Creativity, Joy, and a Cardboard Pirate Ship: What To Expect at SPAF 2024

Mariah Horner and Tyffanie Morgan pictured in front of the 2024 Skeleton Park Arts Festival poster.
Left: Mariah (Mo) Horner, photo by Cameron Nelles. Right: Tyffanie Morgan, photo by Becky Hinch.

Summer solstice is just around the corner, and the sun has been bragging about it all week long. When it’s unbearably hot out, Skeleton Park (officially McBurney Park) is one of my favourite places to seek refuge—the trees offer generous shade, and there’s usually a light breeze to cut through the humidity that clings to the lakeside city air. 

It’s no coincidence that, on the longest days of the year, this park is the neighbourhood’s go-to gathering spot. 

What began over twenty years ago as an annual solstice picnic evolved into the Skeleton Park Music Festival in 2006 and was renamed the Skeleton Park Arts Festival (SPAF) in 2013. After a brief pandemic hiatus—at which time the organizers focused on other programming, like outdoor art installations and a community newspaper—SPAF returned to the park in 2022. The free, outdoor, family-oriented festival has been in full swing ever since. 

This weekend (June 22nd and 23rd), SPAF will bring together over 75 musicians, 50 artisans, and 100 volunteers. The festival also features two effervescent emcees, who were good enough to meet with me for a preview of the 2024 festivities. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Could you introduce yourselves?

TM: I am Miss Tyffanie Morgan, drag queen extraordinaire of Kingston, Ontario, Canada. I’ve been doing drag for 24 years in Kingston, so I’m a little bit of a stalwart here. And I’m going to be co-hosting with another fabulous person this solstice weekend! 

And who is this other fabulous person?!

MH: It’s-a me, Momo! Mariah, or Mo Horner. I’m a theatre person and a musician in town, and soon to be a professor at the DAN School at Queen’s. This is my third year co-hosting the Skeleton Park Arts Festival. I’m stoked to be back in the park this summer, and even more stoked to be sharing the stage with Miss Tyff. 

I still remember the first time I saw Miss Tyffanie—I was a bartender at the Grad Club, and I used to love getting the VIP side angle view of all the drag shows there. Miss Tyffanie is so kind, and such a knockout performer, so I feel really lucky to be sharing the stage with her this year.

What are three words you would use to describe the festival?

TM: Creativity, joy, and neighbourly. That’s what I think about when we’re talking about Skeleton Park Arts Fest. Every year, even if you may have forgotten about it—you haven’t looked at the adverts, you haven’t read the blog posts—you’ll still hear the music and then you’ll be drawn into it… When you’re there, everyone is so, so neighbourly. And there’s so much joy going on. You’re going to see a lot of friendly new faces. And the creativity is just abounding, through live music and the arts. The food, too. It’s just really, really fun.

MH: My first word is kids. My favourite part of the festival is how many moms and babies and children are involved. The kids really feel authentically involved. They’re volunteering. They’re meeting artists. They’re performing on the stage. So I love that. 

My second word is Boxtopia! This year, the good folks from the Department of Illumination are coming down to build a pirate ship out of recyclable material. So not only is it a fantastic word, it’s a fantastic thing to do. 

I suppose my third word is music. I have a lot of fond memories of the festival—hearing the festival from a block away, from backstage, from inside somebody’s house down the street, all the different ways the sound waves of the music and laughter float through the neighbourhood. 

Is there any programming you’re especially excited about this year?

MH: Yes! There’s a musician in town named Yarro. I’ve seen her stuff online, and I know that she’s a theatre person and also a musician. I’m always really excited to see how folks that are multidisciplinary bring that kind of energy to an outdoor festival. And I’m also very excited about the group Chanter La Pomme, who I haven’t seen play in town a lot. It’s always a surprise what they’re bringing to the stage, and they always make the people dance. 

TM: Also going through the [artisan market]… This year, we’re partnering with the Fat Goose Collective, a new partner arts organization, and they’ll be in charge of the artisan market. So that’ll be really nice. It’s very community-oriented. There will be community organizations with all these lovely booths that you can chat with, and you can even chat with the Skeleton Park Arts Festival table as well, and see if maybe next year you want to be a volunteer or be a part of the festival in a different way. 

Talking about music, on Sunday morning, Undertow Brass Band will be leading the annual porch jazz parade through the neighbourhood. So that’s always exciting—you just want to get up and start dancing, because it’s such a lively brass band. The kids love it.

MH: One of the other artists that I’m super excited to see again is Anishnaabe shoegaze rock band Status/Non-Status. They are really vibrant musicians, really remarkable people. And after having some conversations with Adam [Sturgeon] from the band last year, I think they’re doing a lot of similar work to what SPAF is doing, but in London. I always love meeting artists who are materializing beautiful worlds all over the country that are similar to this one.

TM: If you’re coming to the festival, and you’re like, ‘What kind of music am I going to hear?’—you’re going to hear a whole diverse amount of music. We’re going to have the JUNO-nominated group Kobo Town, Kingston-Iranian santur player Sadaf Amini, reggae band The Human Rights, alt-country from Justin Rutledge. There’s going to be something for everyone. 

Going back to what Mo said about beautiful worlds, this festival does some impressive work on the sustainability front. Bicycle parking, waste diversion…

TM: Last year, there was only one garbage bag of waste produced during the entire festival! So we have to thank everyone who comes, because they’re bringing their reusable plates and cups, so that we’re not creating waste. And also our volunteers, for finding everything that could be recycled or composted. 

MH: I’d also like to give a shout out to SPAF’s leadership team. This festival is run by volunteers, including a volunteer board of directors who do a lot of really amazing work, modeling the ways that this festival can do good work in the park and beyond. So shout out to the remarkable board at the festival. 

Tyffanie Morgan is a drag queen entertainer, gardener & horticulturalist, online personality, hostess, event manager, and community leader in Kingston, Ontario. 

Mariah (Mo) Horner is a theatre artist, musician, emcee, and assistant professor at Queen’s University in the DAN School of Drama and Music. 

Skeleton Park Arts Festival (SPAF) takes place in McBurney Park from June 22nd to 23rd, 2024. Admission is free. Learn more about the lineup and schedule here

From the editor: Please note Haley will join Chanter La Pomme to sing a few songs at SPAF this year. Mentions of the musical group arose organically during the interview.


  • Haley Sarfeld

    Haley Sarfeld (she/they) works as a theatre critic for the Kingston Theatre Alliance and Kingston Whig-Standard. As a playwright, performer, and composer-lyricist, she has been featured in the Shortwave Theatre Festival, Watershed Festival: Reimagining Music Theatre, and the Kick & Push Festival. Since completing her MA in Cultural Studies at Queen's University, Haley has worked in administrative and marketing roles for a variety of local arts organizations. Haley's writing can be found year-round in the Skeleton Press, where she contributes themed crossword puzzles and writes articles about sidewalks, dreams, and the radio. She has also been known to air small-city drama in Intermission Magazine. Photo by Jeff Henderson.

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