Toronto has a wealth of amazing concert venues, and we are very lucky to be living in a city with so much passion for art and culture. Some venues are a bit more cramped and divey, while others are monstrous sell-outs. There can be a lot of factors that are frustrating about concerts, so venues is one I really weigh before I buy my concert tickets. Here are my 5 fave venues to see live music in Toronto.
This might be a little surprising for those reading because I generally avoid big concert venues. There’s usually a lack of intimacy and it’s hard to get a good view of the stage without paying a pretty penny for it. The reason I have always loved Budweiser Stage (formally known as Molson Amphitheatre) is because it embodies the essence of summer. As an outdoor venue, you get all the best elements of the season – warm breezy nights, more daylight, exceptional sunsets, sitting under the night sky, and people are just generally happier when they’re outside! Holding approximately 16,000 people, Budweiser Stage also has good sightlines from almost everywhere, even on the lawn – which have definitely made for some of my fondest concert memories. Since their new ownership, there is a plethora of food and drink vendors (including Weber’s!) and extended bathroom facilities which is vital. Rain or shine this venue is a blast.
I didn’t actually attend a concert at The Opera House until last year, but it was an amazing experience. It’s a small-medium sized venue so a lot of up and coming artists play there, but with a larger crowd than say Lee’s Palace or The Horseshoe Tavern. Its interior maintains the charm of its original 1900’s vaudeville theatre architecture, and really creates a unique ambiance. There are also several levels to the GA floor so it’s likely you’ll have a good view from any spot.
I have seen many a concert at this wonderful hall, and it truly is the perfect medium sized venue. Located in the east end of Toronto, it was originally constructed as a movie theatre in 1919 and began hosting live music events in the 70s. It allows for standing GA and has seats upstairs on the balcony. One of my favourite features of this venue is that the floor gradually inclines, starting from the edge of the stage working its way to the back. This makes for amazing views wherever you end up so you don’t always have to worry about getting there early for a good spot. It’s also on the Danforth, so there’s countless restaurants and late-night snacks steps away.
2. Massey Hall
By far one of the best venues to see your favourite band for many reasons. First and foremost, it is a national treasure, and was a gift to the people of Toronto back in 1892 in hopes to develop the art community.
Massey’s long long history has brought in some of the world’s most famous artists, entertainers, and political figures, all while undergoing fires, floods, and architectural overhauls throughout its years. By merely standing inside the hall you are surrounded by years of legendary history, and every moment spent inside of it you contribute to its story. One of its most renowned qualities, beside it’s stunning and ancient interior, is its acoustics. I have never heard anything as crisp and full as when you hear live music at Massey Hall. The sound ricochets off the neoclassical ceilings and you are unquestionably consumed by its force.
(Sourced from Show One Productions)
Disregard the fact that the balcony and gallery seats are so steep you feel like you might topple on to the person in front of you, or that anyone taller than 5’4” feels like their knees are going to be crushed. Ah no, it’s part of its historic charm. That is as long as it’s not lost in the new renovations…
Massey Hall closed last July to undergo a two-year-long renovation, including all new seats, a new seven-storey addition, and two smaller concert rooms. Although I was previously saddened by the announcement of these updates, I know it will only add to Toronto’s breadth of art and open up so many opportunities for live events.
Surprise! This one actually isn’t in Toronto at all. This rowdy little venue is located in the town of Bala, overlooking Lake Muskoka. The venue was originally purchased and built in 1930 as a swing dance hall which would host big bands, coining it as “where all of Muskoka dances.” After a few changes in ownership over the years, it became The KEE which took advantage of the rock n’ roll scene, and created a sort of down-to-earth serenity for artists who were used to playing in the city. If your fondest childhood memories are those spent up North at a cottage like mine, then you know nothing beats listening to your favourite band on a hot summer night on the lake, dancing and sweating so hard that your only solution is to jump in for a cool dip afterwards.
The KEE is like a right of passage for all my favourite indie bands. You know you’re on your way up when you’re playing The KEE because you will always sell the place out. The best part of small venues, in particular this one, is that the band almost always hangs around afterwards. There are really no other bars to go to in the town, and 99% of the time the band is staying at The Bala Bay Inn across the street – so an autograph, picture, or even a shared beer is extremely likely. To top it off, the stage is extremely elevated so you can see the band from anywhere in the room. I recommend standing on the main floor though. When everyone is jumping and dancing, you can literally feel the floor caving and bouncing along with every moment.
Stay tuned for my future post explaining how I’ve met The Arkells so many times. I’ll give you a hint, this place is the KEE.
All venues have their quirks and charm, these are just a few of my favourites that I know I’ll always enjoy. What are some of your favourite venues?
(Featured image sourced from The Danforth)