Apple Crisp Music Festival featuring Clues, Castlemusic, PS I Love You, The Happiness Project, Muskox Kingston, ON March 12 to 20

Apple Crisp Music Festival featuring Clues, Castlemusic, PS I Love You, The Happiness Project, Muskox Kingston, ON March 12 to 20
Competing with the behemoth SXSW is no easy feat, but Kingston, ON's second annual Apple Crisp festival put up a good fight. The diverse programming showed in the audience. One night the dance floor was crammed with high school students. The next it looked like all university professors, swilling whiskey at candlelit tables.

The Happiness Project, from Broken Social Scene's Charles Spearin, played in one of Kingston's many churches during the opening weekend. The stage (or pulpit, if you will) held Spearin and his large backing band, playing guitar, harp, violin, trumpet, sax, drums and more. Recordings of Spearin's neighbours were layered with music, drawing out odd melodies in their speech. The lilt of one voice, when paired with the tooting of a saxophone, was strangely reminiscent of the garbled adult-speak on the Peanuts show.

While Kingston's main drag, Princess Street, was filled with drunken, green-garbed revelers on St. Patrick's Day, the Artel hosted an intimate show with Toronto's Castlemusic and Muskox. Jennifer Castle, of Castlemusic, played her sparse, folk songs first. The set felt almost like a stream of consciousness, with one song of twangy plucks and throaty vocals flowing seamlessly into the next. Toronto's Muskox came next, with their six members filling the tiny performance space. The banjo, harmonium, cello, double bass, alto sax, electric keyboard and vibraphone melded into a soothing post-jazz set.

The following night at the Mansion had a hometown feel. Three Kingston acts (False Face, Audiopark and PS I Love You) played alongside the quintessential Montreal band, Clues. Noise rock band False Face started with an energetic set that often felt like a three-way dare; the two guitarists and drummer ramped up to noisy crescendos, only to crash to a halt or fade off into reverb. Audiopark, a five-piece group with all their members still in high school, were visibly stoked to be on stage. A porous line existed between the band and crowd with lots of high-fives and dancing flowing between.

PS I Love You
, perhaps Kingston's most high-profile act, came next. It's awesome (as in awe-inspiring) to see the complex guitar riffs that front-man Paul Saulnier pulls off while working a foot organ and singing. Clues, with members from Arcade Fire and Unicorns, sound pretty darn close to what one would expect from a crossover of these groups. The two drummers are definitely the motor behind the band's forceful sound, while Alden Penner's singing guided the down time.

Perhaps the festival's only blip was the variety show at the Baby Grand Theatre. Amateurish belly dancing and the painfully twee Cedar Tavern Singers from Alberta seemed out of sync with the rest of the fest.

Throughout the week, Kingston's supportive scene was out in full force. That perennially empty no-mans land between stage and audience was always filled with listeners seated cross-legged or dancing full-throttle. Straightforward appreciation and praise was yelled out between songs, and it's that sort of love that SXSW can't beat.