Kingston’s Finest, Ranked

By Nick Pearce

A stroll through Kingston is the story of Canadian music with the director’s commentary on—it’s a city with history.

When they step on stage, Kingston’s up-and-coming musicians know who they’ll be measured against: stadium-filling rock stars, respected singer-songwriters and national icons.

For most, it’s not pressure—it’s a promise of what the city can offer.

A main drag like Princess Street is an informal musical hall of fame and you can’t help but pick favourites.


6. Bryan Adams

Bringing up the rear, Adams brought Canadian music to the world stage in the ‘80s. Hits like “Run to You” and “Summer of ’69” were inescapable when they topped charts and are a still a radio staple.

Doubters may say he was only born in Kingston—don’t buy it. Bryan Adams is as interwoven with his birthplace’s music scene as the limestone buildings.

When he takes the stage in town and changes the lyrics of “Alberta Bound” to be about Kingston, it’s clear where the song belongs. A long-running career like this doesn’t happen by accident, or without Kingston roots.

Track to check out: Summer of ’69

5. The Headstones

These hard rockers may have never had Bryan Adams’ ticket sales, but outsiders like them are the reason Kingston left its mark on music.

The Headstones are right out of a garage rock fantasy: punchy electric guitars crackle alongside stand out performances from charismatic frontman Hugh Dillon. Their songs may not have had other Kingston artists’ reach, but they’re the reason a legion of teenagers picked up guitars and formed bands.

With controversial and taboo lyrics backed up by serious musical chops, The Headstones belong on any list of Canada’s best.

Track to check out: When Something Stands For Nothing

4. Bedouin Soundclash

When the laidback groove of “When The Night Feels My Songs” hit the radio over a decade ago it meant one thing: you had a new favourite song.

Bedouin Soundclash, formed at Queen’s University, is a lesson in the big returns of a little experimentation. Their combination of ska, reggae and indie introduced a new generation to the city and redefined what the local music scene was capable of.

Infectious melodies and choruses meant they became a fixture for the country’s music fans and an easy example of what some university students could do, given the chance and the instruments.

Track to check out: Walls Fall Down

3. Sarah Harmer

When she plucks the first notes of one of her swelling folk ballads, there’s no competition. With flares of inspiration, Sarah Harmer established her self as one of the country’s preeminent singer-songwriters by mastering the fundamentals.

She writes evocative, plaintive melodies that can quiet a room. These songs can be confessional but they never come off stale. Harmer’s hit a difficult balance between innovating and her roots, playing songs that lighten a hard time without losing any of her signature gravitas.

It’s lyricism that leaves an impact.

Track to check out: I Am Aglow

2. The Glorious Sons

With a Juno in tow and a gig opening for the Rolling Stones, it’s clear The Glorious Sons are following in the steps of their hometown predecessors.

They have stirring choruses but they’re paired with confessional lyrics that tell the listener this means something. These songs have the strength of a classic rock tune with the crowd-pleasing accessibility of a contemporary hit.

A Glorious Sons song feels important. It’s not painted-on affectation. It’s genuine: this is what a great band sounds like for the 21st century.

Track to check out: Everything Is Alright

1. The Tragically Hip

We all knew who had the top spot.

They’ve inspired generation after generation of Canadian musicians. They grew from campus act to local heroes to national icons. They did it here.

A walk through Kingston is a walk through the Hip’s catalogue: the city is covered in their fingerprints. Everything from the Skeleton Park to a wall of graffiti to the waterfront has inspired the Hip and re-established what being a great Canadian artist means, time and again.

The Tragically Hip carried their hometown with them on every tour, and now Kingston’s returning the favour.

Track to check out: Bobcaygeon