Club Sonar In Baltimore Is Shut Down

UPDATE: It appears Sonar is going to re-open and both Maryland Deathfest and the sold out Deftones shows will still be happening there and go on according to plan. What a PR nightmare and awful mess. I’m glad Sonar is still open but I have a feeling the next time I go there it will feel a bit different.


MAJOR UPDATE: Sonar is apparently reopening, or at least trying to. It appears they won’t be able to get a liquor license for about two weeks. It has been announced that the Deftones will definitely be playing in Baltimore, though the venue is still to be determined. As of this update, Friday the 6th around 7:30pm, Maryland Deathfest has not announced where it is moving. It may stay at Sonar or it may move to Bourbon Street, or another venue. They have been given the go ahead by Bourbon Street, but their management is waiting for a final decision by the guys at MDF. The two posts (here and here) on Sonar’s Facebook page that say the venue will be re-opening read:

Today was a good one. I think Sonar will be able to open within 2 weeks and many if not of the all of shows scheduled from that point on should be able to occur as originally planned. Its definitely a fight but we are still in it! Sorry I have not been online more but I’m running my ass off to try and fix this!

Hey everybody we are working as hard as possible over here! We don’t want to post any information until we know that it is 100% accurate. Please bear with us and keep checking our posts for the most up to date info. We appreciate your patience and support!


Today is a sad day for not just the metal scene but also the greater music scene in Baltimore. The popular concert venue Sonar is shutting down, immediately. They posted this on their Facebook page today:

We here at Sonar regret to inform you that we are no longer able to operate as a venue. Mr. Lonnie Fisher, corporate owner of Sonar, has shut the building down. He has refused to renew the liquor license and the corporate charter for 407 Saratoga Inc. All of the money in our account went into paying our taxes with the promise of the license being renewed and transferred to the new owners.

Which was followed by this statement, the closest thing I’ve seen to something about concert refunds:

Now that we do not have a license and can not obtain one, Lonnie Fisher has given us no means to continue. It is with great despair and frustration that we must announce this to all of our friends, employees, and customers, but we have been given absolutely no choice. If you are owed money by 407 Saratoga Inc, we will do everything in our power to help you recover it.

Not good news at all! The first thing that went through my head was, what about Maryland Deathfest IX which is scheduled to be at Sonar from Thursday May 26th through Sunday May 29th? They had just announced the set times for the running order this morning. Turns out that the guys at MDF have a backup plan in effect, and shortly after Sonar’s announcement they posted this:

Yes, we know about Sonar. It was just brought to our attention. Please DO NOT panic. The festival will still go on as planned. If Sonar does not end up working, we already have a alternative site in the same area that would have a similar set up, so you do not need to worry, and you do not need to consider changing plans. More info about this is expected to be posted on Friday.

They later posted this statement, with a bit more info:

In just a few hours, we’ve managed to get some positive news regarding a new fest location. Everything should be wrapped up in the next couple of days. If the plan stays as is, you will not need to change your hotel plans, etc.

A bit ambiguous but I think it means they’re trying to move it to Bourbon Street, which is about one block away from Sonar. Bourbon Street has even been holding a few metal shows, you may remember I saw Cradle Of Filth there as part of my Metal Marathon in March (my recap of that is here) and they’ve also got concerts for Danzig and Joey Belladonna and Destruction on their schedule currently. I’ll be sure to update this post when the new venue has been confirmed, apparently on Friday.

UPDATE: Maryland Deathfest has issued another statement on their Facebook page here which reads:

Thank you for your patience while we sort through this mess. We’re doing everything in our power to deliver another memorable MDF, and in 3 1/2 weeks, the party will commence. As of now, we expect to post new venue information either tomorrow night (Thursday), or on Friday.

UPDATE: Maryland Deathfest has posted another update here at around 11:15am Thursday May 5th which reads:

We have a meeting tonight that should clear up a lot regarding the new fest site. We’ll most likely be updating you on the new location tonight or tomorrow morning. Don’t panic, and don’t freak out about your hotel reservations. The location change will not be a huge difference at all.

Around 10am May 6th the Maryland Deathfest Facebook page posted this:

OK, so here it the latest. We have a couple of options on the table now for a venue, and we need to sort through the details today before deciding on one of them. Long story short, we aren’t in a position to lose money by moving the fest, so please be patient a bit longer. In either scenario, it will be downtown, and your hotel reservations do not need to be changed.

I have no idea what is going to happen to other upcoming Sonar concerts, including the two already sold out dates the Deftones were scheduled to play on the 16th and 17th of May. Hopefully there will be a venue change for that as well, but I haven’t seen anything yet. (Sonar is apparently working on it, according to their post here). If you’re a promoter for any of the upcoming concerts at Sonar, the Charm City Arts Space has posted this on their Twitter account:

We’re sad to hear that @Sonar_Baltimore has been shut down. Sonar promoters, send us an email charmcityartspace@gmail.com.

If you’d just like to troll the Lonnie Fisher guy, the good folks at Maryland Deathfest have posted some private contact info of his here (taken down but a screen shot is here) and he apparently has a Facebook profile here.

RIP Sonar, I’m going to miss you. Hopefully something else awesome, that also books metal concerts of course, will move in there but who knows.

If you’d like updates on where all the non-metal concerts are being moved to, check out ShowlistDC.com for up to the minute updates on those concerts, as I will only be tracking the metal concerts and Deathfest here on DCHeavyMetal.com

UPDATE: Sonar posted this on their Twitter page about tonight’s Talib Kweli concert:

BALTIMORE: TONIGHT’S TALIB KWELI SHOW HAS BEEN MOVED TO BOURBON STREET http://www.bourbonstreetbaltimore.com PLEASE RT

UPDATE: Sonar has posted another venue change, this time for the Across Tundras, The Pilgrim, Putrid Servant, Legion Lost and Admiral Browning concert on Saturday 21 May has been moved to Hexagon as stated on their Twitter feed here.


UPDATE: OK there’s a lot to update here… First, the Baltimore Business Journal has an interesting article with some of the background on who owns the club, which you can read here. There is also an article on the Baltimore Sun’s site with more details here. In these articles there seems to be a lot of confusion as to who owes money for the liquor license, is it Lonnie Fisher, or is it Daniel McIntosh who is responsible for getting Sonar closed? I’m really not sure myself. A little before 10am Thursday May 5th, Sonar made a new post on their Facebook page here which reads:

We are trying to do all we can for the shows and the customers but Owner Lonnie Fisher was well aware of what was going on and he demanded that all the taxes where paid and then did not renew the business or the liquor license. With hope of getting out of any responsibilities Lonnie has caused everyone involved to suffer needlessly.

It starts getting interesting in the comments though, where the person running the site, allegedly Daniel McIntosh, starts posting comments on this same post and is debating people’s comments. The following are all comments on the above post by Sonar in the order they were made:

i am just trying to get out there what happened in hope that someone can make him do the right thing. LONNIE HAS THE POWER TO STOP THIS NOW! lonnie please stop this look at what is happening to all these people!

above is an email from lonnie to a lawyer please notice the date and notice that is an owner giving a lawyer direction

There was no “email” posted above, though there is what appears to be a copy/paste job of it a few comments later.

and just to be clear we would do whatever it took to stop this madness. will Lonnie? and that is what it takes.

Subject: Liquor License

Eric

This email is to inform you that I would like you to represent 407 Saratoga
…Inc in ongoing matters pertaining to the continued operation of the
business, with regards to the Liquor Board, Stage agencies, etc…

Lonnie

this happened on 9/14/10

The only one running is Lonnie Fisher I Daniel McIntosh am one of the owners. I too will be paying back all this money that people have had in my opinion STOLEN from them. By a very dishonest business move by Sonar and as a direct result of what lonnie did and did not do.

they aren’t what they seem it is a very complex situation

it should be clear that we (all of the owners are responsible to some degree. But Lonnie Fisher is the only one that can stop it!

even if all the other partners sucked he still had the power to do this in a differently

no he is not foreign, lived in Bmore his whole life

This next comment is the first thing I’ve seen that seems it might be positive, a hint that there is a possibility that Sonar could re-open:

we are working on the deftones and have not at all given up hope of figuring all this out

I want to point out the we are not removing any comments everyone has a right to be heard. Other people should do the same

UPDATE: The Hate Eternal, Origin, Vital Remains and Abysmal Dawn show scheduled to be at Sonar on Monday 11 July has been moved to the Ottobar.


Well if you wanted to hear Lonnie’s side of the story, this appears to be it. Apparently this was written to a Baltimore promoter but DCHeavyMetal.com reader James Byrne saw it posted on the Maryland Deathfest message board here and alerted me to it. It’s a long one but a really interesting read and if it’s true, the guys running Sonar should be ashamed of themselves.

I, Lonnie Fisher, am writing this statement to inform any interested parties of the true course of events that have led to Sonar’s decision to close its doors. As many in the music industry and many in the Baltimore area know, I co-founded Sonar in 2000 at a small spot in Canton, then moved the business to 407 East Saratoga Street, with the dream of creating Baltimore’s most vibrant and vital music venue. As fate would have it, although the dream was a great one, the reality of business was such that from the day those doors opened, that business was a continuous stream of lost revenue, headache, and heartache. By mid 2003, the business had to take on an outside investor, and everyone’s interest in the company (shares) were diluted. I retained 51% ownership through this period. By 2005, this investor had lost such an exorbitant amount of money that his wife finally said enough. The business was still losing money almost every single month, so we took on another investor who believed in the dream enough to pick up the torch and carry it: Daniel McIntosh, owner of the then Talking Head club. He began a string of investments in the club which almost quarterly saved the business from going out of business. With every new investment came a new dilution, and by 2007, I was no longer a majority shareholder in the company. I remember vividly the board meeting in which Dan stated that to continue investing in Sonar, he had to be the majority shareholder. By the time January 2009 rolled around, a date that will have significance later, I was down to 18%. However, important events in the business history occurred 1.5 years before then.

In April 2007, I was offered a “day job” with a commercial development company, which I started on June 1, 2007. I announced to my beloved Sonar staff and friends that I was out of the business and everyone who knew the music industry in Baltimore in those days knew that to be the case. Owner and founder of Sonar leaves = BIG BALTIMORE NEWS. Within the week of taking the job, Dan and I walked over to Sonar’s bank, and I signed every single bank account over to him. From that date on, Sonar was fully under the control and direction of Daniel McIntosh. Since May 2007, I have not had one iota of involvement, let alone control, of one single aspect of Sonar’s business or its business decisions. I sent all remaining partners notice that I was resigning the presidency, my seat on the board of directors, and all responsibilities in the company.

Fast forward to late 2008. After a period of time in which I was showing leniency and a lack of urgency to get my name fully out of the business I no longer interested in and had a very small share in, I realized I had to finalize this era of my life and move on. Dan and I agreed that he would buy my final shares (18% of the company), and he made two payments to complete that transaction, one on December 16, 2008, then the final payment on January 21, 2009. I quote from the contract “On Wednesday December 16, 2008, Lonnie Fisher agrees to sell Dan McIntosh his remaining shares in 407 Saratoga Inc” and further on “On Wednesday January 21, 209, the balance ….was paid in full”. Signed of course, by both parties and two witnesses.

As of that date, I was out, officially. The last pieces of the puzzle were to get my name off of the corporate charter, and to transfer the liquor license into someone else’s name, which unfortunately for me, I would find out, would require a lot of cooperation from Dan. To sum it up, he has refused to live up to his responsibilities to get me off the license. For 2.5 years, I have been imploring, pleading, sometimes threatening the business to complete its list of requirements to make that happen. Year after year, Dan has refused to complete the process.

I should explain how this works. All of this comes to a head annually in the months of March and April, which is when anyone holding a Baltimore City liquor license has to renew it. In order to renew it the holder of the license has to sign the form, but more than that, the majority shareholder of the company CANNOT CHANGE, or the license is no longer valid. In March of 2009, to put it plainly, I should not have signed the form because not only had majority ownership changed, I simply didn’t own even one share of the company anymore. I signed it because Dan and the other Sonar owners asked for a brief period of time to get their affairs in order, find someone to take the license, and do what they were supposed to do. He also gave me an iPad (full disclosure). I couldn’t bring myself to shut them down, and I also still felt an attachment emotionally to the thing I created for this city. I didn’t want to be the nail in the coffin, and I had faith that they would do what they needed to do right after the renewal as they promised. They didn’t.

2009 progressed and I continued to implore Dan to get me off the license. By then the transfer had been approved for the person to take the license, but in order for that piece of paper with my name on it to be torn up, and a new piece of paper printed with the new license holder, Dan had to do three basic things: Get the taxes up to date, complete a very minor checklist of business documents, and get the property re-inspected. He would do none of it. We had knock down drag out arguments about it. I would threaten to simply nullify the license, he would somehow talk me out of it, and convince me that he would do what he needed to do after this show or that show, or this month or that month.

2009 dragged into 2010. Again March was looming, and again we’re faced with the same form that needs to be signed. I told Dan I wasn’t signing, but then found out the business had a tax liability of at least $50,000.00! And guess who the state could collect from if Dan walked away… me. Not that they couldn’t try to collect from everyone involved, but I had no idea what could happen. So, I signed again. This time with a demand that if he didn’t get me off the license by June, I really was cancelling it. June was significant, because for two years now he promised that after “Deathfest”, he’d be bursting out of the seams with cash and could pay for any repairs, licenses, etc… Deathfest happened that May. Two weeks later, Dan hadn’t even picked up the phone to call me! At this point, I hired a lawyer to try to force some action.

The attorney put Dan on notice of what needed to be done. I offered to help in every way I could. I even told Dan I’d come fix something myself in the building if I had to. He responded to none of it. Finally I had no choice, I told him on a certain date, we were nullifying the license. Literally on the day before we were going to do it, we got a communication from an attorney he had retained. “Don’t do it, we’re going to work it out”. We wrestled with this attorney for several weeks, and we finally got THEM to produce a timeline. They stated that this document would be done by this date, this inspection would happen on this date, this tax would be paid on this date, etc… Note: This was THEIR timeline, and trust me, it wasn’t short. If I asked you to guess how many things on the checklist they completed, I bet you could guess by now: NONE. Literally, not one. Not even the most simple one page document could they produce.

So we again threatened a shut down. Then all of the sudden the ORIGINAL money guy showed back up on the scene, claiming he had assigned someone to deal with this and promised action. I actually had faith it would occur since this guy was a corporate type of guy, and had no involvement in the music scene to speak of. Well, once again, nothing happened. Now it was 2011. Due to me getting busy with other things, I just kind of let it slide, and then Dan approached me pre-March to ask me to sign the form once again. All this time, he was telling me how Sonar was getting on a path to profitability and the corner was turning, and things were going to be rosy in 2011. I wanted to believe. All this time, I never held him any malice, and Sonar was still the entity I created for this city. I told him I’d sign, one last time, but this really was the time he’d have to put up, or shut down… He gave me an iPad2.

Here is where our story takes an unfortunate turn. In mid March I was questioned by the IRS about my involvement with Sonar. How or why this came to be is not for this discussion, nor is the nature of that questioning anyone’s business but mine. Suffice it to say, that the gig was up. They were aware that I had turned the finances of the business over to Dan in 2007, and they were aware that I no longer held any stock in the company whatsoever, let alone a controlling interest. If I had any intention of helping Sonar stay in business one more time, it was now an impossibility. This is the FEDS people… no F***IN joke! My choice was clear: Sign the form and be at risk for fines and jail time from an agency that already told me they had my number, or not sign. The ultimatum I was given by Sonar: Break the law for us, or we’re going to go to war with you. Not really much of a choice in the end.

Now we come to the current unpleasantness. Due to the inability to face their own incompetence, Sonar’s majority owner Dan McIntosh, and his staff, have gone on a full court press to slander my name, distort the truth, and otherwise harass me by any means they can. I truly feel bad for all of the bands, patrons, and fans who are being misled, whose shows are now being cancelled, and who are otherwise being confused by this ridiculous ruse. The simple truth is, HE is the one to blame for the mess he’s in. I have had a 24 year career in music and everyone who has ever known me knows exactly what an honorable and even courageous life I’ve led in the music industry toward both the patrons and the people in the business. Everyone in Baltimore knows the difference in our professionalism.

Just one example, one rumor they are circulating about me, is that I have stolen the ticket money for the upcoming shows, and thus they cannot give people refunds. I haven’t had access to a penny of Sonar’s money since June of 2007. 2007! If you have a ticket to a Sonar show, you’re a band that is now not getting paid, or a promoter whose show isn’t going to happen, the truth is, Sonar’s current owner has spent your ticket money on expenses of the business. This is why they started their own ticket company, so they could spend your ticket money as it came in and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, Sonar’s operators are still in a phase of their lives where they think all the rules of the world should bend to their needs, simply because they own a music venue. Well there’s a way to do it right, and there’s a way to do it wrong; and the way they are doing it is wrong.

And by the way, I’ve mailed Dan’s iPad back.

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