Kingston’s Skeleton Park Arts Festival has come a long way since it was a neighbourhood solstice party.
This year’s event — marking the festival’s 10-year anniversary — was held in Skeleton Park along with other venues, including The Toucan, The Sleepless Goat and the streets of Kingston.
Ten years ago, The McBurney Park Association hosted the event as a party in the park to celebrate the summer solstice. Since then, the event has become a weekend music festival showcasing local musicians.
The Kingston Arts Council has taken over the festival for the past three years. Under the Council’s watch, it has become a 10-day event featuring live theatre, dance, music, craft and fine art.
Greg Tilson, the council’s artistic director, said that the festival creates a supportive environment for arts and culture.
“This neighbourhood has always been a thriving arts community — kind of the heartbeat of Kingston arts and culture,” Tilson said via email. “This festival has been a means to show off local talent.”
Attendees of Skeleton Park Arts Festival share their favourite parts of the event. (Photos by Ramna Safeer)
History meets theatre at Skeleton Park
Skeleton Park, officially known as McBurney Park, holds an eerie history.
The site was a cemetery named the Upper Burial Ground in 1819, but the it closed when it reached capacity in 1864. Neglect of the site after the closure led to vandalisation of graves and livestock grazing on
Rumours of grave robbing by Queen’s medical school students also arose.
Tilson said hosting the festival on a historical site helps community members better understand the history of their neighbourhood.
“Understanding a community’s heritage is a crucial part of understanding who we are today and where we have come from — it provides roots for a neighbourhood,” Tilson said.
Kingston-based theatre company, SALON Theatre Productions, took advantage of Kingston’s accessible historical sites for their latest production,
As part of the festival, SALON performed a site-specific play in Skeleton Park. Site-specific plays are performed in a place that isn’t a conventional theatre.
The play focused on the history of the park — specifically, folk stories of Queen’s medical school robbing the graveyard for bodies in the 19th century.
SALON’s artistic director, Paul Dyck, said the production educated its audience about the park’s intriguing folklore.
“We like to do historical fiction so that we can take facts from history and weave it into a story the people can be engaged in,” Dyck said.
The site-specific form of the play, combined with the actors’ 19th century costumes, made the play more realistic.
“Site-specific is a form that we do often because we’re big fans of having the audience moving about immersed in the action.”
Performers Jesse MacMillan and Anna Sudac in SALON Theatre Productions’ Grave Admission.
The festival’s big day
Skeleton Park transformed into an arts haven on June 20, attracting hundreds of community members.
The festival’s biggest day came on that Saturday, when jewelry and crafting booths, theatre companies and festivals were among the variety of local arts groups and businesses that filled Skeleton Park.
From 10 a.m. until midnight that Saturday, local arts groups set up booths in the park to display and sell their work. A stage constructed for the event hosted musical events all afternoon.
The Woodshed Orchestra was among these performers, with nine out of 12 members of the band present at the festival. The band plays a variety of funky and upbeat musical genres, either as an electric band or as a full brass band with a New Orleans jazz style.
Last year, The Woodshed Orchestra played at The Skeleton Park Arts festival and Dave Clark, founder, drummer and vocalist of the band, emceed the festival’s main day.
The Woodshed Orchestra played three times at the festival this year. They opened the day with a collaborative performance with a local children performer, Gary Raspberry, and finished the festival with a performance at the Dancing in the Streets After Party.
Being from Toronto, Clark said he feels that Kingston has a strong appreciation for different arts groups within the Kingston community.
“The Kingston arts community has a cornucopia of great artists,” Clark said. “I really love the scene in Kingston.”
The Porch Jazz Parade
The afternoon performance was part of one of the festival’s most unique events: The Porch Jazz Parade.
During the parade, The Woodshed Orchestra led a crowd of about 50 people through the streets for musical performances on the porches of Kingston residents.
The Porch Jazz Parade also featured Skeleton Park Arts Festival veterans Sheesham and Lotus & ‘Son.
The trio plays traditional folk music on banjos, fiddles and other old-fashioned instruments to revive the music of the past. Sitting on the porch of a yellow house on Bagot St., the band sounded and looked as if they stepped out of the age of ragtime music.
Having played at almost every Skeleton Park Arts Festival for the last 10 years, the band has seen the evolution of the festival.
Teilhard Frost, one of the original members of the band performing as Sheesham Crow, said the parade brings music to new audiences.
“But the most exciting thing about this performance is that we take [music] to [the people],” Frost said. “People don’t come out as much anymore. So we say fine, we’re going to take it to you.”
He said events like the Porch Jazz Parade make live music more accessible, and he hopes it encourages people to keep seeing live music.
“[People need to] come out to see live music. The only way you can keep live music going is by coming out to see it,” Frost said.
Sam Allison, performing as Lotus Wight, said the festival and its events, like The Porch Jazz Parade, creates a strong sense of togetherness within the Kingston arts community.
“The arts community is strong here, but I’ve only seen it become stronger because of [the Skeleton Park Arts Festival],” said Allison. “It brings people together but the immediate response is just positivity.”
Sheesham and Lotus & ‘Son performing on a porch on Bagot St. as part of The Porch Jazz Parade.
The Woodshed Orchestra performing with Sheesham and Lotus & ‘Son as they lead The Porch Jazz Parade.
Dancing in the Streets after party
To conclude the festival, The Kingston Arts Council organized a street party on Princess St. between Wellington and King.
Starting at 8 p.m. and lasting until midnight, the street party featured multiple bands including The Woodshed Orchestra, Sheesham & Lotus and ‘Son, The Lemon Bucket Orchestra, D’Harmo and The Silver Hearts.
This year’s street party, themed Dancing in the Streets, stayed true to its promise to have people dancing all night.
A very large group of people gathered in that evening to square dance and two-step to live music. The Sleepless Goat was open serving refreshments and acting as the streets stage.
“We have the ability to close the street and dance all over,” said Mariah Horner, ArtsSci ’15, and event manager for the downtown after party.
“It’s going to be a really awesome community live art show of us celebrating the summer and the kind of spirit that Kingston has.”
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