Toronto’s Thriving Live Music & Concert Scene
If live music is your jam, you’ll love the scene here in Toronto. While major Toronto stadiums such as Rogers Centre and Air Canada Centre regularly attract A-list acts like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, dedicated music scene aficionados know that smaller venues provide a more intimate experience.
No matter what style of music gets you moving, you won’t have trouble finding a crowd of similar devotees rocking out to the hottest local, national and international acts in Toronto.
A mainstay of the hip Queen West neighbourhood since before it was hip, the Cameron House (408 Queen Street West) plays host to a variety of local indie acts. Blue Rodeo, Holly Cole, Ron Sexsmith and The Barenaked Ladies have all performed on the Cameron’s stage, in addition to countless smaller bands. Come any night of the week to catch your favourite local band or discover a new one. (Bonus: there’s no cover)
Just down the street, the legendary Horseshoe Tavern (370 Queen Street West) is one of Toronto’s most celebrated performance venues. More than 65 years of operation have seen a lot of famous faces pass through The Horseshoe, including Willie Nelson, The Rolling Stones, The Police and The Ramones. Depending on the night, you can catch anything from indie to country to alt rock at The Horseshoe. Keep an eye on any acts you see here because they may just become the next big thing.
With 18,000 square feet of space spread over two floors, The Phoenix (410 Sherbourne Street) is one of the city’s largest midsize concert halls. Death Cab for Cutie, Two Door Cinema Club and Green Day have all entertained enthusiastic crowds here (not to mention legends like Bob Dylan and The Tragically Hip). The Phoenix is one of the key venues during annual music events like Canadian Music Week and NXNE (North by Northeast), which support independent artists of all stripes.
Sultry Latin Músicos
¿Te gusta bailar salsa? If the answer is sí, head to Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas Street West) where the live salsa bands are muy caliente. Every Friday and Saturday, enjoy salsa dancing to live Latin music while munching on savoury Spanish and South American delicacies. Don’t worry if you’re not a seasoned salsa dancing pro; the city’s top instructors offer lessons on Friday and Saturday nights.
How about a bit of flamenco? Over at Tapas at Embrujo (97 Danforth Avenue) the live flamenco and guitar performances always draw a crowd. And the menu of authentic Spanish tapas is worth coming for alone.
Dinner and dancing are also on the menu at Copacabana Brazilian Steakhouse (230 Adelaide Street West). Here, you can gorge yourself on delectable rodízio-style cuts of meat brought right to your table while taking in the sounds of live samba. Treat your ears to the rhythms of Brazil while you tuck in to Chimichurri Steak, Parmesan Chicken, Beef Ribs and more.
Summer may be the high season for jazz in Toronto with the star-studded TD Toronto Jazz Festival, Beaches International Jazz Festival and the newcomer Kensington Market Jazz Festival taking place, but you can catch all types of jazz bands at The Rex (194 Queen Street West) every night of the year. Part jazz club, part restaurant and part hotel, The Rex is a must-stop spot for any fan. A visit to the suave Jazz Bistro – with its Instagrammable shiny red Steinway grand piano – should be on any aficionado’s list, too.
Right in the heart of downtown Toronto, The Reservoir Lounge (52 Wellington Street East) is one of Toronto’s most swinging nightspots. The lounge décor and brick-walled interior complement the jumpin’ rhythms from local jazz, blues and R&B musicians. It was at The Reservoir Lounge that a young unknown named Michael Bublé first made a name for himself.
There’s no Toronto concert venue more legendary than Massey Hall (178 Victoria Street). This acoustically-rich performance arts theatre is a National Historic Site of Canada that still hosts some of the biggest names in music (jazz, rock, contemporary and beyond). This was the site of the famous one-night-only gig in 1953 that brought Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach together on one stage.
Head-bangers, punk rockers, and metal-heads can often be found at The Opera House (735 Queen Street East), depending on the night. This midsize concert hall in Riverside offers a unique experience combining state-of-the-art lighting and sound equipment with the charm of its original 1900s vaudeville theatre architecture.
Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor Street West) is immediately recognizable from its iconic graffiti mural front. This 100 year-old building is chock-full of gritty charm and hosts live music nearly every night of the week. Canadian rock groups like Moist, Sloan and Our Lady Peace all played Lee’s Palace early in their careers, joining the ranks of international stars like Nirvana, Oasis and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Authentically Toronto, the Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington Avenue) was nominated for Best Bar and Best Blues Bar by Now Magazine. This saloon-style bar is a throwback to the foot-stomping, whiskey-guzzling days of the Wild West. The music acts vary night by night, but rock, alt country and bluegrass are its mainstays.
Grab a drink and a glowstick and get lost in the techno beats at CODA (794 Bathurst Street), where EDM lovers assemble for jaw-dropping dance parties featuring DJs from around the globe. This versatile second-story nightclub is renowned for its fun-fueled all-night parties. Shows tend to sell out quickly so it’s always a good idea to buy tickets in advance.
No discussion about Toronto’s electronic music scene would be complete without mentioning The Mod Club (722 College Street). This cozy venue is a tribute to the mod subculture of the 1960s. Touring DJs and electronic artists regularly stop in at The Mod Club, where the stage is outfitted for psychedelic lightshows and the dance floor is always happening.
Find Your Rhythm in Toronto
Whether you’re into death metal, Dixieland or dubstep, Toronto’s music scene is guaranteed to get you moving. Learn more about music and nightlife venues in Toronto.
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