Free for all

Local act Free Whisky are bringing something new to Kingston’s music scene with their homegrown Bluegrass tunes

With diverse musical backgrounds and skill weaving them together
Image by: Christine Blais
With diverse musical backgrounds and skill weaving them together

The Mansion has been showcasing a spectrum of bands and performers since its rebirth as a concert venue, and last Wednesday’s festivities were no exception.

When I walked upstairs into The Living Room, the relaxing and intimate concert space on The Mansion’s second floor, I knew I was in for something special when the band on stage acknowledged us and gestured to two cozy chairs at the foot of the stage.

The evening began with a few tunes accompanied by some basic square dancing lessons. Yes, square dancing. Don’t scoff too hastily—I can guarantee anyone who attempts to learn one of the sweet and simple jigs will have a blast and if nothing else you’ll meet a new friend to dosey-doe with along the way.

After a few whirls around the dance floor I settled back down in my living room chair to experience the grooves of the local quartet Free Whisky. With a name like that, it’s no wonder the venue was so packed. Luckily, the group has tunes that warmed from head to toe without putting anyone into a three-day coma.

Although indie rockers and solo songsters tend to dominate the Kingston music scene of late, the bluegrass folk quartet was a refreshing change for concert attendees.

With Ben Wright on vocals and guitar, Chance Kellner on violin, Tim O’Reilly on the bass and Liam Finney on percussion and banjo, Free Whisky took the stage and immediately transported listeners to a faraway place. They’re unlike any band I’ve seen in my time at Queen’s. With their ability to strike a balance between uniquely old school country bluegrass croons and excitingly appealing new melodies, they’re truly a unique band in the Kingston scene.

Throughout the set I couldn’t help but imagine a backdrop of a warm spring breeze. The tunes truly evoke the feeling of calmly lounging in a meadow or meandering through a prairie.

What immediately stands out about the group is each individual member’s skill and passion for their instrument; the group’s harmonic chemistry is undeniable. The group’s perfectly pitched vocals saturated each song. With all four members singing in harmony in select parts of each song, they enveloped the room with their engaging lyrics and powerful voices.

I was particularly awed by Kellner’s ability to both complement and showcase every song. She and the rest of the band have a natural ease with their instruments that added to the relaxed and inviting atmosphere of their gig. Playing a range of styles—even a waltz—the bounds to where Free Whisky could venture are endless. The group’s solid tracks suggest a strong musical background. The addition of unique instrumentation like cajon box drums makes for a tight and seamless sound in every song.

With Wright writing the majority of the songs, the heartfelt, sweet and sometimes hilarious lyrics got everyone in the room feeling a part of the performance.

A crowd favourite was found in “Eugene,” the tale of a lovable town drunkard who just can’t seem to get a break.

Their balance between past and present subject matter had me forgetting the talented folk group weren’t seasoned old-timers but fellow 20-somethings with old souls harkening back to a better and simpler time. Singing of everything from waking up hung-over, to letting go of love, to grumpy old men, the four-piece clearly garners immense pleasure from playing their tunes—their crowd’s smiles were contagious and infectious.

Free Whisky’s merit isn’t only in their sweet and homegrown sound but also their lyrics and ability to connect with the audience. By the end of the show I felt as though they’d let the attendees in on a few personal stories and adventures through playing their songs.

Don’t fret if you missed out on this delightful experience. Free Whisky are getting their name out there with weekly performances at The Mansion and in the hub. Their original songs, enticing narratives and impressive musical skill are sure to provide a hospitable and pleasant soundtrack to your nights as the winter months approach.

Free Whisky plays every Wednesday at The Mansion. Doors open at 8 p.m.

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