Kingston: small town, big live music scene

Hip hop artist K-OS rocked the mic at Alfie’s last November.
Hip hop artist K-OS rocked the mic at Alfie’s last November.
Credit: 
Natalia Echeverria
Sum 41 singer Deryck Whibley scans the crowd at last year’s frosh concert.
Sum 41 singer Deryck Whibley scans the crowd at last year’s frosh concert.
Credit: 
Emily Maclaurin-King

Music Guide

With only about 116,000 full-time residents in the entire township, Kingston can look pretty dismal for a devoted concertgoer. It may seem as though it’s bypassed for the teeming metropolises of Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, and for big-name, big-label acts like Our Lady Peace and—ugh—Hilary Duff, it’s the truth.

But surprisingly, Kingston’s got a hell of a lot more going on than most might realize. After all, The Tragically Hip, David Usher, Hugh Dillon and Canadian Idol Ryan Malcolm call the Limestone City home. And over the past three years, I’ve found myself gleefully packed into sweaty, delightfully intimate venues watching the likes of The Arcade Fire, Metric, Tegan and Sara, Hot Hot Heat, The Trews, Ani DiFranco, and many more. My first-ever assignment for the Journal was a K-OS show at Clark Hall Pub; in November of my second year I found myself enjoying a few cold ones backstage with the members of Sloan; last September I chatted with members of Sum 41 on the ground floor of Humphrey Hall; and the lead singer of Billy Talent once creepily pinched me in the hallway of Alfie’s. Not too bad for a “small” city, eh?

Here are some venues to keep an eye on:

• Clark Hall Pub: Perched atop the Campus Bookstore, Clark played host to K-OS and The Arcade Fire on the eve of their big breakouts. Clark is also the standard location for smaller shows like the Queen’s Battle of the Bands and showcases local and campus musicians. While it may be unbearably hot in there most nights, an ample supply of frosty pints helps fend off impending heat exhaustion while you skank the night away to some rollicking live music.

• Alfie’s: Once a major hangout for Queen’s kids, Alfie’s is now open only a couple of nights a week after falling into dire financial straits. But Alfie’s is no slouch in its concert history, hosting a sold-out K-OS show last year and Billy Talent the year before. And on a Friday night at Alfie’s, situate yourself on one of their overstuffed couches and sip a few inexpensively delicious martinis while socializing and listening to the sounds of a live DJ.

• The Grad Club: Manager Virginia Clark and her company Flying V Productions keep the Grad Club jammed with live music: Josh Ritter, Stars, Death From Above 1979, Jill Barber, Cuff the Duke, The Rheostatics, and more. It’s also a great place to check out campus favourites like Tomate Potate and Whiskey Steve and the Steves. With a fully-functioning bar and kitchen and plenty of event space, the old Victorian house is a cornucopia of activity on any given night of the week.

• Elixir: Ever since Chris Morris and his Kingston-based company, Rock Crew Productions, took up residency at Elixir, the venue has developed into so much more than its usual Wednesday “Hump Night” bump ’n grind. Metric, The Constantines, The Weakerthans, and Uncut have all graced the tiny stage.

• The Scherzo: In a slightly out-of-the-way location on Wellington Street, The Scherzo showcases an assortment of small shows, especially concerts for Kingston Punk Productions, the local punk-rock production company.

• A.J.’s Hangar: three-quarters nightclub and one-quarter concert venue, most shows at A.J.’s happen mid-week. One of the largest venues in Kingston, A.J.’s has hosted the likes of Sam Roberts, The Proclaimers, Hot Hot Heat, Danko Jones, Pilate, The Trews, Three Days Grace and The Headstones in just the past few years.

Also check out the open mic nights at the Common Ground in the JDUC, live DJ-ing at The Toucan on Fridays and Saturdays, and live local fare at pubs like The Merchant MacLiam. Kingston also features festivals like The Wolfe Island Music Festival (see story on page 15) and Kingston United Music Festival, benefitting the Kingston chapter of the United Way in November.

Judging by Kingston’s plethora of live music, size doesn’t necessarily matter.

Tricia Summers has a serious obsession with Hollywood actor Vince Vaughn. And taro-flavoured milkshakes.

K-Town Concert Tips:

• Bring your earplugs. The venues in Kingston are small, but sometimes the sound guys seem to be matching the volume level with that of the Air Canada Centre.

• Check out www.stillepost.ca and follow the link to the Kingston forum. This will keep you up to date on who or what’s coming to town.

• Over-the-top dance moves will almost certainly lead people to believe you are highly intoxicated, even if you’re completely sober.

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