The once crowded Toronto and area music festival scene has thinned out recently as festivals have “gone on hiatus” or simply shut their doors. Toronto’s 25 year old street party, North by Northeast (NXNE) music and eSports continues to go strong , taking over many of the city’s top venues for 10 days from June 7 to 16. Northby is a multi-media festival that peaks with massive free shows in the centre of Toronto.
Nxne’s Yonge Street shows have included: Flaming Lips, Iggy and the Stooges, Run the Jewels and last year, Chvrches, Lights and Jazz Cartier.
NXNE features emerging-acts club shows best seen with by club hopping wristband that gets priority access to more than 30 shows. Most shows are programmed by Canada’s top musicians presenting their four favourite up-and-coming acts.
Confirmed Curators include: Jim Cuddy, Brendan Canning (Broken Social Scene), The Elwins, Charlotte Cornfield, Ian Blurton, Menno Versteeg (Hollerado) and Royal Mountain records, The Jerry Cans, Six Shooter records and more. American Football, Cupcakke, Haviah Mighty, Persons, Owen, Just John x Dom Dias, Nick Schofeld, Most People, Syngja and Dishpit are among acts already booked.
The festival also hosts a free eSports tournament opening weekend at Stackt, a cool new shipping container marketplace featuring competitive game play on La Forza, Super Smash bros and NBA 2K.
Navigating The Village
NXNE Yonge Street Festival Village – Subway directly to heart of the Festival at Dundas (main stage) or Queen stations.
Eaton Centre Urban Eatery (Food Court) –Decent food court worth the escalator rides down. All major chains plus less mass market. Healthy options include: Urban Herbivore and Fast Food Fresh.
Fantastic, affordable Thai legend, Salad King (340 Yonge) steps north of Dundas stage. Raptors-slayer LeBron James owns a slice of Blaze Pizza (10 Dundas E), north of the Square. Build your own pies are a tasty deal. The Senator (249 Victoria) classic diner, around corner from NXNE been serving awesome comfort food since the early 20th century.
Toronto’s original Chinatown has great choices, west on Dundas past Bay for cheap dim sum, noodles and crazy popular Japanese Cheesecake. High end dim sum at Lai Wah Heen, Hilton Double Tree (101 Chesnut). Jump up Jamaican at Ritz Caribbean (211 Yonge) festival site, steps from the Comedy Tent.
There’s also a grocery store in Atrium mall basement, northwest corner of Yonge and Dundas.
Budget buster – Modern South American food at Lena (176 Yonge) festival site at Queen; modern American at Richmond Station (1 Richmond W), old school steakhouse at Barberians (7 Elm) or; high-end madness at one of Toronto’s best, George (111 Queen E).
NXNE has a beer and spirits garden in Yonge Dundas Square and even some free sampling. Happy with warm, knapsack beers? Head into the Atrium mall basement to the LCBO provincial liquor store.
Ironic dive bar or, just kind of grimy, the Imperial Pub (54 Dundas E) has been serving cheap beer for decades. Their free popcorn is probably older than you but low cost lager and decent top floor patio make this a solid, nearby option. The Brewers (275 Yonge) is a glitzy pub with lots of craft beers and decent food.
Jack Astors, (10 Dundas E) is worth the effort if you can grab a seat on their fifth floor balcony for an amazing view overlooking the festival site.
One of the newest – and fanciest – legal pot shops, Tokyo Smoke (333 Yonge), just north of the Festival Village in former HMV store, east side of Yonge.
Air BnB has tons of rooms in Toronto. There are plenty of hotels close to Festival Village. Biggest bargain is Bond Place Hotel (65 Dundas E). Decent rooms start at $139, you can see and hear festival from the front door.
The Marriot in the Eaton Centre, Pantages (200 Victoria) and the Hilton Double Tree (101 Chesnut) have swell rooms starting at around $200. The Marriott and Pantages are steps from festival, Chesnut, two blocks away.
Budget Buster – Swank, secret hotel with only four rooms ($400-$500), Ivy at Verity (111 Queen E). Rooms upstairs above posh Verity women’s health club. Female guests get unlimited access to the Verity club and spa, sorry dudes, no fly zone for you.
The best way to discover new acts at NXNE is to club hop with a priority access $29 wristband that gets you into over 30 shows. Go to the gig curated by your favourite artist but then, hit up a neighboring venue and see acts you’ve never heard of. There are over 20 downtown NXNE venues, seasoned club hoppers pick a neighbourhood with a few adjoining venues. Here are two of our hop happy hoods.
Original Queen West
Queen West, near Spadina has been a longtime musical epicentre of Toronto.
Top rooms include: The Horseshoe (379 Queen W) was an old school country bar, embraced new music in 80s, rootsy vibe, Blue Rodeo, The Hip and The Police all played early shows here; The Rivoli (334 Queen W) intimate, classy music back room – they even have air conditioning – was early home to Kids in the Hall and has decent Thai food; The Cameron House (408 Queen W) big in the 80s and still relevant. Kids of original, artsy-owners operate it currently, play there as Ferraro. Jim Cuddy got his start here, now son Devin is a regular act; The Bovine Sex Club (542 Queen W) gloriously grimy with kick-you-in-the-crotch-kitsch, reliable for late nights and loudness at this punk friendly place, check out upstairs rooftop Tiki Bar; and, The Drake Underground (1150 Queen W) art bar vibe in the basement of the elegantly restored, one time dive, now diva Drake Hotel. Check out the outdoor Sky Bar upstairs.
Westside, Dundas and Ossington
Near one of Toronto’s hottest restaurant strips are more, reliable music rooms.
Unpretentious rooms, The Garrison (1197 Dundas W) and, not surprisingly, smaller, The Baby G (1608 Dundas W) share the same owner and, commitment to emerging indie rock; The Dakota (249 Ossington) hosts some of Toronto’s best roots gigs; the Night Owl (647 College) features mixed genres and a good kitchen and; nomadic Toronto programming legend Dan Burke brings his astute ear and eye for breaking bands in the indie and art rock world to the Monarch (12 Clinton)
6 More in the 6
Toronto Pride -
All of June
Said to be world’s largest Pride event, activities all month but massive parade is June 23.
Dundas West Fest
– June 7–9
Owner/programmers of two great west end live venues, The Garrison and The Baby G raise the band bar at this cool neighbourhood’s fest with acts like: Dilly Dally, Suuns and Teen Anger.
Lots of high brow hijinks as Toronto “high arts” lovers take in experimental art, dance, opera and more.
Stackt, June 14 -16
Toronto’s awesome new shipping container marketplace has it’s “official” opening weekend with tons of free stuff and live bands. (Home of NXNE’s eSports tourney the week before).
Toronto Jazz Fest,
June 21- 30
Toronto’s long running jazz fest takes place across down- and midtown with a mix of free shows, club acts and ticketed concerts. Headliners include: Norah Jones and Diana Ross.
Wolf Pack rugby
, June9, 15, 22 and 30
Hungry for the Wolf(Pac)? Toronto has a professional men’s rugby team that plays in the British Rugby Football League, the only North American squad. The games are relatively cheap, lots of action at a full on party played at creaky and fun outdoor Lamport Stadium. The stadium sits in trendy Liberty Village near the Ossington restaurant district. Three games in June including June 15, 1 p.m. versus the Dewsbury Rams.