Can’t-Miss Music Festivals (And the Must-See Venue) of the Summer

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No matter what kind of tunes you're into or your favourite venue of choice, there's no shortage of music festivals to choose from in Toronto. Broadcaster and local music aficionado, Lana Gay, gives us the lowdown on what's coming up for summer 2018.

Crowd cheers during outdoor concert.

Toronto is a festival city, and you don’t have to wait until summer for music, arts and culture events and festivals to begin. Whether you want to see stages filled with jazz legends, dance on a beach, or help break a djembe drumming Guinness World Record, it’s all happening in the next few months. There’s a lot to discover and enjoy, including local spots before or after the shows.

Small World Music Festival

April 6 to May 26, 2018

Now in its 16th edition, the Small World Music Festival’s Asian Music Series celebrates and embraces “the scope of sounds from across the Asian cultural landscape.” From internationally known artists to locals, they bring a diverse group of talent and sounds from Bollywood Beat to Foonyap to many stages across Toronto.

Watch a Concert at the Legendary Massey Hall Before Renovations Begin in July 2018.

One of the best venues in Canada is the great Massey Hall. Built in 1894, this legendary concert hall has hosted some of the most spectacular shows and events, including the 1953 Charlie Parker-Dizzy Gillespie concert recorded as Jazz at Massey Hall, Neil Young’s 1971 Massey Hall performance also released as a live album, and even for a brief period Massey Hall was the site of boxing matches!

The historic site will go under renovations for two years starting in July, and lucky you, they are filling it with concerts leading up to the renovation. From gospel and soul great Mavis Staples to the stunning sounds of Patrick Watson, get your tickets and experience Massey Hall before it gets an overhaul.

Before the show, try some delicious South American cuisine at Lena, or try to find a spot at their gorgeous octagon-shaped bar and enjoy the art deco design and a glass of Malbec.

Canadian Music Week

May 7 to 13, 2018

More than 1,000 bands will play in 60+ venues across the city during the 10 nights of Canadian Music Week. Known as Canada’s largest new music festival, get ready to discover some new sounds. No matter what genre, you’re sure to be covered with local, national and international acts. In addition to music, there’s also a focus on comedy and film, and a digital media and radio conference.

After the venue hopping – With so many shows and venues open into the wee hours you might need to refuel. Might I suggest hitting up a dive-y restaurant/venue that’s open until 4 am on weekends and also has the best nachos in the city: Sneaky Dee’s. (Remember: shows are upstairs, food is downstairs.)

Major/Minor Bloordale Music & Arts Festival

May 12 & 13, 2018

One of the best things to do is walk around different neighbourhoods in the city. If you have children, the Major/ Minor Festival takes place in the Bloordale neighbourhood and is a festival made for kids, by kids. It’s cheap and cheerful (most tickets are $5 per show) and features everything from puppetry to ‘Bugs! Bugs! Bugs! The Musical’!

Before or after, take a walk down Bloor Street, pick up a sweet treat at Bakerbots and head to Christie Pits Park or jump on the subway to Museum Station and head to the very interesting and family-friendly Royal Ontario Museum.

Electric Island

May 20, July 1, August 11, Sept 2 & 3, 2018. Hanlan’s Point, Toronto Island.

Want to go to a dance party on an island… in the city? You can do that in Toronto! The Electric Island summer concert series brings great electronic artists and DJs to Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island 5 different times this summer! Spend the day hanging on the beach, have a picnic and then get ready to dance to sets from everyone from Anna to Yokoo.

There are many ways to get to the island, including ferry service and water taxis, but if you want to make it a memorable adventure, hire a tiki taxi!

CBC Music Festival

May 26, 2018. Echo Beach.

The National Broadcaster’s 6th edition of CBC Music Fest is a diverse all-Canadian lineup, and children 12 & under get in for free. You can feel the sand between your toes at Echo Beach while watching some great musicians – from July Talk to A Tribe Called Red to recent Juno Award Nominees, The Jerry Cans.

Before or after the fest, be sure to check out the 7.5-acre Trillium Park and William G. Davis Trail near the waterfront, and hopefully be able to get in a movie at the Cinesphere, the first permanent IMAX theatre in the world!

Field Trip

June 2 & 3, 2018. Fort York & Garrison Common.

Local Toronto record label, Arts & Crafts, launched the Field Trip festival 6 years ago and it has quickly become a staple in kicking off summer, complete with art, comedy and food trucks galore. The festival also has kid-friendly daytime events and is free for kids 12 & under, too! Plus, it’s right downtown at the historic Fort York & Garrison Common. The lineup is always an incredible mix, this year featuring beloved bands like Metric and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and buzzed artists like Dizzy and Jacob Banks.

With its central location, you can keep the party going after with a pint on the patio of the Liberty Commons brewery on your walk to West Queen West.

Luminato Festival

June 6 to 26, 2018

Known as Toronto’s International Arts Festival, Luminato brings you everything from performance, visual art, music, theatre, dance, and more. They pride themselves on bringing you “programming that cuts across traditional artform boundaries.” Get ready for memorable performances, including theatrical cabaret comedy, Riot, six-time Grammy winner Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra! Don’t forget about their two big free events, Le Grand Continental and Instruments of Happiness.

NXNE: North By Northeast

June 7 to 17, 2018

Now in its 24th year, North By North East brings music, comedy, curated showcases, a conference and gaming to various venues across the city. A wristband will get you into all shows (depending on capacity) and don’t forget about the free three-day music festival at the corner of Yonge and Dundas Square. Bars and clubs also stay open until 4 am during NXNE, so after checking out a show in the west end at venues like The Garrison or Dakota Tavern, play some old school arcade games at Get Well and have a 4 am breakfast at the beloved 24-hour diner, The Lakeview.

TD Toronto Jazzfest

June 22 to July 1, 2018

Toronto Jazzfest is celebrating its 32nd year and bringing some of the most influential artists on the planet to Toronto. It’s the perfect fest to cram as much culture and jazz as you can in just over a week, as there are hundreds of concerts throughout the festival’s 10 days. You can see everyone from legends like Herbie Hancock and Alison Krauss to the festival’s first-ever Blues Revue, featuring headliner Bettye LaVette, all in some of the most beautiful venues in the city (Koerner Hall, I’m looking at you.)

Though shows may end before midnight, you can always keep going at The Rex on Queen West. For 40 years, they’ve been bringing you live jazz seven nights a week.

Afrofest

July 7 & 8, 2018. Woodbine Park.

2018 marks the 30th anniversary of Afrofest, 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. This year you can be part of an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the highest number of djembe drummers playing simultaneously. Also, enjoy the marketplace for food and arts and crafts, plus there’s a children’s creative village.

VELD

August 5 & 6, 2018. Downsview Park.

The party begins near the end of the subway line! The electronic and hip-hop music fest, Veld, has locked in giant headliners, DJ Snake, Marshmello, Martin Garixx, and Migos, so expect hours of dancing in a sea of thousands at Downsview Park.

Be prepared to wear out your dancing shoes in one weekend.

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.)