Concerts are coming to the Kingston Penitentiary

The historic prison is the newest live music venue in Kingston

Image by: Herbert Wang
Concerts are for all ages and span a variety of genres.

The Kingston Penitentiary could be your new favourite concert venue. 

The historic decommissioned prison will now host live music performances open to all ages.

KPP Concerts Co-Founder Marc Garniss told The Journal the decision to hold concerts at the penitentiary came from the desire to give the building alternate uses. 

After screening films at the penitentiary during the summer, the conversation segued into holding performances at the building.

“It sort of stemmed from the screening we did there in the summer, knowing that they were open to the idea of [the penitentiary] being used for things other than just tours and film productions,” he said. “Since it’s been decommissioned […] it’s sat there empty mostly.”

Garniss said there have been increased discussions recently about how the penitentiary can be used. He added, though, that turning the prison into a home for the arts is not the first suggested use of the space.

“I don’t really think arts has been thrown into the mix […] and even though [the concerts] are going to be small, we want to paint that notion in people’s minds that [the penitentiary] can be used for arts and community events.”

Although the penitentiary is a unique space to hold concerts, Garniss hopes live music will be an opportunity to both have fun and learn. KPP has partnered with local charity, John Howard Society, to raise money to assist formerly incarcerated Canadians and their families.

“Part of what we want to do in creating a vibe for the event is not have it feel like it’s just this big party inside a jail where people can come and get drunk,” Garniss said. 

“Yes, they are going to see some terrific bands and music, but it’s also going to be an opportunity for them to learn a little bit about the prison system.”

The history of the prison and its connection to the incarceration system presents unique opportunities and challenges to hosting concerts. 

Garniss said there will be educational talks at the beginning and end of shows to inform audiences of the past and present of correctional institutions. However, these are meant to compliment the enjoyability of the concerts, not detract from it.

“I don’t want to paint it as it’s going to be a sombre event or anything […] but I think we wanted to ensure there was a learning component to the event as well.”

For Garniss, the penitentiary makes live music more accessible to the wider Kingston community. There is pre-existing interest in the building, it’s well located, and the concerts are available to all age groups—a rare combination in the Kingston live music scene. 

“It’s centrally located in Kingston, it’s going to be an all-ages concert, which is somewhat unusual for Kingston; most of the shows that happen of that size are in bars,” Garniss said. “I think it fills in some interesting gaps.”

Garniss thinks the concerts will be a ripe opportunity for Queen’s students and Kingston residents to learn more about the penitentiary. 

“It’s this elusive historical building that people are both very aware of, yet at the same time know very little about.”

The concerts at the penitentiary will cover diverse genres and artists. The breadth of music being offered is something Garniss is excited about. 

“The genres that we’re featuring are pretty underserved genres,” he said. 

“On an international scale hip-hop is huge, but if you think about hip-hop coming to Kingston, there aren’t many shows that feature hip-hop artists. I guess I like the fact that we’re not just putting some top-40 band in there that would be a no-brainer commercially. I feel like the genres are serving a little bit of a need in Kingston.” 

The first show featuring Canadian rapper Classified will be held on Oct. 13. 

You can find more info and buy tickets here.

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