Music in Hamilton

Music in Hamilton Blog Series

Hometown Advice for Fledgling Musician from local artists Luke Bentham and Terra Lightfoot

By Stuart Berman

Hamilton boasts a fertile, self-contained musical ecosystem that’s served as the launch pad for a number of nationally renowned touring acts. And not only did these artists get their start in Hamilton, they’ve continued to make the city their home, even though there’s a certain gravitational pull eastward down the QEW that some say could be beneficial to advancing their careers. We spoke to two such local success stories to get their thoughts on how fledgling musicians can use Hamilton’s more tight-knit infrastructure to their advantage. Luke Bentham of pop-punk power trio The Dirty Nil and roots-rock phenom Terra Lightfoot hail from different corners of the Hamilton music scene, but they’ve each managed to parlay their homegrown followings into steady international touring and JUNO Award recognition. Both got their start in the late-2000s, just before social media became an integral part of every artist’s self-promotional strategy. But their experiences are as instructive now as ever. After all, Hamilton isn’t the sort of city that cares about how many Instagram followers you have. What ultimately matters is whether you can deliver the goods onstage. Here’s how they learned to do it.

Image of Luke Bentham
Luke Bentham (middle)

Image of Terra Lightfoot
Terra Lightfoot

Take Matters Into Your Own Hands

Bentham: “Our first local gig was in Dundas—I booked the show myself. I rented out a church and a bunch of us 13-year-olds in cover bands played a show. And then to get my first gig in Hamilton, I started asking around to people that I knew who had already played gigs, and I heard of this guy named Brodie Schwendiman—I emailed him, and he gave us a gig to play at The Underground. Brodie was very nice to us early on, and he’s still booking shows at The Casbah, so he’s a nice resource. I think that bands underestimate how easy it is to get things going. I just assumed there was going to be all these hurdles, and it’s like, ‘No, you can just do a show.’ But once you get it, you’ve got to do the legwork to make sure it's good.”

Find Your Tribe

Lightfoot: “I had been going to open mics at The Pepper Jack Cafe [now Club Absinthe] for a year as a spectator and maybe playing one song here and there, and I ended up getting my first proper gig through that. At the Pepper Jack, I found a place where I could go any night of the week and hang out, whether I went for dinner, drinks or to just hang out with friends. I found a real sense of community there.”

Play Anytime, Anywhere

Bentham: “Between the ages of 18 and 21, we did a lot of weird off-kilter gigs and house parties. We did a residency at this one house in Guelph where basically they’d have a kegger, like, once every two months or so and we would play it in return for free beer. But there were awesome turnouts. Those shows were definitely key to the development of our band.”

Lightfoot: “I was playing cover gigs in bars that were removed from downtown—like I'd play up on the mountain at a place called The Whistling Walrus. I think there's a definite need to pay dues. And in this business, you need to hustle a little bit. Before I even started working with [my label and management company] Sonic Unyon, they invited me to play the main stage at Supercrawl, just because I was playing so much around the city. I got to play for a lot of people I had never seen before, and that was really exciting. Supercrawl is such an excellent resource for people who are looking to connect with more Hamilton folks.”

Connect With Local Media

Bentham: “We started this band when we were 16, but we didn’t play a show in Hamilton until we were 17, because we just were figuring out everything by ourselves… we were kind of an isolated island out in Dundas. But Ric Taylor at CFMU was very kind to us, and he wrote about us in his column in View Magazine. He was the first industry person that got behind us and was our first real link out into the community.”

Never Say No

Lightfoot: “I remember being really busy doing gigs and teaching music, and the [now defunct] Harvest Picnic asked me to play at their press conference and I thought, ‘You know, it's on an afternoon when I could easily be doing other musical work… but I guess I'll do the press conference.' So I went—and it turned out Daniel Lanois was also playing the press conference, because Harvest Picnic was his festival. And he didn't have a proper amplifier with him, so he had to borrow mine. We ended up talking and we've become friends and he's become one of my greatest mentors. So my advice would be to always say ‘yes,’ even when it may be inconvenient or even when you don't think it's going to be helpful to you. Every gig, no matter where it is and who’s there, you're always playing for a reason. My reason for playing music is I want to make sure that young women feel they have a place in the music industry, because it was not always easy for me. And I think it's really important for each musician to find the reason they want to do it and work towards that at every single gig and, you will be much better for it.”


Stuart Berman is a Hamilton-based contributor to Pitchfork, CBC Radio’s Q, and Third Bridge Creative, among others. He is also the author of This Book Is Broken: A Broken Social Scene Story and Too Much Trouble: A Very Oral History of Danko Jones. You can follow Stuart @stuberman

Previous Blogs from the Music in Hamilton Series 

The Power of Live Music: how it benefits you, musicians & the local music community

Written by Jamie Tennant

There are many different ways to experience music – earbuds, overpriced headphones stereos, car radios, dance clubs, basement parties, crappy turntables, shopping malls, and everything in-between. Each provides its own unique magic, to be sure. But there must be a reason people stand in the rain, travel hundreds of miles, or spend outrageous amounts of money on Stubhub in order to experience live music. It can’t just be, I don’t know, for the ‘gram or something.

Band performing live

What do we even mean by “live” music? And we’re not just talking dudes with guitars as hopefully the images that come to mind are more diverse. All it really means is a live performance – in some fashion, the entertainer is creating the music in front of an audience. Could be a 45-piece orchestra, an emcee rapping over a recording – both count.

There’s an intangible energy involved when something is created live. There’s a tension between the artist and the audience, a push and pull of energy, almost a symbiosis, to get a touch pretentious about it. One feeds the other. It’s not replicable in a situation where you experience the art alone. You need the artist there. What’s more tangible, though, is the power – the power that comes from the energy on stage, from the swell of reaction from a group of people, from sheer bloody volume. When bass thumps in your chest like a shock wave against your sternum, and you can feel the passion from the stage, and everyone around you responds…that’s the magic right there.

Performers on stage

There’s an intangible energy involved when something is created live. There’s a tension between the artist and the audience, a push and pull of energy, almost a symbiosis, to get a touch pretentious about it. One feeds the other. It’s not replicable in a situation where you experience the art alone. You need the artist there. What’s more tangible, though, is the power – the power that comes from the energy on stage, from the swell of reaction from a group of people, from sheer bloody volume. When bass thumps in your chest like a shock wave against your sternum, and you can feel the passion from the stage, and everyone around you responds…that’s the magic right there.

woman performing live music on a stage

There are more practical reasons to see live music too – and that’s to support live music. You want to feel like you’re doing some good in the world, giving back to the artist. The artist isn’t selling CDs and is getting one hundred thousandth of a cent on Spotify. Your ticket order/cover charge/T-shirt purchase makes a difference to whether or not they can devote more time to making the music you love. If you’re seeing a local artist, you’re supporting an entire community. Dropping ten bucks to see someone from Hamilton means you’re simultaneously supporting musicians, bar owners, bartenders, sound people, poster makers, studios, guitar makers, etc. You’re really helping a community 

What do you get out of it? A good time. A rush of endorphins and a better sense of well-being.  Being a body in a live room gives you a sense of community, a communion with other people that listening on earbuds can’t give you. Room to dance like there’s no one watching, because they probably aren’t.

They’re too busy enjoying the experience themselves.

If you’re looking for live music, there’s plenty to be had in this city – so get out there and see something. You won’t regret it.


Jamie Tennant is a Writer, radio guy, host of GET LIT, pop culture enthusiast, and author of The Capitan of Kinnoull Hill . If you’re on social you can follow @jtennant1020


Hamilton - The City of Live Music

Written by Biljana Njegovan

As Hamiltonians, we are very lucky to live in a city that is full of so much high quality music. Sure, you can listen to any number of excellent Hamilton artists in the comfort of your own home, but where Hamilton really shines is in the world of live music. From clubs to parks - you can leave your home on almost any given night and stumble across great live music being performed all over the city. Let’s take a look at the various live music experiences available in Hamilton.

Venues & Festivals

We begin with your classic nightclub style music venue. For a population of our size, we have a decent number of well-run music venues with great sound systems and owners and staff who care about the local music scene. These places are the backbone and steady drum of the local music scene. The Casbah, This Ain’t Hollywood, Club Absinthe, The Corktown Pub, First Ontario Concert Hall, Theatre Aquarius, The Zoetic, Artword Artbar, HAVN, Sousbas, Club 77, Zylas, Stonewall Bar and Grill, Doors: Taco Joint and Metal Bar, Mills Hardware.

Festival goers sitting on grass.

Festivals are a great option for seeing a variety of music in one spot. As we enter the full swing of the summer season there are many opportunities for the whole family to enjoy some great live music all over the city. It’s Your Festival, Ancaster Fair, Locke Street Festival, Supercrawl, Winona Peach Festival, Hamilton Latino Festival, Festival of Friends, Strangewaves Festival, Dundas Cactus Festival.

Unexpected Places & Spaces

The real magic happens when you stumble across live music in places where it doesn’t normally happen. That is what takes us from a city with some live music venues and festivals to something else entirely. You can see:

Artist performing in a small venue

Artist performing on fire escape

There are more places than this, but this list should give you a good idea about the range of live musical offerings at your disposal. Did I miss your favourite? Share yours on twitter with #HamOntMusic.


Biljana Njegovan is an award winning blogger and a passionate Hamiltonian who has been writing about this city for over a decade. If you’re on social you can follow @biljana3000