To say that Kingstonians have missed their live music scene might be the understatement of the pandemic.
A very large part of the local social scene, and a major employer of a good segment of Kingston’s populations, the loss of live music due to the COVID-19 pandemic had a massive impact on the community in a number of ways.
But for those just itching to take in a live performance – and those aching to get back on the stage and perform – one of Kingston’s most beloved music festivals is returning, and the news of this has live music lovers on both sides of the stage/audience line athirst for what’s to come.
Now in its 12th year – and with all proceeds going to support the very place that fosters the passion of Kingston’s musicians, the Joe Chithalen Memorial Musical Lending Library (Joe’s M.I.L.L.) – Homegrown Live Music Festival is back! And, while it won’t take its usual form of filling the vast majority of the city’s live music venues with acts and audiences, Homegrown is promising a virtual performance all of its own. And it won’t be your standard single performer streaming live from their living room.
Homegrown Live 2021 will be a virtual festival, streaming live to Facebook and YouTube. That part is obvious. But what makes it more “Homegrown-ish,” in the words of Festival Coordinator, Chris Morris, is the festival will be streamed live from Roswell Rehearsals and The Hotel on Wolfe Island (formerly the General Wolfe Hotel).
It’s been just over two years since organizers were forced to postpone the 2020 Homegrown Live Music Festival due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The festival normally takes place on the first Saturday in May, however, planning for this year’s virtual installment of Homegrown meant keeping an eye on provincial restrictions in order to plan something worthy of running under the Homegrown Live banner.
“We’re really excited to offer something. Obviously, we all really want to do Homegrown the way we did the previous 11 times, but that’s not going to happen this year, it seems,” Morris said.
“We talked last spring about a virtual festival, and wondered if we could have the usual 100 acts performing in one day, but weren’t really enthusiastic about the logistics of that, along with quality issues. What really got us focused on this format was seeing a couple of really high-quality streams that Roswell Rehearsals was doing. Multiple cameras, lights, pro audio,” he continued.
“But, of course, we couldn’t just do one stream, so we partnered with Kingston Soundworks, who have been a huge supporter of Homegrown Live from the beginning, and The Hotel on Wolfe Island (formerly the General Wolfe Inn) to use it as our second venue. So, we’ll switch between the two, and I think that still kind of captures the Homegrown spirit.”
Taking on a new format has presented its own set of potholes and roadkill to avoid on the road to this year’s festival, but with the right partners in place, it’s been a fun and interesting ride, Morris expressed.
“There’s been a lot of learning and discarding ideas and adding new ones. We’ve had to work together differently as a board because we’ve pretty much always followed a tried and true formula,” he said.
“The way that we’re doing this, technically, is new to all of us. Again, we wanted to do something Homegrown-ish and not just one show in one place, so Roswell and Sound Works have worked really hard to find a way to run two shows on one system.”
The result is a festival offering six of Kingston’s hottest bands and artists, all of whom help create the genre-bending variety Homegrown Live has come to be known for. The schedule (subject to change) is as follows for Saturday, Jul. 10, 2021:
“We’re really excited about it. We actually reached out to all of our volunteer venue coordinators from 2020 and asked them for two or three picks from who they had intended to schedule for that festival. Then we whittled that long list down to a short list to make sure that we had a bit of representation from some different genres,” Morris explained of this year’s lineup.
“It’s super hard to go from 100 to six, but that’s what we had to work with. Most of these artists have played Homegrown Live several times.”
And that last part means that these artists are familiar with the spirit of the festival and what it’s all about – other than enjoying and supporting local live music.
Since 2008, Homegrown Live has raised over $100,000 for Joe’s M.I.L.L., a registered charity named in honour of legendary Kingston bassist, Joe Chithalen, which loans out musical instruments, free of charge, to local musicians and aspiring talents – all in tribute to Chithalen’s love and passion for music, and allowing others to enjoy it the way he did. According to the M.I.L.L., approximately 6,000 loans were issued in the past year alone from an inventory of over 1,000 instruments, more than 200 of which were signed out to students enrolled in school music programs, camps, and community groups in the Kingston area.
“This pandemic has been tough on the music scene, and but also on charities,’” said Terry Snider, president of Joe’s M.I.L.L. “We’ve seen a high amount of interest in people borrowing instruments, but we still need to be able to maintain those instruments and keep our library running.”
“The Homegrown Festival has been a major supporter of Joe’s M.I.L.L., and we are delighted that the virtual festival is happening after the 2020 festival was postponed. Big kudos to organizers for finding a way to make the festival happen in these difficult times,” continued Tim Aylesworth, Library Coordinator at the M.I.L.L.
“This event is a major fundraiser for Joe’s M.I.L.L., and we rely on donations to keep our doors and open so we can keep sharing the gift of music. Every donation helps!”
Aylesworth went on to speak to the larger picture that is starting to come back into colour when it comes to Kingston’s live music scene and the M.I.L.L.
“I feel like the return of live music, the timing of the Homegrown festival and our imminent reopening in Step 3 are huge steps in a ‘return to normal’ for Joe’s M.I.L.L.,” he expressed.
“We have been ‘paused’ for a long time and it will be great to get back to supporting music in our community. Thank you to our community for your continued support of Joe’s M.I.L.L.!”
Homegrown Live is made possible thanks to the generous support of Kingston Sound Works, HC Concepts, CFRC 101.9 FM, Amherst Island Radio, Kingstonist, Team Ambrose from Royal Lepage ProAlliance Realty, and Skeleton Park Brewery.
Editorial note: Kingstonist is a sponsor and supporter of Homegrown Live Music Festival.