Photo by Justin Boruta
Whether you’re into classical music and orchestral strings or underground rap and sweaty mosh pits, the ambience and vibe of the venue you’re at is key. Toronto has a lot to offer in terms of places to view live music: Velvet Underground, the Phoenix Concert Theatre, and Drake Underground… but perhaps one of the most classic gems in the city is the Danforth Music Hall (the Danforth).
Walking into the hall is like being hit with a wave of nostalgia. The white cement chandeliers and the Parisian-esque walls look like they could’ve been part of Marie Antoinette’s ballroom in the 1700s with a splash of purple and gold. Because the Danforth has been around for almost 100 years, its rustic vibe has been well worn-in, as artists ranging from The Clash to Rihanna have played at this historic location. The Danforth is the perfect venue for musicians who have a strong fan base but also want a more intimate show than the Air Canada Centre could ever provide.
It’s bigger than your friend Fred’s basement, where he used to throw sloppy ragers in high school, but still small enough to feel an intimacy reminiscent of an open-mic show. The die-hard fans stand in line early enough to make it to the front, with no barrier of security between the stage and general admission, and the latecomers can casually saunter in post-opener and still snag a good spot on the side.
No matter what time you choose to drop in, the feel is always cozy and there is always an adequate sight line of visibility thanks to the slanted floor—so your short man can stand behind you and hold your waist and still be able to see. And you know what’s really nice about the Danforth? It doesn’t double as a club or dive bar on weeknights. It’s an actual venue, the primarily-for-music kind. You can definitely feel this vibe in the crowd and the individuals that come through to shows at the Danforth. Although not all shows are 19+, there usually aren’t half-naked, obnoxious teenyboppers stumbling around. There’s a sort of mutual respect between attendees—people are there for the music.
Last November, I saw Jake Bugg, the nonchalant English singer-songwriter, take the stage. He staggered on impressively with only an acoustic guitar in hand and played his entire set solo. Just a simple man and his guitar, stripping it down to the acoustics. I remember looking around me and seeing an older gentleman in a cowboy hat swaying slowly along to “Broken” and feeling empathetic to the kind of humans that come alone to concerts and enjoy every single second of it. Bugg’s opener, Nefe, also braved the stage with nothing but an acoustic guitar and stunned us all with a gorgeous cover of “Valerie” by Amy Winehouse. The acoustics in the Danforth are perfect for these kinds of intimate solo acts, as the tunes seem to dance off the walls and seep into your cranium, satisfying all of your auditory needs.
The Danforth has housed musicians from all over the world, but is undeniably accommodating to Toronto artists that have grown up in the city. Just last December, Daniel Caesar sold out five consecutive shows at the venue. Unreal. A game changer for an artist who just dropped his debut album, Freudian, in 2017. Those lucky enough to snag tickets at the $22 retail price, like myself (or resale for over $100), experienced an unforgettable night. Caesar brought out artists from tracks on his album such as Syd and H.E.R. on the first night alone, and others like Charlotte Day Wilson on the following nights. The love and genuine appreciation for local talent was radiating in the hall on the first night and undoubtedly at the following shows. It was no mistake that the Danforth was the venue to house all that sentimentality.
Whether you’re out to see a local artist that you’ve heard of through the grapevine or a household name in the music industry, the Danforth Music Hall continuously provides the ideal concert-going experience for both the avid fan and the casual listener. From 1919 to 2018, the walls of the hall have heard many performances and will certainly hear many more in the future.