Kingston’s Can’t-Miss Live Acts: Ranked

By Nick Pearce

Instead of a rehashed sound, Kingston has an attitude.

Folk-tinged, anthemic rock songs may have brought the city to the national stage, but the reason Kingston’s artists are integral to Canadian music is their capacity to innovate. Whether it’s Bedouin Soundclash weaving reggae and indie or The Glorious Sons reinventing classic sounds for a modern audience, the city always delivers authentic music in new packages.

Where bigger cities benefit from huge pools of talent, the Limestone City punches above its weight with creativity and community. Its can’t-miss live acts are the cornerstone of a town that takes its music seriously and supports experimentation.

Here are some of the many local acts that push boundaries.

4. Oakridge Ave

This indie-rock trio combines the reliability of a road act with a mad scientist approach to songwriting. Incorporating blues and funk, the band jumps between distorted power chords and danceable verses, updating indie rock with a range of influences.

Making their name in venerable institutions across the city, Oakridge Ave can make a pub crowd dance like it was a music festival. After releasing an EP, the band has their sights on a full-length album, relying on the local music community’s support to fund it.

3. Goldwing

For bands like Goldwing, Kingston’s pubs are a proving ground. Cutting their teeth as the Monday night house band at the Toucan, Goldwing cuts to the real, unvarnished core of the city’s music scene.

With a steady output of new music paying tribute to the city’s nightlife, the band has honed a unique blend of hard-nosed rock influences with folk melodies. The combination brings all the energy and spontaneity of a house party to the venues littering Kingston.

They’re unapologetic, channelling the city’s DIY attitude into tightly written, fist-pumping anthems.

Alternative-folk crowd-pleasers like “Cuts Me Down” are only possible in a city that puts its artists first.

2. Tom Savage

Don’t let the traditional music fool you: Tom Savage writes songs for the present moment, chronicling everything from lonely Northern Ontario highways to ageing and loss.

A seasoned guitar-player, Savage delivers timeless performances. He draws from blues, folk and outlaw country, applying a vast body of work to his life and community. His latest outfit, Dead Root Revival, cast the net even wider, pulling from influences like John Coltrane, Al Green and modern-day funk prodigies Vulfpeck.

He’s cutting loose: Dead Root Revival’s “Rascal” showcases the musicianship that takes a backseat in his solo efforts. In the song, Savage departs from his folk-country roots and shreds jazz-blues solos like he’s unveiling a hidden talent. Despite all the instrumentation, Savage’s underlying sincerity holds the act together, lending it the same credibility his work as a singer-songwriter demands.

Whether you catch him with his band or solo, Savage is a genuine part of the city’s musical fabric.

1. Major Love

This band is a dreamy love letter to great songwriting.

Headed by lead-singer Colleen Brown, Major Love’s live act has all the blockbuster choruses and cathartic lyrics of hometown heroes hitting new musical heights. The shows are confessional and urgent, but never lose the intimacy of a private concert.

Much of that’s thanks to Brown. Her live performance offers the kind of swaggering, soulful vocals that belong on your favourite Motown record. For careful listeners, her voice has hints of Joni Mitchell at her peak, but Brown nonetheless manages to stand apart with a commanding stage presence and earnest delivery.

As a transplant from Alberta to Kingston, she also allows country and western to seep into her captivating pop-rock songs. That may be why the band says its music is for “their hoser friends.” But, considering the city’s musical history, writing for friends and the local music scene is just the beginning. Artists like Major Love belong on any music fan’s playlist.

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