Kingston Live Podcast: 2019 Summer Music Festival Roundup

By Rob Howard

While Kingston is arguably the best city in Canada for live music year-round, in the summertime, Kingston plays host to a multitude of world-class live music festivals that draw people from across the province – and even across the border – out to celebrate the season. From jazz and blues to buskers and beer, if you’re into live music, summer in Kingston is the perfect time to catch some of the best music festivals and live performances in Canada.

In fact, there’s so many great summer music festivals in Kingston that it’s challenging to take them all in. So, we’ve created a special edition of the Kingston Live podcast as your audible guide! Hosts John and Riley talk to the organizers behind Kingston’s hottest summer music festivals, who share all the exciting details on the plans and performances for the 2019 season, including a sneak preview of the sold-out Rockin’ the Big House concert in the historic Kingston Penitentiary.

Subscribe to the Kingston Live podcast on Soundcloud, Spotify, iTunes, TuneIn or Stitcher.

YGK Craft Beer Fest

June 8, 2019 // Fort Henry

Live music and craft beers meet historic Fort Henry at YGK Craft Beer Fest, Kingston’s premier summer beer festival. Doubling as the after party for Fort Henry’s Cannonball Crush Obstacle Race, YGK Craft Beer Fest is a perfect spot to relax and enjoy a refreshing drink on the hill. Not that much of a beer drinker? There’s sure to be something to fit your tastes, too.

“We’ve got over 20 beer and cider vendors, and they also throw in some fun spirits and stuff too,” says Jamie Oomen, the Events and Operations Coordinator for the festival. “Then we have gourmet food trucks, artisan vendors, and we’re going to have some games.”

YGK Craft Beer Fest is also an all ages event, offering a full day of entertainment, including live performances by artists like the Elwins, Phantom Atlantic, and Lost Cousins.

“The lineup this year is very Kingston focused, with some bands being from Kingston or formed in Kingston, but other bands we selected definitely have a connection to Kingston,” explains Jamie. “It’s really exciting.”

You can grab your tickets here, but if you’re running the Cannonball Crush, you can Slip N’ Slide your way in for free.

Skeleton Park Arts Festival

June 19 – 23, 2019 // Skeleton Park, 30 Alma Street

You won’t find many summer events like Skeleton Park Arts Festival. Hosted yearly on the summer solstice at Skeleton Park, located just a short walk north of the downtown core, the festival is a free celebration of creativity and community, with events offering twists you won’t find anywhere else.

“We’re programming in alternative or unusual spaces,” says Greg Tilson, the festival’s Artistic Director. “It gets people into more personal and intimate spaces, such as people’s front porches or on the streets.”

These events range from concerts and film screenings to surprising new programming, like Live Music Aqua Fitness, where guests can enjoy poolside live music during aqua fitness classes, as well as free dance workshops, and one of the festival’s most famous features, the Porch Jazz Parade.

“It’s lead by our very own New Orleans-style parade band by Spencer Evans. He leads the neighbourhood. People come out with all kinds of different instruments, giant puppets, stilt walkers.” Tilson says with a grin. “We’re an unusual neighborhood.”

Part of the spirit of the Skeleton Park Arts Festival is inclusivity, and all of the festival’s programs are designed around getting people involved.

“Not only are we making it free, but we’re bringing it to the people. We’re programming in spaces where that’s easy to get to. A park, a front porch, a pool, a nursing home,” says Tilson. “I like that idea of bringing the art to where people are.”

Skeleton Park Arts Festival is also a waste-free festival, and the organizers recommend bringing a reusable water bottle, utensils, and plates to help support the initiative.

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Rainy day dreams coming true with Sharon & Bram!

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Kingston Buskers Rendezvous

July 4 – 7, 2019 // Downtown Kingston

Kingston’s legendary Buskers Rendezvous is back for its 31st year to kick off the summer with panache and spectacle. According to the festival Artistic Director Jan MacDonald, the festival just keeps getting more exciting year after year, and 2019 is set to be one of their most thrilling yet.

“We’ve gone from the traditional fire-juggling…to almost Cirque du Soleil-like performances,” says Jan. “Every year, I’m more impressed with the talent that’s out there.”

Kingston Buskers Rendezvous has earned itself a reputation in recent years as one of the best spots for buskers to show off their skills, and this year’s big circle shows on Princess Street and Ontario Street include buskers from around the world.  

“For the first time since I’ve been doing it, all nine of them are from different countries,” says Jan. “We have someone coming from Japan, others from Australia and different places in Europe, and it’s just going to be really exciting because we have a lot of new performers.”

The four-day festival kicks off July 4th, and features performances all across the downtown, culminating in a Grand Finale at Confederation Park on Sunday at 6pm. As Jan says, “It’s a great way to kick off the summer.”

Check out the list of featured performers here.

Wolfe Island Music Festival

August 9–10, 2019 // Marysville, Wolfe Island

It wouldn’t be a proper summer in Kingston without Wolfe Island Music Festival. For over 20 years, Wolfe Island Music Festival has played host to acclaimed performers from across the country, including indie artists like PUP, Alvvays, Bahamas, and the Weakerthans to name a few, and this year will be sure to carry on the tradition.

For those looking for a little more from their average music festival, Wolfe Island Music Fest is just as much about the experience as it is about the shows. After a short ferry ride from downtown Kingston, festival-goers can escape the city and camp out on the quaint island, and enjoy performances across several intimate venues.

Make sure to keep your eyes on the WIMF Twitter for updates and announcements on lineup and ticket sales.

Back to the Farm Beer & Music Festival

August 18, 2019 // MacKinnon Brothers Brewing Company, Bath

“Make good beer, book good bands.” That’s how Chris Morris, Artistic Director of Back to the Farm, captures the essence of MacKinnon Brothers’ annual summer festival. The Bath, Ontario brewery has earned a reputation for producing some of the finest beer in the area, and their annual festival, Back to the Farm, is quickly earning itself a reputation as one of the best spots to celebrate brews and music in the summer. Hosted on the MacKinnon Brothers’ working farm, Back to the Farm offers plenty of fun for all ages, including a plethora of activities, gourmet food trucks, games, and of course, artisanal, local drinks.

“We’re asking every brewery between Gananoque and Prince Edward County to come,” says Morris. “There’s going to be a lot to drink.”

But it’s not just about the beer at Back to the Farm.

“People are going as much for the party and just for having fun in the field as they are for the music,” says Morris. “We try to program great music so everyone’s enjoying themselves all day long and hopefully hear something new and original.”

This year the show features some excellent Ontario talent, including artists like the Beaches, Fast Romantics, and the Glorious Sons’ Chris Koster, as well as several other Kingston bands, like indie rockers The Wilderness and Oakridge Ave.

The festival also offers complimentary shuttle buses from the festival to downtown Kingston, so you can leave your car at home and go enjoy yourself at the farm.

Tickets tend to sell out ahead of the festival, so grab yours here while you can.

Limestone City Blues Festival

August 22 – 25 // Springer Market Square, 216 Ontario St

Blues fans rejoice: Limestone City Blues Festival is back, and make no mistake, this isn’t just a blues festival in name alone. Limestone City Blues Festival is all about classic blues.

“It’s one of the still-remaining true blues festivals in Canada,” says Festival Organizer Jan MacDonald. “There are so many blues bands across Canada and northern New York state who come up because they know they’re going to get four days and three nights of amazing music, and it’s all going to be blues.”

Unlike other similar festivals, Limestone City Blues Festival is hosted right downtown, featuring over 100 performances in venues all across the area, including free concerts in Confederation Park and headlining shows in beautiful Springer Market Square.

The festival also features some great tie-ins with local businesses you won’t want to miss.

“One of the things that we do is something called Homegrown Blues Food. [Downtown restaurants] design something just for blues weekend that has a blues feel,” explains Jan. “ You can only get it for those four days, and we put out a little guide for the restaurants.”

You can enjoy the performances al la carte, or if you’re looking for the full experience, wristbands will be available that get you unlimited access to every show for the entire festival.

Get the inside scoop on Kingston’s live music scene and check out the latest music festivals and events on our music site.