Music

All Canadian music fans can trace some of their favourite acts back to the Limestone City. For local band Enrights, that history starts with a case of beer two years ago.  

After their respective earlier bands shared a stage, Enrights guitarist Andrew Wright and frontman Jack McAvoy split some drinks and planned their next project—a high-energy indie act dedicated to their Canadian music heroes. Both students, they holed up in a free recording space over Reading Week, writing their first EP in “a couple of days” with no producer or label. The result was their first release, Dad Beers Vol. 1.

The record is a love letter to student life, filled with beer-soaked, party-ready indie rock tunes. Their next EP, Six Pack, followed later that year and the band’s voice came into sharper focus—heartfelt tracks crammed with references to local geography and real-life relationships.

Photo via Enrights Facebook


It’s a familiar story in Kingston’s music scene, where national acts often start with little more than a DIY attitude and some free time from school or work. For this city, catching a band like Enrights at local establishments like The Toucan or The Mansion is a bet on the future of country’s music scene.

For McAvoy, Kingston music fans’ support has been vital for the band. The city’s small enough for a community to form and nurture new artists, connecting the live acts and the promoters that make the city the home of Canadian music.

In the Enrights case, that support helped them share a stage with The Sam Roberts Band, Theory of a Deadman and The Trews within a couple of years of forming.

“Someone one will ask a local band to play a show and that local band can’t play it. They’ll say, ‘check out the Enrights; they’re good guys,’” McAvoy said.

Photo via Enrights Facebook

The band’s early success as a live act is a direct result of their bubbly energy on stage, channelling the spirit and improvised dance moves of a house party into the crowd-pleasing indie on their records. Since releasing their debut full-length album, Marathon, the band’s set their sights on expanding their fanbase, planning to tour Ontario on their way to releasing their sophomore LP.

Benefitting from a longer production timeline, their debut album is a more mature offering that retains the husky vocal delivery of earlier efforts while adding eye-watering harmonies. Lyrically, the beer and house parties of past records have taken a backseat to a newfound vulnerability. Album standouts like “Marathon” and “Dancing in the Rain” mine personal relationships for a relatable, surprisingly confessional record.


For a band raised on Canadian rock, it’s another step toward joining their influences on stages across the country. While other acts might only appear in Toronto or Vancouver, Wright said “We’re just surrounded by [Canadian music] … you can see your favourite bands for 10 or 15 bucks. That’s a treat.”

On that front, Kingston has built a reputation for a reason. Churning out great live acts is one thing, but all of them playing within a few blocks of each other is another. For Wright, following Gord Downie passing away—and more of the city’s musicians gaining traction—the musical hub is getting more attention.

With another album on the way and shows lined up for the summer, Enrights are just one of the acts building on the town’s legacy.

“We’ve gotten so lucky with the Kingston music scene,” McAvoy said.

Catch Enrights opening for Buckcherry at Alehouse on July 9.

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Music

While Kingston is arguably the best city in Canada for live music year-round, in the summertime, Kingston plays host to a multitude of world-class live music festivals that draw people from across the province – and even across the border – out to celebrate the season. From jazz and blues to buskers and beer, if you’re into live music, summer in Kingston is the perfect time to catch some of the best music festivals and live performances in Canada.

In fact, there’s so many great summer music festivals in Kingston that it’s challenging to take them all in. So, we’ve created a special edition of the Kingston Live podcast as your audible guide! Hosts John and Riley talk to the organizers behind Kingston’s hottest summer music festivals, who share all the exciting details on the plans and performances for the 2019 season, including a sneak preview of the sold-out Rockin’ the Big House concert in the historic Kingston Penitentiary.

Subscribe to the Kingston Live podcast on Soundcloud, Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, TuneIn or Stitcher.



YGK Craft Beer Fest


June 8, 2019 // Fort Henry

Live music and craft beers meet historic Fort Henry at YGK Craft Beer Fest, Kingston’s premier summer beer festival. Doubling as the after party for Fort Henry’s Cannonball Crush Obstacle Race, YGK Craft Beer Fest is a perfect spot to relax and enjoy a refreshing drink on the hill. Not that much of a beer drinker? There’s sure to be something to fit your tastes, too.

“We’ve got over 20 beer and cider vendors, and they also throw in some fun spirits and stuff too,” says Jamie Oomen, the Events and Operations Coordinator for the festival. “Then we have gourmet food trucks, artisan vendors, and we’re going to have some games.”

YGK Craft Beer Fest is also an all ages event, offering a full day of entertainment, including live performances by artists like the Elwins, Phantom Atlantic, and Lost Cousins.

“The lineup this year is very Kingston focused, with some bands being from Kingston or formed in Kingston, but other bands we selected definitely have a connection to Kingston,” explains Jamie. “It’s really exciting.”

You can grab your tickets here, but if you’re running the Cannonball Crush, you can Slip N’ Slide your way in for free.



Skeleton Park Arts Festival


June 19 – 23, 2019 // Skeleton Park, 30 Alma Street

You won’t find many summer events like Skeleton Park Arts Festival. Hosted yearly on the summer solstice at Skeleton Park, located just a short walk north of the downtown core, the festival is a free celebration of creativity and community, with events offering twists you won’t find anywhere else.

“We’re programming in alternative or unusual spaces,” says Greg Tilson, the festival’s Artistic Director. “It gets people into more personal and intimate spaces, such as people’s front porches or on the streets.”

These events range from concerts and film screenings to surprising new programming, like Live Music Aqua Fitness, where guests can enjoy poolside live music during aqua fitness classes, as well as free dance workshops, and one of the festival’s most famous features, the Porch Jazz Parade.

“It’s lead by our very own New Orleans-style parade band by Spencer Evans. He leads the neighbourhood. People come out with all kinds of different instruments, giant puppets, stilt walkers.” Tilson says with a grin. “We’re an unusual neighborhood.”



Part of the spirit of the Skeleton Park Arts Festival is inclusivity, and all of the festival’s programs are designed around getting people involved.

“Not only are we making it free, but we’re bringing it to the people. We’re programming in spaces where that’s easy to get to. A park, a front porch, a pool, a nursing home,” says Tilson. “I like that idea of bringing the art to where people are.”

Skeleton Park Arts Festival is also a waste-free festival, and the organizers recommend bringing a reusable water bottle, utensils, and plates to help support the initiative.



Kingston Buskers Rendezvous


July 4 – 7, 2019 // Downtown Kingston

Kingston’s legendary Buskers Rendezvous is back for its 31st year to kick off the summer with panache and spectacle. According to the festival Artistic Director Jan MacDonald, the festival just keeps getting more exciting year after year, and 2019 is set to be one of their most thrilling yet.

“We’ve gone from the traditional fire-juggling…to almost Cirque du Soleil-like performances,” says Jan. “Every year, I’m more impressed with the talent that’s out there.”

Kingston Buskers Rendezvous has earned itself a reputation in recent years as one of the best spots for buskers to show off their skills, and this year’s big circle shows on Princess Street and Ontario Street include buskers from around the world.  


“For the first time since I’ve been doing it, all nine of them are from different countries,” says Jan. “We have someone coming from Japan, others from Australia and different places in Europe, and it’s just going to be really exciting because we have a lot of new performers.”

The four-day festival kicks off July 4th, and features performances all across the downtown, culminating in a Grand Finale at Confederation Park on Sunday at 6pm. As Jan says, “It’s a great way to kick off the summer.”

Check out the list of featured performers here.



Wolfe Island Music Festival


August 10-11, 2019 // Marysville, Wolfe Island

It wouldn’t be a proper summer in Kingston without Wolfe Island Music Festival. For over 20 years, Wolfe Island Music Festival has played host to acclaimed performers from across the country, including indie artists like PUP, Alvvays, Bahamas, and the Weakerthans to name a few, and this year will be sure to carry on the tradition.

For those looking for a little more from their average music festival, Wolfe Island Music Fest is just as much about the experience as it is about the shows. After a short ferry ride from downtown Kingston, festival-goers can escape the city and camp out on the quaint island, and enjoy performances across several intimate venues.

Make sure to keep your eyes on the WIMF Twitter for updates and announcements on lineup and ticket sales.



Back to the Farm Beer & Music Festival


August 18, 2019 // MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company, Bath

“Make good beer, book good bands.” That’s how Chris Morris, Artistic Director of Back to the Farm, captures the essence of MacKinnon Brothers’ annual summer festival. The Bath, Ontario brewery has earned a reputation for producing some of the finest beer in the area, and their annual festival, Back to the Farm, is quickly earning itself a reputation as one of the best spots to celebrate brews and music in the summer. Hosted on the MacKinnon Brothers’ working farm, Back to the Farm offers plenty of fun for all ages, including a plethora of activities, gourmet food trucks, games, and of course, artisanal, local drinks.

“We’re asking every brewery between Gananoque and Prince Edward County to come,” says Morris. “There’s going to be a lot to drink.”



But it’s not just about the beer at Back to the Farm.

“People are going as much for the party and just for having fun in the field as they are for the music,” says Morris. “We try to program great music so everyone’s enjoying themselves all day long and hopefully hear something new and original.”

This year the show features some excellent Ontario talent, including artists like the Beaches, Fast Romantics, and the Glorious Sons’ Chris Koster, as well as several other Kingston bands, like indie rockers The Wilderness and Oakridge Ave.

The festival also offers complimentary shuttle buses from the festival to downtown Kingston, so you can leave your car at home and go enjoy yourself at the farm.

Tickets tend to sell out ahead of the festival, so grab yours here while you can.



Limestone City Blues Festival


August 22 – 25 // Springer Market Square, 216 Ontario St

Blues fans rejoice: Limestone City Blues Festival is back, and make no mistake, this isn’t just a blues festival in name alone. Limestone City Blues Festival is all about classic blues.

“It’s one of the still-remaining true blues festivals in Canada,” says Festival Organizer Jan MacDonald. “There are so many blues bands across Canada and northern New York state who come up because they know they’re going to get four days and three nights of amazing music, and it’s all going to be blues.”

Unlike other similar festivals, Limestone City Blues Festival is hosted right downtown, featuring over 100 performances in venues all across the area, including free concerts in Confederation Park and headlining shows in beautiful Springer Market Square.


The festival also features some great tie-ins with local businesses you won’t want to miss.

“One of the things that we do is something called Homegrown Blues Food. [Downtown restaurants] design something just for blues
weekend that has a blues feel,” explains Jan. “ You can only get it for those four days, and we put out a little guide for the restaurants.”

You can enjoy the performances al la carte, or if you’re looking for the full experience, wristbands will be available that get you unlimited access to every show for the entire festival.

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Music


30 years ago, the Tragically Hip released their first full studio album, making Kingston the foundation of Canadian music.

With 13 full albums released over the course of over two decades, The Tragically Hip became more than Kingston’s hometown heroes. Their records formed the bedrock of a new national musical identity, belonging to campfires and hockey arenas, emerging cities and quiet small towns.

For Kingstonians, each record has its own personal connection, reaching some more than others. There’s no definitive list, just as there’s no singular Hip fan. That’s because their music an irrevocable part of our culture—and it started in Kingston.


13. Now for Plan A (2012)

Music fans never forgot the Hip mattered. But this record came with slightly less notice than deserved.

It’s almost a live album in all but name, with a significant portion of the record pulled from live performances on the studio floor in a two-week session. As a result, it’s a far more urgent album than critics realized.

This is the Hip at their most vulnerable but still delivers memorable moments aplenty. Fellow Kingstonian Sarah Harmer lends her haunting vocals to the standout track “The Lookahead.” Downie’s lyrics are damaged and resilient, inspired by his wife’s diagnosis with lung cancer. Listening to Downie’s plaintive howl on “Man Machine Poem,” the record’s heart more than addresses its quieter impact.

It wasn’t a cultural touchstone. It was a reminder of why the Hip mattered.


12. Music @ Work (2000)

Coming off the decade where The Hip solidified themselves as Canadian rock mainstays, the album has the casual confidence of a band that’s inarguably made it.

The title track “My Music At Work,” opens the album with the quintessential Hip song: so abstract it’s universal, and undeniably catchy but still hard-rocking. Despite the Black Sabbath-inflected metal on the following, “Tiger the Lion,” the album never feels weighed down. Even if it experiments, it’s easy-going and self-assured. The trade-off may be less grabbing emotional moments and excess songs, but it never completely diminishes the album.


11. World Container (2006)

For an arena-sized album of U2 proportions, its angst and experimentation can come as a surprise. One listen to World Container’s “In View” is proof.

Trading in the hard-rocking guitar-oriented tracks of their previous albums, for a pop hook, the song is a declaration disguised as an earworm jingle: The Hip could change without losing their identity. Meanwhile, experiments like Spanish guitar inflections on the “Lonely End of the Rink” shouldn’t work. Somehow, they do.


10. We are the Same (2008)

Capitalizing on the experimentation of World Container, the Hip upped the ante. Where the previous album pushed for stadium-filling sounds, We are the Same is more conversational, more aimed at relaxing and revelling in a band refusing the status quo.

The laidback country influences on “Morning Moon” and the downbeat “Coffee Girl” are great tracks, but they should be listened to alone. That may be why this record is lighter on the live staples; it’s heavier on arrangements and strings than towering rock songs.


9. In Violet Light (2002)

Fittingly named, In Violet Light is the Hip at their most dream-like. Outgoing rock songs still make an appearance with “Are You Ready” and “All Tore Up,” but they’re the exceptions.

The album’s heart is in the weary, thoughtful mood on “It’s A Good Life, If You Don’t Weaken.” A patient, slow-to-unfold track, it’s a cathartic lesson in recovery and redemption after losses. It also represents a darker sound than typically appears as a greatest hit.

Not all of the songs might be huge crowd-pleasers, but the Hip were reaching for something deeper.  “Let’s get friendship right / Get life day-to-day / In the forget-yer-skates dream / Full of countervailing woes,” Downie signs on “It’s A Good Life”.



8. Phantom Power (1998)

This record could top this list with “Bobcaygeon” alone. The anthem will likely go down as The Hip’s definitive piece, a moving narrative about a cop falling in love in a small town. However, that would leave out some of the strongest singles the band ever released.

“Poets” and “Fireworks” are irreverent, literate rock songs that easily separate the Hip from the many dour releases of contemporaries. Meanwhile, “Escape is at Hand for the Travelling Man” is unusually restrained and quiet, acting as a tribute to a late friend of the band.

While coming at the end of some of the band’s most classic period, Phantom Power proved the band had the depth to be a lifelong presence.


7. Trouble at the Henhouse (1996)

By the time Trouble at the Henhouse released, fans knew what to expect from a Hip record. And the new release largely delivered. It’s quality rock and roll, from a reliably great band.

In terms of contribution, the real uncontested fan favourite is “Ahead by a Century.” Acoustic, and softer than the majority of the album, the song is already an old friend at first listen. Fans might point to down-tempo offerings like “Apartment Song” and “Flamenco” but, realistically, it’s all wrapping for the lead single.


6. Day for Night (1994)

“Nautical Disaster” is the signpost for what the Hip had become by this record’s release. A retelling of Canada’s ill-fated raid on Dieppe in World War II, it marks the Hip’s complete transition into being a truly national band. For all the critiques of the album’s darker turns, the band strikes a powerful balance between the expansive and the intimate.

“Grace, Too” and “So Hard Done By” are top-tier rockers, and “Scared” is heart-rending and self-conscious, seeing Downie at his most raw and fragile. These mainstays are a strong outline of how the Hip developed after the whirlwind recording schedule of their first albums. Blues rock alone was out, The Hip had their own sound.


5. In Between Evolution (2004)

If there was ever an album that was criminally overlooked, it’s In Between Evolution. While it sold well and features some classic Hip tunes, it’s always shy of critics’ top honours.

Maybe that’s because the album was well-trod territory for the Hip, or potentially the more accessible production. Regardless, it’s the band at top-form, doing what it does best. With huge fist-pumping tunes like “It Can’t Be Nashville Every Night” and “Vaccination Scar,” and the powerhouse storytelling on “Gus: The Polar Bear From Central Park,” it should have been more of a landmark.

If it was only released earlier in the Hip’s career, it might have been.


4. Road Apples (1991)

The sophomore slump is hard to shake. Plenty of second albums suffer from rushed schedules and half-completed songs thrown together before release. For the Hip, the first notes on “Little Bones” dispelled any such notion.

It’s undeniable: it’s a Canadian classic and the greatest gift cover bands could ever ask for. It’s packed with tunes guaranteed to carry a party (“Three Pistols” and “Twist My Arm” particularly) but also introduced the mature introspection that would sometimes carry the band.

Meanwhile. “Fiddlers Green” and “Long Time Running” are quiet, eye-watering numbers. For a record known to please pub crowds, Road Apples gave the Hip the depth needed to become icons.


3. Man Machine Poem (2016)

Man Machine Poem’s release was inseparable from Downie’s diagnosis with brain cancer. Whether intentional or not, the album is a late-career elegy, filled with left turns and musical gambles that fit neatly onto a goodbye record.

The album’s centrepiece, “In a World Possessed By The Human Mind,” belongs on the list of Hip’s greatest songs. It has all the makings of the band at their prime: power-chord choruses and pensive lyrics, the song is about the calm of making peace.


Downie was often a cipher with his lyrics, but the melancholy on the album is always filtered through understanding. It’s a goodbye, but on its own terms.


2. Fully Completely (1992)

Fully Completely is the first sight of the band’s complete package. Canadian iconography and history permeate the record, taking centre-stage for the first time. This was when the band truly grew out of being solely a Kingston fixture.

There’s no definitive best song for a record chock-full of them. The heart-breaking prairie scene of “Wheat Kings” can’t be fully compared to the gritty twin guitars on “At the Hundredth Meridian.” There can’t be a best tribute to a national hero when the two competitors are “Courage (for Hugh MacLennan)” and “Fifty Mission Cap.” It’s simply the Hip at their best.


1. Up to Here (1989)

By all rights, no band has any right to release Up to Here as their first fully-fledged record. It’s too confident. The songwriting is too tight. The tracklisting verges on being more of a greatest hits compilation than a first stab at production.

There’s no need to relitigate why “38 years old,” “New Orleans Is Sinking” and “Blow at High Dough” are great. The proof is they dominate national radio 30 years after their release. More, however, could be said for the swaggering country of “Boots or Hearts” and the rebellious storytelling in “I’ll Believe in You (Or I’ll be Leaving You).”

This is the record that launched a generation of musicians, and its roots are in Kingston.

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