The days are getting longer and so are the lists of summer happenings in Toronto. From stages filled with jazz legends to hip-hop greats to up and comers – you have more than enough choice when it comes to festivals, and you can check them out on beaches on an island and even camp, all within the city! And if you want a little road trip, there’s even more to discover.
Saturday, May 27.
Kicking off festival season is the National Broadcaster’s 5th edition of CBC Music Fest.
You can feel the sand between your toes at Echo Beach while watching some great musicians on this all-Canadian lineup – from Serena Ryder to Keys ‘n Krates to recent Juno winner Ruth B. Children 12 & under get in free!
Perfect for: checking out Canadian talent AND maybe getting on national television (the fest will be recorded for a one hour TV special.)
June 3 & 4.
Launched by the great Toronto record label, Arts & Crafts, Field Trip is celebrating its 5th anniversary with some of the label’s biggest acts, past and present, including Feist and Broken Social Scene, plus some excellent indie acts from near and far, including A Tribe Called Red and Pheonix. The festival has kid-friendly daytime events and is free for kids 12 & under, too! Plus, it’s right downtown at the historic Fort York & Garrison Commons.
Perfect for: big festival vibes in your own backyard.
June 16 to 25.
North By North East celebrates its 23rd year in 2017! The three-day music fest at the Port Lands will also feature comedy, food, arts and games. Don’t forget, there’s also a series of club shows to get you into venues across town checking out emerging acts. And, in the heart of downtown, NXNE Game Land promises to present “Canada’s largest-ever, free outdoor e-Sports competition at Yonge-Dundas Square.”
Perfect for: gamers and music fans who like both club hopping and the outdoor festival experience.
June 23 & 24.
Irie Music Festival celebrates African-Canadian culture bringing the sounds of reggae, soca and hip hop and R&B to Celebration Square in Mississauga for two days and wraps it up with a boat cruise around Toronto Harbour! Check out dancehall great Da’ville and two-time winner of Trinidad’s International Soca Monarch title, Aaron “Voice” St Louis.
Perfect for: dancing under the sun and maybe even on a boat!
June 23 to July 2.
Toronto Jazzfest is celebrating their 31st year and bringing some of the most influential artists on the planet to Toronto and throwing 350 concerts in 10 days. You can see everyone from legends like drummer Jack DeJohnette, and Aretha Franklin to exciting collaborations including virtuoso Hiromi and extraordinary harpist Edmar Castañeda, all in some of the most beautiful venues in the city (Koerner Hall, I’m looking at you.)
Perfect for: cramming in as much culture and jazz as you can in just over a week.
July 7 & 8.
Formerly known as Digital Dreams, the Bud Light Dreams Music Festival now prides itself as a luxury festival with boutique curation for the “discerning music fan.” With 3 stages at the new location of Echo Beach, you can dance in the sand with the glowing CN Tower as the backdrop for sets from Above and Beyond, Steve Angello, Dillstradamus and more!
Perfect for: a 19+ dance party cooled by the breeze of Lake Ontario.
July 8 & 9.
Afrofest has been a Toronto mainstay since it launched in 1989, and is the largest free African music festival in North America! From the tremendous sights and sounds of seasoned performers on the main stage to the local African drumming community showcasing their skills in the drum zone, Music Africa has curated something for everyone at Woodbine Park. And let’s not forget about the marketplace for food and arts and crafts, plus there’s a children’s creative village!
Perfect for: experiencing African arts and culture in downtown Toronto.
Drake’s been celebrating his hometown by bringing an all-star lineup to his Toronto festival since 2011. Expect big names and even bigger surprise guests as OVO Fest takes place during Caribana weekend August 3rd to 7th.
Perfect for: hometown pride and surprise guest bragging rights!
The only thing I have in common with Drake is that RiRi swerves me too. • • #ovo #ovofest #summer16 #drake #rihanna #toogood #work #revenge #views #hypebeast #highsnobiety #vscocam #instagood #vsco #6ix #ViewsSZN #shoot2kill #way2ill #streetsoftoronto #All_shots #topmasters #premiumposts #igerstoronto #streetdreamsmag #hypebeasts #hbouthere#toptorontophoto #hypetoronto #creatorclass
August 5 & 6.
Where the subway line ends (at Downsview), the party begins (at Veld!). The electronic music festival locked in giant headliners, Future, Major Lazer, Tiesto and Zedd, so expect hours of dancing in a sea of thousands at Downsview Park!
Perfect for: wearing out your dancing shoes in one weekend.
August 18 to 20.
Get out of the city while staying in the city! Now in their third year, Camp Wavelength is a boutique music and arts fest that puts the indie music fans on a ferry to beautiful Artscape Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island. The lineup includes beloved experimental rock act Deerhoof, excellent locals Dilly Dally, and don’t forget to see Rich Aucoin, who always turns his live set into a party! The weekend festival has optional camping, where locals can pitch a tent and see their home on the other side of the water.
Perfect for: seeing bands everyone will be talking about next year, synchronized swimming in Lake Ontario and camping with great views of the city.
Worth the Road Trip
Want to add a road trip and live music to your Toronto visit? Here are some great festivals worthy of your rental car.
- Wayhome Music and Arts Festival
July 28 to 30, Oro-Medonte, Ontario
- Sound of Music Festival
June 10 to 18, Burlington, Ontario
- Boots & Hearts
August 10 to 13, Oro-Medonte, Ontario
- Riverfest Elora
August 18 to 20, Elora, Ontario
- The Big Feastival
August 25 to 27, Oro-Medonte, Ontario
About the Author
Lana Gay is a music journalist, broadcaster and educator, and is fixated on independent Canadian music and the arts. You can hear Lana on Indie88 (88.1 FM in Toronto) every weekday from 2-7pm and on the Polaris Prize Podcast. She’s proud to hail from Leamington, Ontario where she was raised on Motown music and Hungarian food (an underrated combo, really.)