Outdoor summer music events in Toronto

by Jeff Cottrill

For many Torontonians, summer is about Blue Jays baseball, biking on the Island, TIFF, markets and street food ... but it’s also the season of live music outdoors. T.O. is rife with concerts and festivals in the summer months, and whether you’re into classical, jazz, rock, hip-hop or electronica, there’s something out there geared to your taste. And since many of these events are free, you have nothing to lose – other than yourself, in the melodies and rhythms. Here’s a selection of what’s going on in 2017. [Photo credit: Toronto Music Garden courtesy of iStock]

Outdoor summer music events in Toronto

Music in St. James Park
Every year, this downtown park holds a free concert most Thursday nights from early June to late August, sometimes with a dance tutorial beforehand or a movie screening afterwards. This year’s series kicks off on June 1 with Juno-winning ensemble Lemon Bucket Orkestra, plus a barbecue and information on city biking.

Symphony in the Gardens
Toronto’s famous modern castle, Casa Loma, brings back its weekly classical series, with Kerry Stratton conducting the Toronto Concert Orchestra at the Glass Pavilion. You can enjoy a beautiful nighttime view of the skyline to the melodies of Mozart, Beethoven, Debussy and other greats; there are also special concerts devoted to the jazz age and famous movie scores.

  • When: June 6 to August 29, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm
  • Where: Casa Loma
  • Price: $25 per show; season’s passes available for $250, or $350 for a “Maestro Symphony Pass” with reserved seating and other perks
  • Buy tickets
  • Schedule
  • More information

Toronto Jazz Festival (outdoor stages)
This year’s jazz fest may be hosting the Queen of Soul herself, Aretha Franklin – but if you couldn’t afford tix to that, you can still catch more than a week’s worth of free acts at three outdoor locations: Yorkville Avenue at Bellair Street; Hazelton Avenue at Scollard Street and 115 Cumberland Street. Canada Day lineups include the Canadian Jazz Quartet, the Eliana Cuevas Quintet and the Shuffle Demons.

Franco-Fête
Oh là là! The thirty-fifth edition of this annual fest for francophone music moves the action to Harbourfront, where the lineup includes the likes of Étienne Fletcher, Amélie et les singes bleus, Marie-Claude Sarault and Kymia. Genres include rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and more, but with a French flair. The fest is also a celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial.

Summer Music in the Garden
Designed in part by Yo Yo Ma and inspired by a Bach cello suite, the Toronto Music Garden is the perfect setting for outdoor classical concerts. The Summer Music series is back this year on Thursdays and Sundays, with familiar composers like Mozart, Schubert and Mendelssohn along with music from Brazil and India and a special Canada Day show. Seating is limited, so bring lawn chairs.

The Edwards Summer Music Series
The Toronto Botanical Garden features ten concerts in the courtyard next to the old Edwards Gardens barn – except in the case of bad weather, when the proceedings will head indoors. Scheduled acts for this year include rockabilly band The Wanted, jazz outfit the Michael Lalonde Quartet and folk group Irish Mythen. Some seating will be available, but you may want to bring a lawn chair just in case.

Summer Music in the Park
Yorkville plays host to the Summer Music in the Park series taking place in the Village of Yorkville Park. You can stroll through the elegantly-appointed neighbourhood and drop by the park to listen to piano virtuoso Attila Fias and his trio, jazz with Lucien Grey Quartet and a combination of Latin, funk and fusion with Santerias.

Electric Island
Groove to dozens of local and international artists while picnicking on the Island, during this festival’s fifth year. The Victoria Day concert has passed, but you still have four more dates throughout the summer to catch numerous acts, including The Black Madonna, Jackmaster, Nina Kraviz, My Favourite Robot and many more.

Indie Fridays
Toronto’s closest equivalent to Times Square brings back its weekly free Friday concert series, showcasing local independent bands. In 2016, series headliners included Jordan Alexander, Pierre Kwenders and Radio Radio, with genres ranging from reggae and hip-hop to soul and even francophone.

Beaches International Jazz Festival
The east end of the city is alive with the sound of jazz on weekends throughout the month of July, and jazz lovers have a lot of great shows from which to choose – from Sounds of Leslieville/Riverside in Jimmie Simpson Park (July 7-9) to the Latin Carnival in Woodbine Park (July 14-16) and the concert series in Kew Gardens (July 15-16 and 22-23) and much more. The Festival closes with StreetFest, from July 27 to 29, when Queen Street East is shut down from Woodbine Avenue to Beech Avenue for three evenings of Canadian jazz bands.

Dreams Music Festival
Call it a mini-Woodstock for electronica addicts. Dreams Music Festival takes over three outdoor stages at Echo Beach for two days, with headliners Above & Beyond, Dillstradamus, DVBBS and Steve Angello sharing the spotlight with a few dozen more acts. There are also food and drink vendors and water stations at the site.

Afrofest
Billing itself as North America’s biggest free festival of African music and culture, Afrofest features more than thirty-five acts this year on two stages at Woodbine Park. All ages are welcome, and you don’t have to limit yourself to being part of the audience, though; kids and imaginative grownups can make their own art at an African creative village and an interactive drum zone.

Sunday Serenades
Northerners don’t have to trek downtown for music under the sky – Mel Lastman Square is bringing back this weekly evening series of jazz, swing and big-band performances. A swell time for all you’s dames and fellas who want a musical trip back those crazy days of the 1930s and ’40s. Dancing is encouraged. Acts TBA.

Veld Music Festival
Dance, hip-hop and electronic music come together at this giant weekend fest in the former North York, returning for the sixth year. Leading the pack of thirty performing artists in 2017 are Future, Major Lazer, Tiësto and Zedd, along with Migos, Tory Lanez and lots of other acts.

Camp Wavelength
The only music festival in Toronto where you can camp overnight. The third annual Camp Wavelength, dubbed “Total Eclipse of the Heart” for some reason, showcases a wide variety of Canadian indie artists. Staying overnight on the grounds is encouraged, but you can also rent private rooms at Artscape if you’re not such a fan of the great outdoors.

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