Welcome to Kingston: An Open Letter to All Touring Bands

    Hey guys, how’s it going? My name’s Sean, but my friends call me TheBeard, and I write a wee little blog about metal and heavy music called Loud Noises. You’ve likely never heard of it, but that’s not at all surprising and actually kind of inconsequential. I’m penning this plea today simply as a fan of the kind of music you play.
    You see, I live in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, a city of about 150,000 right on the 401 maybe halfway between Toronto and Montreal. We’re also within a couple of hours of Ottawa, Brockville, Bellville, and Trenton, just to name a few of the other, smaller cities in southeastern Ontario that you’ve probably never heard of. We’ve got a world-class theatre, numerous bars and restaurants that feature live music, and a relatively new arena with a maximum capacity of 5,000-6,000. Since we’re a tourist town on Lake Ontario, we’ve also got lots of hotels and accommodations, many of them in the downtown area near the theatre, restaurants and bars, and the arena. Oh, and Kingston is home to a university and two colleges, giving it a relatively high (albeit somewhat seasonal) population of young people spending money at all those restaurants and bars.
    So why does it sound as if I’m trying to sell you Kingston like I’m the head of its tourism board? Simple: it’s because I am. Trying to sell you on Kingston, that is. Not head of Kingston’s Tourism Board. I’m trying to sell you on the idea that Kingston could and should be a viable stop on your next tour, especially if you’re going from Toronto to Ottawa or Toronto to Montreal or Toronto to Quebec City or any combination thereof, really, as long as you’re travelling along the 401...which you will be, if you’re trying to get anywhere in Southern Ontario.
    Now, I’ve seen a lot of good shows in Kingston over the years, so some of you must already agree with me. Alexisonfire, Protest the Hero, Moneen, Darkest Hour, Misery Signals and Tool (!) are among the bands I love that I’ve been fortunate enough to see right in my own backyard (so to speak), and there’s been at least a couple of shows over the years (Megadeth, anyone? Or even Devin Townsend?) that have rolled through town without me checking them out.
    My gripe, and the reason I’m writing this to all of you musicians out there, is the phrase “over the years” in the preceding paragraph. Unlike the lucky residents of, say, Toronto, who probably get to see at least a couple of really good metal/heavy-type shows a month (for the obvious trade-off of having to live in Toronto...) Kingston's lucky to get a couple a year. Don't get me wrong, I've seen a bunch of really cool shows in my hometown, including those listed above, but it's taken me since I was in high school to do it. That's around fifteen years for Kingston to get the kind and frequency of acts Toronto or Montreal gets in just one or two.
   Now, I can hear what you're saying already, you cynical economics major you: with a population in the millions, Toronto is a much bigger market than a city like Kingston and therefore a much safer bet financially for a touring band, especially one in a relatively niche genre like metal. I don't think it takes any special financial acumen or inside knowledge of the music industry to figure out that the bigger your potential audience, the better your chances of filling a venue. The odds of finding five hundred metalheads to pack a club are just better in a place with more potential metalheads. But hear me out. Clearly there is at least some economic viability to including a Kingston stop on your tour, or else acts wouldn't keep doing it. Of the bands I mentioned above, Alexisonfire, Protest the Hero, Moneen, and Darkest Hour (at the very least, these are just some off the top of my head) have played Kingston repeatedly since I've been a fan. On top of that, if you step outside our beloved genre for a moment, you'll see that such acts aren't alone. Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, ZZ Top, Alice Cooper, Skrillex, deadmau5, Elton John, Metric, and Stone Temple Pilots, to name just a smattering, have all played somewhere in the city in the last five years or so. Why, just this week it's been announced that Sting is coming to town in June.
   But you don't give a shit about any of those acts; why aren't metal bands playing here too? Why indeed? I think the big factor is, as discussed in the paragraph above, that Kingston is perceived as being too small a market. And admittedly, it *is* a small market when compared with the big cities of Canada and the US. But even as a small market it has some advantages, like the location factor I've already talked about. If you're a metal band with stops in Toronto and Ottawa on non-consecutive nights, you could add a date in Kingston on the off night much more easily than trying to include cities outside the basic "route" of your tour. And although the market is smaller, meaning less potential ticket buyers, the venues are also correspondingly smaller. A "big arena" show in Toronto means 20,000 people, while the closest equivalent in Kingston is 5,000 or under. That's an easier arena to sell out for sure. Not a big enough band for 5,000 even in a bigger market? No problem. Remember that theatre, and all those bars and restaurants with the live music? I've seen shows at a bunch of those places, and some of those shows have been pretty fucking heavy. And like I said, we've got lots of young people here with some disposable income who might very well jump at some metal if you gave them the right show.
   Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not naive enough to think you can just "add a date" in the middle of tour. Stopping in Kingston on your way from somewhere to somewhere else would require time, planning, and money, and investing any of these things in tour dates that might not pay off is a risk. I fully understand and appreciate this. But I counter with the idea that stopping in smaller places, like Kingston, is also an investment in building a devoted fanbase. Even in today's age of Facebook, Twitter and Youtube, when so much of a band's interaction with its fans is online, it's still true that a band's career is really made or broken by their touring, by their getting their music in front of as many audiences as possible. I feel like an old man saying it, but good old fashioned hard work is still the way to make your name and your fans as a band. Take one of my examples from above as..well, as an example. Protest the Hero, a band that's been playing to little crowds like those at a comedy club in Kingston for years, chose to launch an indiegogo campaign to crowdfund their next album. And then as you've probably read somewhere or other by now they shattered their $125,000 goal in 24 hours. They've still got 20 days left in the campaign and they've already raised nearly $250,000. That's support directly from fans and it sure as shit wasn't earned by Protest only playing big cities. They've earned it touring the globe, playing anywhere and everywhere.
   Well guess what, (INSERT BAND NAME HERE)? Kingston is anywhere. And everywhere. Yeah, chew on that for a second. Then come back and please seriously consider everything else that I've said. I see your Canadian tour dates listed on your Facebook page, and I see some cities in Ontario other than Toronto and Ottawa, and I wonder why Kingston can't appear among them more often. In fact, I challenge you to play Kingston sometime in 2013. Shit, if we're cool enough for Tool, we're cool enough for you. Why not stop by and find out for yourself?

Thanks for reading, and hope to see you soon,
Sean, aka TheBeard @ Loud Noises

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