Free Whiskey String Band
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Free Whiskey String Band

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | SELF

Toronto, Ontario, Canada | SELF
Band Folk Bluegrass


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"Tales From The Jug - The Free Whiskey String Band (Review)"

The Free Whiskey String Band’s second release Tales From The Jug is one of those rare moments where an explosion in songwriting ideas coincides with unprecedented growth and development for each member of the band. While vinyl is, unfortunately, a way of the past, don’t let the single cd fool you into thinking FWSB hasn’t put out a double album’s worth of material. Tim O’Reilly’s (bass) songbook has matched Ben Wright’s (guitar) in size offering a songwriting tandem rather than a solitary prominent voice. Tim brings his playful, tongue-in-cheek country attitude with lyrics about ‘god-knows-what-this-time’ to churn out everything from love songs about trucks to odes for winos. At times his wild phrases are reminiscent of Highway 61 era Dylan. Chance Kellner (violin) has also grown into a prominent voice on the recordings, even taking lead on one track, “Yellow Roses.” Wright, along with the rest of the band, has explored new time signatures, new melodic lines, and new ways to arrange their music. He has developed a larger than life guitar style where his solos are always thick and fill out the sonic space. Losing the banjo and cajon from their first release, I expected the sound to be thinner with less variation. Free Whiskey defeats the odds in this department with their newfound confidence and growing input from every member which led to an explosion of lush, thick vocal harmonies and such a diversity in style. While they never would have accepted the label of a traditional bluegrass band, the new album explores such new territory that breaks away from whatever conventions which restrained them in the first album. That being said, they still mind their roots (“Three Long Hours” predates their first release by at least a year and is highly anticipated by long-time fans). Like the album, the songs have also evolved in length and depth reaching to the five and a half minute “The Line Of Right,” an exploration of tough times and finding room for ethics in wholesome country life which reminds us of Springsteen’s Nebraska. Partners of the band, Sheesham and Lotus (, bring a special mojo to the final two tracks of the album best described as an old-time feel with household-friendly instrumentation and their own unique brand of humor. The album concludes with the two strongest new tracks, “Jailhouse” and “More Than I Can (Grizzly) Bear.” I don’t want to ruin any surprises, but the two bands reached deep into their bag of tricks and actually managed to replicate the magic on “More Than I Can (Grizzly) Bear” that happens in their live performances. They finish a formidably long collection of songs the best way: the best track on the album, their strongest performance, finished with ending laughing and banter which just makes you feel like the band has invited you into their living room for an evening.

The more that I think about it, a release of this caliber should have been expected. Many of these songs were played at their last cd release. Their residency at Kingston’s The Mansion was the perfect stage to host their coming of age. Each member has been immersed in their instrument and the evolution is evident. That, accompanied with their increased sense of musicality, well exemplified in “Heart Thief,” we can only look forward to their next release and ask, what are they going to do next? -

"Free For All: Local act Free Whiskey are bringing something new to Kingston's music scene with their homegrown Bluegrass tunes"

Although indie rockers and solo songsters tend to dominate the Kingston music scene of late, this bluegrass folk quartet was a refreshing concert attendees. With Ben Wright on vocals and guitar, Chance Kellner on violin, Tim O'Reilly on the bass and Liam Finney on percussion and banjo, Free Whiskey took the stage and immediately transported listeners to a faraway place. They're unlike any band I've seen in my time at Queen's. With their ability to strike a balance between uniquely oldschool country bluegrass croons and excitingly appealing new melodies, they're truly a unique band in the Kingston scene. Throughout the set I couldn't help but imagine a backdrop of a warm spring breeze. The tunes evoke the feeling of calmly lounging in a meadow or meandering through a prairie. What immediately stands out about the group is each individual member's skill and passion for their instrument; the group's harmonic chemistry is undeniable. Their perfectly pitched vocals saturated each song. With all four members singing in harmony in select parts of each song, they enveloped the room with their engaging lyrics and powerful voices. The group's solid tracks suggest a strong musical background. Their balance between past and present subject matter had me forgetting that the talented folk group weren't seasoned old-timers but fellow 20-somethings with old souls harkening back to a better and simpler time. Singing of everything from waking up hung-over, to letting go of love, to grumpy old men, the four-piece clearly garners immense pleasure from playing their tunes-their crowd's smiles were contagious. Free Whiskey's merit isn't only in their sweet and homegrown sound but also their lyrics and ability to connect with the audience. By the end of the show I felt as if they'd let the attendees in on a few personal stories and adventures through their songs. Playing each week at the mansion, their original tunes, enticing narratives and impressive musical skill are sure to provide a hospitable and pleasant soundtrack to your wednesday nights as the winter months approach. - The Queen's Journal


Free Whiskey String Band - recorded live off the floor at Escarpment Sound Studio in Acton, ON.
Free Whiskey String Band - Tales From the Jug - recorded live off the floor at Escarpment Sound Studio in Acton, ON. (to be released in November 2010)



The Free Whiskey String Band is a gem of the Ontario folk community. Their rich and sweet harmony, incredible songwriting, and fresh take on tradition make for an unforgettable listening experience, and their broad appeal make them the perfect addition to any festival lineup.

Free Whiskey has been featured at:

2010 Toronto Festival of Beer

2010 Montreal Folk Festival Sur le Canal

2010 Creemore Springs Copper Kettle Festival

2011 Quinte Isle Bluegrass Celebration

2011 Holstein Bluegrass Celebration

2011 Doors Open Toronto @ the Steam Whistle Roundhouse

2012 Port Severn Just Add Water Festival

2012 Doors Open Toronto @ the Steam Whistle Roundhouse

They’ve appeared lineups with Little Feat, Old Man Luedecke, Lake of Stew, Kathleen Edwards, Sheesham and Lotus, Luther Wright, Jenny Whiteley, Notre Dame de Grass, The Foggy Hogtown Boys, Karl Shiflett, Hard Ryde, and Kim Mitchell.

In Toronto, they’ve played the Drake Hotel, Silver Dollar Room, Rivoli, Dakota Tavern, El Mocambo, Tranzac, Local Pub, Free Times Café, Cloak and Dagger, Feathers Pub, Cornerstone, 3030, and Kelly’s Corner.

They’ve toured Ontario extensively, and have performed in Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Sudbury, Napanee, Picton, Orangeville, Southampton, Ganonoque, Holstein, Merrickville, Orillia, and Creemore.

In 2011, Free Whiskey toured Canada’s East Coast, performing all over New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

Although greatly inspired by the bluegrass and old-time traditions established by the Stanley Brothers, Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Doc Watson, Tom Paxton and Tim O’Brien, Free Whiskey’s sound also is also shaped by a love for folk, rock, and Americana. Featuring Ben Wright on Guitar, Chance Kellner on Fiddle, and Tim O’Reilly on Bass, strong instrumentalism and a knack for thick and tight vocal harmonies give the band an enormous sound for an acoustic trio. Free Whiskey began in Kingston in 2009 as a Queen’s campus band, and a 4 AM impromptu audition earned them a weekly residency that they shared with the awe-inspiring old-time duo Sheesham and Lotus. Since the summer of 2010, the band has lived and worked out of Toronto, but have taken their escapades far and wide, and have developed their sound immensely.

They have has released 2 studio albums to date, and is currently in post-production on a third.