Toronto has a bustling music scene, and on any given night one can check out a range of concerts
from indie rock to classical music.
Toronto is lucky enough to be a major stop for musical tours travelling across North America. When the biggest bands in the world come to Canada, almost without fail they will come to the city.
These popular international artists and groups tend to perform at large downtown venues like the Air Canada Centre and the Molson Amphitheatre, located on the west end waterfront as part of the Ontario Place complex.
Of course, the very biggest draws might choose the Rogers Centre baseball stadium for their show, as U2 recently did. Large-scale concerts and festivals are also sometimes held north of the city at Downsview Park, a former Canadian Forces airbase. This was where the famous “SARS-Stock” was held in 2003.
Artists both big and small come to Toronto, and as a result the city enjoys a variety of venues where they perform. After the big stadiums, the next tier of venues is concert halls, which attract other popular and critically acclaimed international and domestic acts.
The downtown Theatre District is home to several venues, including the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s home on King Street West, Roy Thomson Hall.
Roy Thomson Hall and its cousin Massey Hall host many types of concerts, from classical music and choirs, to popular rock bands and international pop stars.
Also downtown is the Sony Centre, a venue featuring a similar variety of music, theatre and shows. That venue is located at the intersection of Front Street and Yonge Street.
Over to the east-downtown waterfront, The Kool Haus also tends to attract big-name musical groups. Recent artists to pass through there have included Kings of Leon, Nine Inch Nails, and Lady Gaga.
The Sound Academy, also on the waterfront at Polson Pier, is another popular concert spot. The Harbourfront Centre, on Queens Quay West, holds a full schedule of festivals and free concerts through the warmer months of the year.
Located on Queen Street East, The Opera House regularly hosts popular rock, hip hop, electronic and indie bands. Also just east of downtown, on Sherbourne Street, is The Phoenix Concert Theatre, a trendy venue that attracts many up-and-coming groups.
Bars and Small Clubs
While well-known artists and big tours regularly pass through Toronto, the city has a vibrant local music scene with great local bands to check out.
Local shows tend to be featured in bars and clubs clustered along certain main streets, including College Street, Bloor Street, Ossington Avenue and Queen Street West.
Bloor Street in the Annex is the home of Lee’s Palace, a Toronto musical institution. Opened in 1985, the club regularly hosts popular and up-and-coming bands from around the world, particularly alternative rock. Other smaller concert venues in the area include The Tranzac and Clinton’s.
Queen Street West is a particularly hot spot for shows, particularly on weekends. Downtown venues like The Horseshoe Tavern and The Rivoli are cultural icons in Toronto, having been ingrained in the musical scene for decades.
Many big name artists have passed through on their way to stardom, including Bryan Adams, The Police, and the Rolling Stones. Other Queen Street concert venues include The Drake, hotel-bar-lounge with a noteworthy patio, and The Rex Jazz and Blues Bar, one of the most popular jazz and blues venues in the city.
Among its many characteristics, Toronto is a city of festivals. Some of these are devoted entirely to music, while others include concerts as part of a larger cultural event.
There are festivals happening in the area throughout the year, but the pace picks up during the summer when concert space opens up outdoors.
One of the big annual events is the North by Northeast festival in June, which brings together rock, pop, electronic and hip hop artists from Canada and around the world.
Also known as NXNE, its centrepiece is a series of free concerts held at Yonge-Dundas Square. In addition to this, free concerts are held there throughout the year, or at least until the snows set in.
Like North by Northeast, Canada Music Week in March has shows spread out over dozens of venues across the city. As an added bonus, during those events many bars have extended hours, with some serving drinks until 4 a.m.
Another major summer event is the Beaches International Jazz Festival in July, when bands line the streets for over two kilometres along Queen Street East and the surrounding areas.
Meanwhile, it would negligent not to mention the Scotiabank Toronto Caribbean Carnival, formerly Caribana. Every August this massive festival brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to Toronto to celebrate Caribbean culture, especially music like reggae, hip hop, soca, and calypso.
In late August through the Labour Day long weekend, the Canadian National Exhibition puts on a series of big-name concerts as well.
Other events over the course of the year that feature concerts include the Luminato Festival, Nuit Blanche in October, and the Toronto International Film Festival.
Overall, there is rarely any lack of concerts going on in the city, many of which are free to the public. The best place to check out what’s going on is the concert listings are in one of the Toronto’s weekly entertainment papers. Now Magazine and The Grid are the two most prominent of those.