Toronto Music Scene
Lauren Wells | April 28, 2014
Many talented performers call Toronto home, and with the city’s rich musical history comes a thriving, lively music scene to suit lovers of every genre. During the 1960s, blues jazz musician Amos Garrett got his start in Toronto before continuing on to work with artists like Todd Rundgren, Emmylou Harris, Bonnie Raitt, and Stevie Wonder. The 1970s introduced folk singer-songwriter Lorne Clarke onto the scene along with the band Alabama, known for their songs “Song of Love” and “Highway Driving.” Having toured with acts like Steppenwolf and Three Dog Night, the band Bush also hailed from Toronto during the 1970s. During the 1980s, folk singer-songwriter Chris Brown (not to be mistaken with the hip hop solo artist of the same name) began his career as a member of the alternative rock band Bourbon Tabernacle Choir before going on to work with Barenaked Ladies, Ani DiFranco, Crash Test Dummies, and Tony Scherr, among others. The late 1980s brought Toronto the reggae rock band Big Sugar as well as the Grammy nominated band Barenaked Ladies, known for their hits “One Week,” “If I Had $1,000,000,” “The Old Apartment,” and the theme song from The Big Bang Theory. Electro house producer and performer Deadmau5 and indie folk rock band Enter the Haggis both got their careers started during the 1990s in Toronto. The millenium churned out acts like Grammy Award winner Drake, R&B singer-songwriter Keshia Chante, synthpop band Ayria, and pop rock singer-songwriter Fefe Dobson. Electronic experimental synthpop band Crystal Castles, hip-hop rap record producer Matthew Burnett, and new wave synthpop band Dragonette all emerged from Toronto during the millenium, paving the way for the modern music scene.
The Opera House opened in 1909 and has a 580-capacity main floor area and a 270-capacity seating area for enjoying shows by artists like Suicide Girls, Unearth, Twenty One Pilots, Blessthefall, and Silverstein. Formerly a vaudeville theatre, the venue is located in the Riverdale neighborhood where it draws in a primarily alternative rock crowd.
Acts like Ingrid Michaelson, Boy George, Iggy Azalea, Ledisi, James Blunt, and Chromeo perform at the Danforth Music Hall Theatre in Toronto. Originally opened in 1919, the Danforth was a movie theatre before becoming a live music venue. In 1985, the Danforth was designated as a historical property under the Ontario Heritage Act, making it a Toronto entertainment mainstay.
The 1,100-capacity Phoenix Concert Theatre features three different entertainment spaces: the “Main Room” hosts one of Toronto’s largest dance floors, “Le Loft” overlooks the “Main Room” and has its own separate bar and entertainment area, while the “Parlour” has its own separate dance floor, bar, pool tables, and lounge seating area. The Phoenix Concert Theatre has hosted acts like The Black Angels, The Fratellis, Buckcherry, AFI, Trombone Shorty, The Devil Wears Prada, Dwayne Gretzky, Kate Nash, Pretty Reckless, and Jessie Ware, among many others.
Located in the Garden District, Massey Hall is a 2,765-seat performing arts theatre that was opened in 1894. Officially a National Historic Site of Canada, the venue was built by architect Sidney Badgley. Since its inception, Massey Hall has featured performers such as Neil Young, Luciano Pavarotti, Gordon Lightfoot, Rush, Ronnie Hawkins, Aretha Franklin, Justin Bieber, and Jerry Lee Lewis.
Roy Thomson Hall was built in 1982, and after undergoing renovations in 2002, the venue features crisp acoustics while acting as the home of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Its circular design makes it a unique place to catch a show, and the venue even made a cameo in the X-Men movie. Featuring impressive acts like Royal Wood, Peter Katz, Brad Mehldau Trio, and The Idan Raichel Project, Roy Thompson Hall offers year round entertainment in a truly stunning venue.
The Toronto Centre for the Arts is an arts complex located in the heart of Toronto. Playing host to Tony Award winning musicals and performers such as Yo Yo Ma, Ravi Shankar, Annie Lennox, Art Garfunkel, Diana Krall, and Paul Anka, the TCA has fostered its own performing arts community. The TCA’s four theatres include the Main Stage Theatre, the George Weston Recital Hall, the Studio Theatre, and the Gallery. The Main Stage Theatre is a 1,727-seat theatre that primarily hosts concerts, Broadway shows, opera, dance, ballet, and corporate meetings/fundraisers. The George Weston Recital Hall is a 1,036-seat theatre with three levels of seating and a variety of performances throughout the year. The smallest of the three spaces in the Studio Theatre, a 200-seat space perfect for business seminars, presentations, and product launches. The Gallery is also similar to the Studio Theatre, as it is an ideal space for small business functions and presentations.
Lee’s Palace is located in a two-story building that formerly was a bank. This alternative music venue offers a dance club on the second floor and a concert space on the main level. Lee’s Palace and the Dance Cave are not typical club venues, as they encourage a casual punk and indie music vibe. Acts like Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, Broken Social Scene, Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Los Lobos, Goo Goo Dolls, Smashing Pumpkins, and Buzzcocks have all performed here.
If you want to check out talented performers such as Adele and Yoshiki, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is the place to be. Built in 1956 but renovated as recently as 2010, the QET seats 1,250 people for concerts and other performing arts events.
The Air Canada Centre, the current home to the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors, and the NLL’s Toronto Rock, is a popular sporting and entertainment complex. Opened in 1999, the venue is located on Bay Street in Downtown Toronto, and has hosted Bon Jovi, The Spice Girls, The Police, Rush, and Cher, among many other big names in music.
The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatres opened in 1913 as two stacked theatres on Toronto’s Yonge Street. Owned by the Ontario Heritage Trust, these theatres are official Canadian historic landmarks, as they are the last pair of stacked Edwardian theatres in the world! Designed by Thomas W. Lamb, the theatres originally opened to showcase vaudeville and films, but currently the theatres host Broadway shows and concerts underneath its intricate, ornate decor.
The Mod Club Theatre in downtown Toronto’s Little Italy neighborhood is a 600-capacity venue that allows concert goers to enjoy rock, electronic, hip-hop, and pop music from the floor area or the second floor balcony space. An intimate venue, the Mod Club offers quality sound and features a mod decor throughout the space. You can check out acts like KC Roberts and the Revolution and Sam Smith.
The Sony Centre for the Performing Arts books performers like Lana Del Rey, Tessanne Chin, Il Divo, and Joe Bonamassa, among others. Opened in 1960, the 3,191-capacity venue is Canada’s largest soft-seat theatre and has hosted icons such as Louis Armstrong, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, David Bowie, Lou Reed, Elton John, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jack benny, Sammy Davis Jr., and The Clash.
Home to the MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays, the Rogers Centre is a sporting and entertainment venue that opened in 1989. The 55,000-capacity complex hosts concerts by artists like the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Bon Jovi, Swedish House Mafia, and Madonna to name a few.
The Guvernment is a 5,000-capacity nightclub complex that hosts musicians and DJs such as David Guetta, Ferry Corsten, Armin Van Buuren, Deadmau5, Paul Oakenfold, and Avicii. Every Saturday the venue hosts Spin Saturdays, where electronic dance music comes to life for the city’s energetic music lovers.
Located at Polson Pier, the Sound Academy is a 3,230-capacity concert hall and nightclub that caters to indie artists. Polson Pier is centered along the shore of the Toronto Harbour and offers go karting, rock climbing, mini golf, swimming, beach volleyball, and a driving range for those of you who like to stay active.
Veld Music Festival, held at Downsview Park every August, is a two-day festival featuring acts like Calvin Harris, Ingrosso, Knife Party, Nero, Martin Garrix, Bingo Players, Dubbs, Dannic, and Michael Brun. OVO Fest is a music festival hosted by Drake at Molson Canadian Amphitheatre. The biggest event during Caribana weekend, the festival hosts over 40,000 fans to see headliners like Frank Ocean, Outkast, Drake, Lil Wayne, Nas, Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, Snoop Dogg, French Montana, 2 Chainz, and Rick Ross, among many others. Canadian Music Fest is held in mid May and features Ann Chaplin, Anomalie, Andrew Allen, Bryan Finlay, Buffalo Tales, City and Colour, Cold Capital, and Dorine Levy. Held in June, Field Trip is a two-day indie music festival featuring headliners such as Interpol, The Kills, Broken Social Scene, CHVRCHES, Constantines, and Half Moon Run. Also held in June, North by Northeast books acts like A$AP Ferg, Fast Romantics, Glasser, Gunner & Smith, Hunters, Juicy J, Sleigh Bells, Spoon, and tUnE-yArDs, among many others. Toronto’s Digital Dreams festival takes place in late June, bringing in electronic acts such as Tiesto, Justice, Deep Dish, Luciano, Dash Berlin, Art Department, and Eric Prydz. The Toronto Urban Roots Festival, held in July at the Garrison Commons, hosts headliners like Neutral Milk Hotel, Jeff Tweedy, The Gaslight Anthem, Sam Roberts Band, Local Natives, Beirut, Gogol Bordello, Violent Femmes, Gary Clark Jr., and Jenny Lewis.