After a two-year hiatus, the Kingston Buskers Rendezvous is back this weekend, July 7-10, bringing jugglers, magicians, clowns, acrobats, musicians, and more to downtown Kingston for the annual four-day event. This year’s festival, the 32nd edition, features over a dozen acts, with performers from as far away as Australia making the trek to Kingston.
The event, which started in 1988 as a supplement to the annual downtown sidewalk sale, has become one of Kingston’s biggest summer festivals. After COVID-19 forced the Downtown BIA to cancel the Rendezvous in 2020 and 2021, organizers have returned with an event that features some familiar faces, as well as a few new names.
One act Kingston audiences will recognize from previous festivals is Toronto’s Mike Johns, whose Mighty Mike strongman show has dazzled local crowds at several previous editions of the festival. “Kingston is special because there’s a history to the festival, and audiences have seen some of the best,” says Johns, in a press release issued by the event’s organizers.
Johns, who bills himself as an old-time strongman, says performers appreciate crowds like the ones expected in Kingston. “[As artists], we push ourselves, because we know the crowd will respect the effort it takes to make a show work on the street. We feel that respect and give our very best.”
Australia’s Alakazam is another familiar face returning for this year’s event, as he brings his new Tennis the Menace show to the Limestone City for the first time. Alakazam’s performance features “daredevil tennis stunts, electrifying contortion, and juggling tricks,” in what the festival guide describes as “John McEnroe meets Machine Gun Kelly.”
Alakazam, also known as Al Miller, has performed in over 38 countries, winning numerous awards and accolades along the way. The Australian took home the People’s Choice Award in Kingston back in 2000.
Another Australian artist making a return to Kingston is Hannah Cryle, who will perform her Big Wheel Show for the second time at the local festival. Cryle’s act features a German Wheel nicknamed “Cornelius,” with the performer “contorting herself through rings, spinning hoops, and rolling through the wheel.” This year’s festival marks Cryle’s second visit to Kingston; the artist made her debut at the 2018 Rendezvous.
If it’s impressive juggling you’re after, audiences will be delighted by Ontario’s Kobbler Jay, who “uses his seasoned arsenal of juggling tricks, fire manipulation, and fresh wit to captivate, delight, and charm audiences of any age.”
This year’s festival also features some new acts who will delight Kingston audiences for the very first time. One entertainer making their Kingston Buskers debut this weekend is magician Lukas Stark, who “has been performing magic for so long, he can’t remember exactly when he got started.”
“Inspired by the legendary magicians and everything from philosophical literature to psychology textbooks to sci-fi movies, [Stark] engages his audiences with a thought-provoking and often startling blend of mentalism, suggestion, and sleight of hand.”
While the circus performers will likely generate the biggest crowds of the weekend, the BIA has also lined up several musicians and other artists, such as Toronto-based musical duo The Listros, and Nova Scotia chalk artist Chalkmaster Dave. A complete listing of this year’s performers can be found on the Downtown Kingston website.
The 2022 Kingston Buskers Rendezvous officially gets under way Thursday morning at Confederation Basin, with Busker Play running from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. each day through Saturday. Daytime performances will take place on Princess Street Thursday to Saturday from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., with artists performing at various times throughout the day.
This year’s festival also features a number of special events, with the always popular Fire Show taking place at The Hub (Princess Street between Division and Barrie) on Saturday night at 10 p.m. Organizers have also set up a new event this year, with Kingston’s inaugural Chalk Walk taking place on Saturday, as participants compete in a sidewalk art competition around the Delta Hotel on Johnson Street.
The 2022 Kingston Buskers Rendezvous officially comes to a close on Sunday evening with the Grand Finale, set for Confederation Basin at 6 p.m. Sunday’s finale features some of the best acts from the festival, after which the People’s Choice Award winner will be announced.
Ontario Street will be closed between Brock and Johnson Streets on all four days to accommodate performers in front of Kingston City Hall and throughout Confederation Park. On Thursday and Friday, the street closure runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.; on Saturday from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m., and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission to the festival is free of charge; however, organizers emphasize that buskers make money by “passing the hat,” inviting audiences to determine how much the performance was worth.
Jan MacDonald, Director of Events with the Downtown Kingston BIA and the festival’s long-standing Artistic Director, has witnessed first-hand how supportive and appreciative Kingston audiences are. “A successful street performance relies heavily on audience engagement and participation,” says MacDonald. “Luckily, our audiences know the assignment.”