Summer in the City: Toronto Summer Concerts and Festivals

Jul 2, 2014

One of the best things about summer in the city is the incredible concert experiences going on everywhere. Just in July alone the Goo Goo Dolls, Queens of the Stone Age, Katy Perry, Jack White, Queen, Jay-Z & Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Lionel Richie, Ceelo Green, Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, and James Taylor are all playing in Toronto. These, and countless others, performing every kind of music you can imagine, use the summer months to really get their concert tours pumping, and ride that enthusiasm and energy throughout the rest of the year.

And what an experience a concert can be! Not just from the music alone. The crowds, the individuals, the sights, the antics, all of it unique to the performer’s fans. Think back to memories of childhood and adolescent summers. How many of them are marked by a show that made you feel like you were flying? In my own teenage summers I was able to see artists perform everything from 80’s hair metal to classic jazz standards. These experiences, both from the music and the environment, help to form broad musical tastes, as well as broaden horizons.

The summertime is a fantastic opportunity to explore different styles of music, especially here in Toronto. With no fewer than 12 different mainstream music festivals happening around the city (with possibly more to be announced) this summer is prime time to expand your musical tastes. Several of these events have already come and passed at the time this is being written, but there are many more yet to come. May saw the Canadian Music Fest celebrate its 33rd year, making it the city’s longest-running annual “music conference and club crawl.” Boasting five days, and literally hundreds of artists including Tegan and Sara, OFF!, and No Age, as well as keynote appearances by Deadmou5 and Bruce Cockburn, this was an event to behold! Don’t worry if you missed out, it’ll be back next year for more fun. Equally awe-inspiring, the end of June brought us North by Northwest’s 20th edition. This year the event exploded into a two-week marathon, with a film portion, interactive conference, and of course a music schedule large enough to swallow the city.

If you missed out on these events, have no fear, there are many more yet to come, and there are many different genres to choose from. Just later this week (on July 4th) the Warped Tour will be returning to Toronto. The rock heavy show may only be here for a single day, but it’s taking place at the Flats at Molson Amphitheatre, making for an utterly spectacular and memorable summer outing. Just remember to wear plenty of sunscreen!

If you prefer a little “twang” to your rock, or a little “rustic” to your roll, try out TURF, the Toronto Urban Roots Festival. Returning for its second year TURF is a 3 day festival running from July 4th to the 6th, with a “Club Bonus Series” of nightly gigs running from the 2nd to 7th. This young festival features a 44-act, three-stage line-up, including favourites like the Sam Roberts Band and the Violent Femmes.

Looking for something a little more modern? August 1-3 brings Electric Eclectics 9. Hosted on an actual farm in Meadford, Ontario, two and a half hours outside of the city, this festival is sure to be an experience. Break away from the big city festival events, pack up a tent and plenty of drinking water, and head out to the sticks for 3 days and nights of camping, swimming, and mind-blowing performances. Even the performers are a little different at this one. From their own website, EE9 states, “Each year, we assemble an eclectic program of avant-garde and crossover musicians, as well as art installations, DJs, and films.” This year will feature local noise-rockers Fresh Snow, post-punk popsters Ice Cream, and Montreal electro-glam eccentric Jeff Barbara, with more acts to be added soon. Excluding transportation or food costs, this festival is even relatively cheap, with weekend passes selling as low as $60.

And of course, for the hip-hop enthusiasts, OVO Fest will be coming to the Molson Amphitheatre August 3-4. This festival, hosted by Canada’s own Drake, is often not so much a concert as a meeting place for the biggest names in hip-hop. Only two acts have been announced so far, Drake himself and the recently reunited OutKast, but if this year is anything like the previous five, it’s less about who is announced and more about who shows up unannounced.

These are but a few of the “mainstream music” festivals that will be going on around the city this summer, but they are not the only places you can go to experience new music. Alas, the TD Toronto Jazz Festival has already come and gone, but it entertained more than 500,000 music lovers with 1,500 musicians playing more than 350 concerts all over the city in just 10 days. But if you missed it, not to worry! From July 18th to the 27th, the Beaches International Jazz Festival will be bringing the world of beat, reggae, calypso and big band jazz to the beaches area and KEW Gardens main stage. Admission to most of these events is free!

This coming weekend (July 5-6) Woodbine Park will play host to the Annual Afrofest. Presented by Music Africa, the Afrofest is a free, weekend-long celebration of African culture and diversity. There will be a bustling African marketplace, food & craft venders, artistic displays, and a Children’s Village, all happening while over 35 local and international bands play on a number of outdoor stages. This is a wonderful opportunity for people and families of all ethnicities and ages to enjoy the music and culture of Africa.

While there are countless other festivals this summer to talk about, let’s finish this tour with a classical festival taking place at the end of July through to mid-August. Running from July 22nd through to August 12th is the Toronto Summer Music Festival. This year’s theme is “The Modern Age” and will celebrate the music of the early 20th century, which the Artistic Director, Douglas McNabney, described as “a fascinating period of wildly diverging artistic currents encompassing a remarkable variety of styles and genres of music featuring some of the greatest composers of the 20th century.” The festival promises to highlight the Romanticism of Strauss, Mahler, Ravel, Deboussy, Rachmaninoff, Elgar and Vaughan-Williams, the individual styles of Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Bartok, as well as the modernism of Schoenberg, Webern and Berg. The talented musicians playing these classical compositions include a star-studded roster of singers, instrumentalists, and ensembles, including the Toronto Symphony.

Summer is an amazing time to spend exploring your own musical tastes and broadening your auditory horizons. With so many different concerts and festivals happening in and around the city there is no better opportunity to explore new and old music. There is a venue and price point for anyone and every situation; some are quite expensive and exclusive, while others are free and open, many take place outdoors to soak up the sun, other are more intimate, in small dark venues. No matter the mood you are looking for, there is something for you. And hey, even if there isn’t something here in the city that piques your interest, you can create your own wild experience and travel for a show. What a summer that could be!

Whatever you do, get out there and enjoy the cultural experience a concert can become!