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.  

11 thoughts on “Kingston Music Scene Year in Review 2019

  • Wake up to the jazz scene in Kingston! You missed all the developments on Monday Jazz at Musiikki Cafe, the Helena Hannibal Jazz groups, the twentieth Century Jazz Band at Montes on Fridays, the Kingston Jazz Society’s jazz mini-fest “Autumn in KINGSTON” at Musiikki Cafe in which over 25 jazz artists performed on two weeks on Fridays in Kate September… Where you been?

    • Hi Tony,
      In this article we’ve attempted to cover new, unique musical events and news for the year. The Musiikki and Monte’s shows, to my understanding, carried on much the same as a variety of other residencies around town. I hadn’t heard of Autumn in Kingston – feel free to keep us apprised of new events either by messaging us on social media or emailing [email protected]

    • I’d say this is a good overview of some of what went on in 2019. The music scene in Kingston is one of the healthiest communities in Canada. I’m sure there’s other genres who could say the same claim asking for inclusion.

      Doesn’t seem like a deliberate attempt to pass over Jazz. shut down, there was no Canadian Acoustic Guitar Festival, Dani Lenny places in the top 3 at the Calgary Stampede for her fiddling talents, all in all … I found the article very informative. Thanks for the Jazz updates though.

  • Would like to see a more diverse recognition for the music in Kingston. It is always the same acts and genres getting recognized and it is quite tasteless to be honest. There is much more happening around the local music scene than this, but nobody seems to know they exist or perhaps it is just ignorance and they don’t care to go outside their comfort zone. Music happens in many more places than The Mansion and Ale House, just a thought.

    • A great point! We’ve covered a variety of music styles this year from classical to metal at venues like Musiikki, The Isabel, The Spire, BluMartini, Something Else Records …

      • I appreciate the reply. I can see you mentioned metal being included before in other articles which I suppose is fair. Just pointing out the music and acts mentioned here are the only ones I ever really see mentioned and could be classified in songwriters/bands in folk/rock/indie. If other genres were mentioned before in other articles, what was the reason behind not being included for the year end review?

        Jazz and fusion exist, metal and hard rock exist, rap and hip hop exist, grunge and punk exist but these always seem to be looked over and there’s arguably more talent in those genres too. The venues you listed above also have definitely not ever hosted the genres I mentioned with maybe the exception of jazz fusion.

        • Musiikki has definitely hosted jazz and hip hop, but yeah I don’t think you’ll see punk at The Isabel any time soon :)
          This article is more about the highlights of 2019, not a ‘state of the union’ of the music scene. I wanted to focus on new music, changes that affect musicians and fans (venues, stores, etc.), and big events. If there was new music or big happenings in the genres you mentioned, I simply wasn’t aware of them.

  • Nice article, Chris! You mentioned many of my favourites. I appreciate these updates and certainly enjoy Wednesday folk nights whenever I come hear you guys play! Your responses to comments are also thoughtful, and generous.

  • You seem to forget one of the biggest festivals, Limestone Bluesfest. Plenty of diversity. 50% – 3 of 6 headline acts were female along with visible minority representation. Confed Basin as well as club scene bands also.
    Wake up and recognize the Blues scene along with your lack of recognition of the jazz scene rather than dwell on what was lost.

    • Thanks, I’ve updated that paragraph to reflect the diversity offered by both Limestone City Blues Festival and Skeleton Park Arts Festival.

  • I’d like to see a resurface of the rock scene in Kingston , punk, rock and metal have kind of fallen by the wayside lately .

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