Bay of Quinte Tourism

Two Local Theatres Are Keeping Music Alive in Quinte

Two people playing instruments on a stage to an empty venue.

Header photo: Tony Forbes with Jesse McFaul at the Empire Theatre. Photo by Marley Forbes.


Two people singing and playing instruments on a stage with a blue background.
Andy Forgie and Mark Rashottee at DocFest 2021. Photo by Empire Theatre.

We’ve passed the one-year mark in the COVID-19 pandemic and Quinte venues continue to ride the waves. The same amount of excitement and anxiousness we used to feel in a theatre as we watch the curtains open has switched to waiting for recording lights to appear. The good ol’ days might be on hold for now, but what hasn’t left is the community effort to support live music and the musicians.

The Empire Theatre in Belleville and Old Church Theatre in Quinte West have adapted their set-ups to provide limited in-person and virtual shows. Select concerts at The Empire Theatre, like Classic Albums Live, offer a chance for 50 people to be seated in the 700-seat theatre.

People have been live-streaming the shows all around the world, and phones have been ringing from others interested, especially with bigger acts that have come in like Lawrence Gowan and Jake Clemons.

“When the performers play, they are so thrilled to be able to hear real live applause and real reaction to the performance they give. It’s really quite heartwarming to witness,” said promotions manager Andy Forgie.

Classic Albums Live is coming up again and Forgie said in that instance the musicians will be playing Tom Petty’s album in early April, completely live. The show will be streamed online thanks to efforts by the main staff of about six at The Empire.

The team is also inviting local and regional artists to pre-record shows of original music for Music City Mondays. One of the silver linings Forgie noted is having people watch from greater distances, providing access for people to watch the shows again. This is something that has really boosted The Old Church Theatre in Trenton, owned by Lesley Bonisteel and her husband, Brian Weston.


This is a new adventure for the 145-year-old church, though it has been standing since before the Spanish Flu. Taping shows ahead of time is what the Bonisteels have had to adapt to thanks to rural internet. They have also been pre-taping shows for people to watch exclusively online. Bonisteel added that they did host a very small number of people for their Christmas show with all the safety protocols in place like physical distancing, masks, contact tracing and dividers between tables.

“What we found is that people were not comfortable being indoors anyway for the most part,” said Bonisteel, who has posted a full COVID-19 protocol page on their website.

A patio with people sitting at tables watching live music, with a church in the background.
Live music at the Old Church in 2020. Photo by Old Church Theatre.

The church enjoyed a busy season last year after building an outdoor stage in the large parking lot. Tickets are already selling for this year’s outdoor concerts that will be running from June to early fall with a maximum of 50 people at a time. The new addition of outdoor heaters this time around will hopefully give them a chance to start theatre-type events earlier in the season, like storytelling nights. Bonisteel said that they’ve learned to really appreciate the outdoor concerts because the Canadians summers are so short.


Both the Old Church and Empire Theatre have launched tip jars that have received some generous amounts, in some cases from local businesses who worked with them. Despite the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic, these venues have kept the spirit of the arts alive thanks to continued community support. The big takeaway from both these Quinte venues is that there is certainly a greater appreciation for enjoying music together.


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Bay of Quinte Region is an alliance of interdependent communities, bound together by a common history, shared economy, and the water that surrounds and defines us. We hope to welcome you soon.

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Bay of Quinte Region is an alliance of interdependent communities, bound together by a common history, shared economy, and the water that surrounds and defines us. We hope to welcome you soon.