Tune into Toronto’s rich music history at some of the city’s most iconic concert halls, stages and bars.

Massey Hall

This recently reopened Toronto landmark has been fine-tuned by a multi-year, $184-million renovation. A mix of Art Nouveau, Moorish and Art Deco styles, the circa-1894 hall looks as good as it sounds. During one of the venue’s last pre-closure concerts, Neil Young implored his audience: Don’t let them change this place. Reassuringly, the reno project’s motto was: “Change nothing, improve everything.”

After all, who’d want to mess with a concert hall so acoustically blessed it was chosen to host a jam session known as the greatest jazz concert ever? The 1953 performance was the only time legends Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach took the stage together for a live recording. Jazz at Massey Hall is now considered one of the most influential jazz albums of all time.

Neighbourhood: Downtown Yonge 

Budweiser Stage

Located at the landmark Ontario Place compound, this outdoor concert venue has provided breezy lakeside entertainment for 50 years (with a few name changes along the way). Bryan Adams kicked off a grand reopening in 1995, and the big names haven’t stopped coming. In recent years it’s hosted a dizzying mix of performers, including Selena Gomez, the Beach Boys, the Black Keys, Peter Gabriel, One Direction and Drake’s annual homecoming bash, OVO Fest. With its idyllic location on the edge of Lake Ontario and grassy hills surrounding the covered seating area, it’s a favourite summertime concert venue.

Neighbourhood: Waterfront & Toronto Islands

The Danforth Music Hall

This former movie theatre — built in 1919, converted into a music venue in the late ’70s and reincarnated via a 2011 reno — has hosted global superstars like James Brown, Rihanna and The Police. It’s also where homegrown idols Alessia Cara and Justin Bieber tested out new material. Aside from the star wattage, the best thing about the D-Hall is its sloped floors, an architectural feature that gives all audience members Instagram-ready sightlines.

Neighbourhood: Danforth-Greektown

Lee's Palace

The place where ’90s rock acts Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Oasis made their Canadian debuts, Lee’s Palace is recognized as the city’s (proudly) dive-iest, dirtiest and least conventional live music club. But the alternative/rock mecca is more than just a celebrated hole in the wall — it’s also a historic LGBTQ+ cultural hub. 

When the late artist and activist Will Munro started to host events like Vazaleen, Lee’s began to connect many of the city’s cultural circles. People who are queer, straight, trans and questioning have spent years finding their identities here. Peaches, The Hidden Cameras and Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew (who filmed his video for “Lucky Ones” here) frequent Lee’s and perform here regularly.

Neighbourhood: Annex 


Queen West’s legendary Rivoli is where Canadian icons Blue Rodeo made their 1985 debut. It’s also where Dave Grohl jammed with Iggy Pop, and acts ranging from Adele to Feist (who worked here as a waitress) have perfected their sound. Home to a restaurant, gallery and pool hall, Folk singer Martha Wainwright describes the Rivoli’s backroom performance space as so intimate, it’s like being in someone’s living room, except you have to pay for the beer. 

Neighbourhood: Queen West

The Cameron House

The Cameron House has been known as the headquarters for up-and-coming songsmiths since it opened its doors in 1981. Folks such as Molly Johnson, Jane Siberry, and the Leslie Spit Treeo jump-started their careers here, as did Ron Sexsmith and the Barenaked Ladies. Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo summed up Queen Street West’s legendary indie-music institution when he said, “it felt like an audition for the scene. If you were liked in The Cameron, you could perform for the rest of Toronto with confidence.” 

Neighbourhood: Queen West

Horseshoe Tavern

The Tragically Hip fans know this is the bar in the band’s much-loved song “Bobcaygeon.” The lyric “That night in Toronto/With its checkerboard floors” is a direct nod to this mythical music venue, where The Hip played their most mournful, exuberant and poetic tracks back in the late ’80s and early ’90s. 

Known for its eclecticism, the Horseshoe has, at various times, been known as an HQ for rockabilly, punk, progressive and indie music. Today, it’s one of the few places in Toronto where you can catch an impromptu Pixies gig, to Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene, a brand-new band testing out its chops to Canadian darling Joel Plaskett playing six nights in a row.

Neighbourhood: Queen West