Kingston Music Scene Year in Review 2019

The Kingston music scene got a nice kickstart to 2019, as the Kingston Live podcast launched its first episode on January 1.  Since then, they have produced 13 episodes, covering a variety of musical genres, along with all the major festivals, and a healthy handful of non-performing people in the Kingston music scene. The podcast is sponsored by Tourism Kingston, and has provided a great resource for members of the music scene as a promotional outlet, and for fans of live music who want to learn about what’s happening in Kingston.

In another example of the local government putting some weight behind the Kingston music scene, the City of Kingston launched the YGK Music playlist in September in an effort to promote Kingston musicians both locally and abroad. Tourism Kingston, in addition to the podcast, has also put a strong online push spotlighting live music listings and artist spotlights on its website.

The City wasn’t the only government body contributing to the music scene. The federal government allowed organizers to stage the first-ever music festival inside the walls of Kingston Penitentiary, Rockin’ the Big House. It was a fundraiser for United Way, it sold out in just a few minutes, and featured The Headstones, Kasador, members of The Tragically Hip, along with Tom Cochrane, The Pursuit of Happiness, and The Trews.  

In other musician spotlights, the new YGK Emerging Musician Competition took place over the summer and highlighted six musicians in a showcase concert at The Isabel. Homegrown Live Music Festival, in its 11th year, turned out its biggest festival yet, with more than 450 musicians helping to raise over $14,000 for Joe’s MILL, just several days after the 20th anniversary of the passing of Joe Chithalen. In the fall, The Embassy Live Music Cafe released a fundraiser CD to not only raise money for its operating costs as a not-for-profit venue, but also a spotlight for the many artists that play there on Saturday nights.

Kingston gained one new music venue, The Social YGK, but lost SanTur Brewing Company and The Brooklyn. Brian’s Record Option re-opened after being closed for several months due to a flood. There were changes in the radio world as well, as 98.9 The Drive flipped formats to become Pure Country. Long & McQuade, Kingston’s largest music store, moved from the former Renaissance Music building to its current location around the corner on Princess Street east of Bayridge Drive. Jay Smith, aka Smitty Kingston, is now the manager of Limestone Music, and he’s added a variety of used and vintage gear that has been hard to find in town of late.

There was new music this year from Sarah Harmer, Kris & Dee, Tom Savage, Alexa Goldie, The Wilderness, Smitty Kingston, Infotourist, Emily Steele, Kasador, Kiss The Fish, Goldwing, Dan Taylor Band, No Guff, Deux Trois, Nick Babcock, The Enrights, Oakridge Ave, and of course, The Glorious Sons, who continued their streak of #1 singles and also produced what is believed to be the biggest concert in Kingston in 15 years. They attracted somewhere in the neighbourhood of 18,000 fans to Richardson Stadium. The last band to play that venue was The Tragically Hip in 1993. Glorious Sons guitarist Jay Emmons also got into the restaurant business — he’s a partner in Union Kitchen + Cocktails at the corner of Princess and Montreal Streets which opened in May. Oh, and The Glorious Sons opened for The Rolling Stones this summer — for the second time. 

Local favourite Miss Emily had some great news a few weeks ago: she was nominated for three Maple Blues Awards — Entertainer of the Year, New Artist of the Year, and Female Vocalist of the Year. She also had a whole bunch of merch stolen, but it was returned. The Wilderness frontman Jonas Lewis-Anthony had a guitar returned that had been stolen two years prior. And Spencer Evans had his clarinet stolen, and returned, twice

So what can we hope to look forward to in 2020? The most exciting news, to me, is that Sarah Harmer’s first album in 10 years will be out on February 21.

We’d certainly love to see more venues, especially ones that cater to original music. There are plenty of places to see cover bands or pub musicians like myself, but playing a full set of originals in many of these places can be tough to pull off. 

This is also a call for venues and festivals to ensure there is more diversity on Kingston stages. Between two of the biggest festivals in the city this year, YGK Craft Beer Fest and Rockin’ the Big House, there was one female musician and one visible minority. Skeleton Park Arts Festival and Limestone City Blues Festival, in particular, did well on this score, but there is still plenty of room for improvement all around.

Here at Kingstonist, we plead the case earlier this year for Kingston to assume the designation as the live music capital of Canada. We’d like to see Tourism Kingston and other municipal bodies really step up and ensure that when people think of Kingston, it’s not only history and prisons that come to mind, but also that it’s the best place in the country to be a musician and to see live music.  

Days on Front


  1. Tony Gifford December 30, 2019
    • Chris Morris December 30, 2019
    • Chris December 30, 2019
  2. A Local December 30, 2019
    • Chris Morris December 30, 2019
      • A local December 31, 2019
        • Chris Morris January 1, 2020
  3. Barbara Laing December 30, 2019
  4. Live music consumer December 31, 2019
    • Chris Morris December 31, 2019
  5. Hank December 31, 2019

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