Perhaps it’s the long winters, or maybe it’s the endless amount of scenic inspiration. Whatever the cause, it is undisputed that Prince Edward Island is home to a disproportionate number of talented musicians.
The number of venues in which to marvel at these musical storytellers is too many to count, much like the number of acts they attract. Here are a few of my favourites:
If I had to pick my favourite venue on the Island, this would be it. And as the winner of the Music PEI Award for the 2013 Venue of the Year, it seems many would agree with me. Located off the beaten path in the heart of Mount Stewart, the Trailside Café is the perfect mix of old and new. Owners Pat and Meghann Deighan have maintained the history and charm of the decades-old building while sprucing it up with a rustic aesthetic that pays homage to the era in which it was built.
The Trailside attracts a wonderfully diverse assortment of entertainment – from the locally famous to the internationally renowned.
As intimate as it is charming, the Trailside feels a bit like you’ve been invited along with 50 other people to a kitchen party with your favourite musician. The atmosphere is known to induce foot-stomping and knee-slapping, and has on occasion inspired people to push aside their tables for an impromptu dance, led to a most romantic proposal, and encouraged an aspiring musician in the audience to get up and play a tune with a musical role model.
Insider’s Tip: Book tickets early and reserve a table because the Trailside fills up fast! To make the most of your night, go early and go hungry. The Trailside opens a few hours before the show starts and offers a small menu with a focus on local ingredients. I highly recommend the fish cakes.
If Trailside is the kitchen party, than Marc’s Studio is what happens when that party moves into the living room. Except the living room is conveniently situated smack dab in the middle of downtown Charlottetown.
Located on the third floor of the Daniel-Brenan Brickhouse, Marc’s Studio is made up of a series of cozy vignettes of plush sofas, tufted loveseats and wingback chairs arranged around antique side tables and lamps. Soft lighting illuminates exposed-brick walls and wooden beams to create a relaxing ambience where conversation and mingling are encouraged.
Marc’s Studio showcases Island musicians and is the perfect spot to head to when you’re all dressed up with no place to go on a Friday or Saturday night. You can be certain you will hear authentic Island talent without the worry of buying tickets in advance.
Refined but not stuffy, Marc’s Studio has arguably the best martini list in town and is well stocked with the finest wines and Island-produced ales and lager. You are likely to be on a first name basis with the bartender by the time you leave.
Fun Fact: In a move that would make Steve Jobs proud, Marc’s Studio has embraced technology and uses iPads as menus allowing you to scroll your way through a tour of its martini list.
You can’t miss Harmony House, nor should you. This bright orange building was originally a church but has received such extensive renovations that it’s hard to imagine it as anything other than its current incarnation. The theatre is located in Hunter River, which is roughly halfway between Charlottetown and Summerside on the Trans Canada Highway.
Harmony House is a music lover’s paradise. It was designed for optimum audience pleasure. Nothing distracts from the show. The 140 theatre-style seats mean your view is never obstructed and your behind is never uncomfortable. The traditional post and beam construction of the building combined with the generous amount of stonework are the foundations for the perfect acoustics, and always make me feel like I’ve stepped inside a Rocky Mountain lodge. There is no food service in the theatre so the show is uninterrupted by the clattering of dishes or whispering of orders. There is, however, a downstairs lounge that is open before the show and during intermission where you can enjoy a beverage while admiring co-owner Kris Taylor’s beautiful oil paintings that line the walls.
Harmony House is big enough to attract world-class performers but small enough to maintain an up close and personal experience that will have you going back again and again.
Did you know? From June 27 to Aug. 31, Harmony House will present The Island Summer Review three nights a week. Two of the Island’s musically inclined funnymen, Patrick Ledwell and Mark Haines, have put together a show that will have you tapping your feet and clutching your sides in fits of giggles.
Hunter’s Ale House
Everything is bigger at Hunter’s Ale House. It has the biggest portions in town, the biggest beers in town, and quite possibly the biggest number of acts taking its stage in town.
If you’re looking for a party, Hunter’s is the place to be. Some of the most popular names in East Coast music perform here on a regular basis, and on occasion it plays host to nationally acclaimed artists.
The 130-year-old building occupies the corner of Kent and Prince Street and is in close proximity to many other bars and restaurants in downtown Charlottetown, making it popular with P.E.I.’s student population.
Loud and boisterous, Hunter’s can be counted on to show you a good time any night of the week. You’d be wise to wear your dancing shoes.
Insider’s Tip: If you’re looking for a change of scenery but don’t want to pay cover at another establishment, head upstairs to the Nightcap. A set of stairs at the side of the bar leads to second floor with a full-service bar, more seating and a DJ on busy nights.