Chris Jackson & Friends keep Friday nights surprising

BLUmartini hosts regular performers' holiday concert

Chris Jackson will perform on Feb. 14 at BLUmartini.
Maureen Williams

Chris Jackson’s Friday night gig at BLUMartini has become a neighbourhood staple.

For the past three years, the part-time musician has been taking the stage at the downtown restaurant and bar every Friday from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Before his next show this Valentine’s Day, Jackson spoke to The Journal about the joys of sharing the stage with friends, and the way live music brings a room together.

What began as a temporary solo show has grown into Kingston music tradition, with a variety of surprise guests joining Jackson on stage every week. The show has morphed from one man with a guitar to a cacophony of horns, drums, accordions and a variety of other instruments and artists playing classic retro tunes, as well as little-known favourites. 

Guests invited on stage by Jackson are a mixture of friends and strangers—some amateur and others professional musicians.

“If there’s room on stage for them that night, I’m always willing to [let them play]. It’s so flattering to have folks out there [...] Some folks don’t get a chance to hit the stage very often, and I’m more than happy to provide an opportunity for that,” Jackson said.

 The show grew so extensively that BLUMartini eventually built a stage in a larger corner of the restaurant to accommodate them. Jackson changed from a solo act to Chris Jackson and Friends—a rotating series of guest artists and backup musicians.

Originally from Chatham, Ontario, Jackson has been playing gigs since he was 17. Music was what brought him to Kingston when he was invited to play drums in a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tribute band. After it disbanded, the connections and community he had formed in the city kept him here, hopping from band to band and playing gigs whenever he could.

Multi-talented Jackson taught himself to play many instruments from the age of nine, including the drums, guitar, bass guitar, and mandolin.

“When I first started playing the clubs, I was sneaking in because I was underage,” he said. 

Now 47 years old, he’s grateful for the opportunity to keep up a regular gig. He’s built a following in town, as well as a contingent of fans that drive down from surrounding cities to watch him play. For Jackson, live music brings restaurants to life.

“Live shows are organic. What I play from week to week changes. Each version [of a song] is slightly different. The regulars that come out every week have an ear for that and they love it. It's a wonderful thing.”

These days, Jackson is busy writing his own original music and is in the process of recording an album. In the meantime, however, he’s still excited to perform on the holiday of love.

“At BLUMartini, lots of different occasions happen: birthdays and all sorts of things. I love playing ballads, I love playing love songs. So, bring on Valentine’s Day. Bring on the lovers. I can’t wait.”

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