Arena shows may come with big names and all the high-wattage energy you need, but nothing beats discovering up-and-coming talent, sharing a dance floor with less than a hundred others or seeing each fingerpick of a blues guitarist in a small, intimate space. Luckily, there are plenty of small venues in the Bay of Quinte region to choose from. Below, four of the best places to catch live music in Belleville, Quinte West and Prince Edward County.
Old Church Theatre
About eight kilometers north of downtown Trenton, at the corner of two country roads, sits this beautifully renovated red-brick church. Built in 1876, it’s become one of the best kept secret venues in the region, and if you get to the top of its signature tower, you’ll see Hastings, Prince Edward and Northumberland Counties. “It is a very special place indeed,” says owner Brian Weston. Inside, it’s even more special. With seating for a few dozen, a fireplace behind the stage, an 18-foot high ceiling and a small bar serving local craft beer and wine, the two best words to describe the Old Church Theatre would be “warm” and “inviting.” Local and touring musicians return again and again for its intimacy and unmatched acoustics. As resident sound engineer Andy Thompson says, “This is a gem of a performance space.” 940 Bonisteel Road, Trenton. 613-848-141. oldchurch.ca
When a venue is owned and managed by a working and accomplished musician, you know it likely brings the goods, both in talent and sound. Such is the case with this downtown mainstay for live music in Belleville, around since 1999 and the pride of Melanie Hilmi, one of the rowdy folk stars behind the BelleRegards. Though it may be just as famous for its fresh, tasty eats (beef bourgignon, or charcuterie, anyone?), its weekend lineups of regional and touring bands are exceptional, too. Take your pick from some of the best blues, folk and acoustic performers in the province, then settle in with a pint of craft beer or glass of local wine and enjoy. Inside, the atmosphere is modern and cozy with an eye on the past (e.g., the original stone wall that runs the length of the space). Out on the patio, where musicians sometimes play, it’s the perfect spot to toe-tap while watching the bustle of downtown. 272 Front Street, Belleville. 613-968-7979. capers.ca
The Belleville Club
Though it’s been a social club since its inception in 1914, The Belleville Club has always been a place that’s welcomed anyone — rock bands included. And once you do step inside the brick building near the corner of Pinnacle and Bridge Streets, you’ll likely want to stick around to not only check out a blues, rock, country or jazz band, but to explore the building’s post-Victorian elegance. High ceilings, expansive staircases, Persian carpets, hardwood floors, oak-panelled walls — there isn’t a music venue like it in the area. But while it may be old, its state-of-the-art sound system is anything but. Expect to see those bands downstairs in the Main Dining Room, which can fit about 150 people and comes with a grand piano, fireplace and bar. One (or a few) of the club’s vast selection of scotches or craft beers should taste fantastic while catching a show. 210 Pinnacle Street, Belleville. 613-962-1239. bellevilleclub.com
The Acoustic Grill
You’ll find Prince Edward County’s best small music venue tucked away just off Picton’s Main Street in the historic Master Feeds building. Opened in 2008 by Steve Purtelle, The Acoustic Grill is primarily, you guessed it, all about acoustic music. It’s built a reputation on the quality of the independent musicians it attracts from all over North America, not to mention the quality of its sound. That sound is so good, in fact, that Purtelle and Jenny Leigh were confident enough to start a record label that only releases live recordings from The Acoustic Grill performances. Most of those performances fall into the blues, folk and roots genres, and every visiting act produces original music. While getting your groove on, tuck into a fresh pint of craft beer (there are usually about 10 to choose from), County-famous burger or other pub grub with more vegetarian options than you can shake a carrot at. 172 Main Street, Picton. 613-476-2887. theacousticgrill.ca