Kingston music scene approaches normalcy, hopes to continue doing so

·4 min read

In the past year and a half the music industry has been impacted like few others by the pandemic, essentially stalled in place.

Recently in Phase 3 of Ontario's COVID recovery plan, musicians have gained more freedom to play shows with restrictions in place.

Downtown streets have once again had buskers, bars and breweries who have also faced the worst of the pandemic have been able to welcome musicians again and recently even small music festivals have been able to take place in the area.

Last weekend Howe Island Rock Fest featured local artists, and this Sunday Mackinnon Brothers' Back to the Farm festival makes its return after a one year hiatus.

Dan Mackinnon says the brewery and staff had some tentative plans in case COVID restrictions allowed for a festival, but the actual work between getting the green light and being ready for this Sunday took all hands on deck.

The festival has taken necessary COVID measures like screening by QR code, wearing masks while indoors or on provided transportation and generally asking festival-goers to try to abide by social distancing guidelines.

Dan says he hopes attendees will make smart and safe choice while enjoying themselves at Sunday's festival, but he feels they've taken the necessary precautions.

"It's outside, most people have got two vaccines by this point, there's gonna be hand sanitizer everywhere, so we're feeling like it's a pretty safe event to host especially because it's outdoors, so just be safe and have fun."

He added however that the staff, volunteers and musicians do plead with guests to take the necessary precautions and be respectful so the event can be successful and safe, and set a precedent for future shows.

The sold out festival features a number of Kingston musicians, and is being headlined by Matt Mays and Terra Lightfoot.

There is optimism throughout the music community and it's supporting workers, but with COVID numbers rising in the United States and variants continuing to be a concern, they want to avoid a complete shutdown of the industry once again which will likely spell the end of a number of small venues, as well as force many musicians and gig workers to abandon their craft.

Celine Klein is one example that the music industry shutdown has not solely impacted musicians.

She runs Jamstone Productions which primarily provides photo and video content for musicians.

Klein says she's excited to be back shooting projects and concerts, including Back to the Farm, but up until Phase 3 basically all of her opportunities dried up, often making it difficult to continue to stay creative.

"The opportunities have been so few that it has been challenging to continually stay motivated," says Klein.

"Mental health has been a real struggle for many people, artists and non-artists alike; I myself was in a situation where I could not work my other job during lockdowns, nor could I really practice my art, so it was really challenging to take stock in tentative future projects."

Back to the Farm will be the biggest event held in Kingston in quite some time, but not everyone is as excited to see it make its' return just yet.

Kris Clendining, who owns Musiikki Cafe, says he's been so grateful to have live music return to his venue and other locations around the city and hopes it can continue.

He adds however that he wishes our community could be a little more patient in getting back to celebrating, and says to hold such a large event like Back to the Farm when COVID numbers have started to rise again in many places is irresponsible.

"After all the hoops we've been jumping through, the countless government money spent on assistance to businesses and individuals to stay socially distanced, the amount of distress it's caused businesses and individuals," Clendining said.

"It's as if everyone forgot where we were four months ago."

Clendining said plainly that if we are forced into another lockdown, he doesn't think his venue along with many other restaurants and bars will survive.

He added that going forward he'd rather see the government support small businesses by designating public health staff to assist with safety standards and take some of the onus off of the businesses themselves as they try to maintain day to day operations.

Musiikki currently features musicians every night of the week, and want to do so into the winter months.

Tomorrow Mackinnon Brothers' Brewing Company will welcome a number of local food trucks, volunteers and roughly 4,500 attendees to the Back to the Farm festival.

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, YGK News

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