts he introduced to Tin Angel devotees (Patty Griffin, Steve Forbert, Valerie June) as well as locals like G. Love, Ben Arnold, John Legend, Melody Gardot and Amos Lee, all of whom hit the tiny Tin stage early in their careers.
“Once the Tin is gone, Philadelphia, the country’s fifth largest market, will no longer have an intimate, seated listening room — one where local can develop,” said Jesse Lundy, the Point Entertainment booker who, with holy folkie John Francis, hosts an evening of all-local talent at Tin Angel on Jan. 31. “Our event came out of my saying to Larry Goldfarb, ‘I’m sure you could do a few nights of shows with all the local/regional musicians who’d want to play the stage one more time.’ So he said, ‘Put it together.’ So we did.”
Whether it’s local, national or international acts, Donal McCoy is indeed bittersweet about leaving his Tin Angel in Old City behind. “Larry and I have pulled our collective hair out many times upstairs, and we’ve had lots of laughs, too,” said McCoy. “You can hear the music in these walls. Going forward, we just need bigger walls so that the acts make money and we can keep going. This Tin Angel was a little room that could. We can still be that. But I am going to miss this place something serious.”