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10 under the radar folk, blues & roots venues in Toronto

Posted by Ryan Ayukawa / May 24, 2014

Folk venues TorontoOn any given night of the week, Toronto has no shortage of folk, roots, and bluegrass music. The Tranzac in the Annex, College Street's Free Times Cafe, C'est What on Front St., the Dakota Tavern, and Hugh's Room, all guarantee a mix of established and emerging artists to fit the bill. As Toronto music lovers know, though, you don't always have to go to a bar to see great bands in the city.

For music audiences looking for less traditional, unexpected, and even off-downtown options, here are 10 under the radar folk, blues and roots venues to hit up in Toronto.

The treasure trove of exotic instruments lining the walls of the Musideum are enough alone to create a sense of appreciation for the music store owned by Donald Quan. But display and sale of unique instruments from around the world are only part of what the shop is: on select evenings it transforms into an intimate performance space featuring musicians from across Canada and the world. Events are ticketed with a general limit of 40 seats. Many performers make use of the beautiful Bechstein grand piano on the mini-stage (the Beatles recorded "Hey Jude" on a Bechstein). Musideum also offers a full recording studio.

Gallery 345
The multi-use Gallery 345 measures in at over 2,000 square feet with 12 foot wood beam ceilings and a stage area towards the back. Brightly lit, the performance space has excellent acoustics, live recording capacity, and a 9 foot grand piano. The space is located steps near the Roncesvalles shops in the Toronto's west end. Constructed in the 1890s, it was originally built to manufacture pianos. Now owned by Edward Epstein, it features art exhibits, private events, and concerts.

Acoustic Harvest
Set in Scarborough near the Toronto Hunt Club, Acoustic Harvest is a monthly concert series originally developed by (the late) musician Rick Fielding. The history of Acoustic Harvest dates back to 1997 when Fielding and wife Heather and Rev. James Allman presented the first concert at the Greenwood United, then called The Scarborough Acoustic Music Society. The space is currently set in the basement of Robinson Hall/St. Nicholas Anglican Church with established sound-man Jason LaPrade. Featured musicians perform folk, blues, Celtic, bluegrass, and old time music to audiences of 60-100. Advance tickets are available and events have a desserts/refreshment counter, product table, and a quilted banner on display by Pat Armour.

Dominion On Queen
The Wee Folk Club runs on the first and third Thursdays of each month with an emphasis on song and story folk singers. Line ups include established local musicians of some renown and those making their way through Toronto. Each artist performs a shorter set followed by collaboration (often the performers have never met each other before the showcase) and audiences are inspired to join in. The Wee Folk Club is situated in a small room in the back of the Dominion On Queen in Corktown. Founded by Enoch Kent and Alex Sinclair, the concert series pays homage to the tradition of British Folk Clubs.

The Toronto Centre for the Arts
The Toronto Arts Centre near Yonge and Sheppard plays host to Bare Bones & Up Front every Thursday this year from September 11th to October 30th. Produced by Elana Harte (Hartfelt Muisc) and Kim Jarrett, the 8 week series will feature some of the GTA's best independent artists-songwriters. Each evening showcases 2 musicians "stripped down to the essence of their songs and musical concepts." Past alumni of Bare Bones & Up Front series are: Kristin Sweetland & Paul Reddick, Arlene Bishop & Elana Harte, Sarah Burton & Kim Jarrett, Rehan Dalal & Wendell Ferguson, Fergus Hambleton & Tim Bovaconti, Patrick Ballantyne & Meredith Shaw, Melanie Brulee & Julian Taylor, Blair Packham & LINDY.

Village Vinyl Music Emporium & Cafe
Village Vinyl in New Toronto pairs new releases, rare items, DVDs, used CDs, music memorabilia, and vinyl albums along with baked goods and espresso. But it also features live music every Sunday afternoon (2:30-4:30pm) of all genres. Looking to recreate the feel of the 50's and 60's Village Coffee Houses, Village Vinyl continues to support and discover local independent music. Three quarters gets you a play on the jukebox.

Humble Beginnings
The family run Humble Beginnings serves eat-in and take out meals in the heart of the Junction. They also showcase live acoustic music every Saturday (12:30-2:30pm). Seating in the back is a modest 15-20 patrons and often filled for each performance. Folk, jazz, blues, and Flamenco are all featured in generally solo or duo format. Artists are local talent, many known through local open stages.

Kensington Lodge
If the inside of the Kensington Lodge looks like the inside of someone's house, it's because it once was. The owners of the Lodge have renovated a Victorian house (built in 1888) in Kensington Market. The inside is cozy with a fireplace, seating, a bar built from wood from the house itself, and a back patio. Soups, panini, a fully stocked bar with wine and draft beer is available (it currently has a cash only policy). On Thursday night open mic night is hosted by Derek Mok, and other calendar events include jazz, folk, singer-songwriter, a last-Friday-of-the-month Euchre night, and private bookings.

Fat Albert's Open Stage and Coffee House
Fat Albert's has been Toronto (if not North America's) longest running open stage. For over 30 years Fat Albert's called the basement of the Bloor St. United Church home, where Canadian folk greats Bob Snider, Neil Young, and Ron Sexsmith all made their way on the open stage. Following a rental disagreement over a decade ago, Fat Albert's was briefly locked out, and the open stage moved locations to the United Steelworkers Hall on Cecil St. Open stage is every Wednesday night with sign up at 7pm and music at 8pm. Welcoming of all levels of musicianship, talent, and society, the venue has kept the feel of the 60's songwriter era. Each performer usually gets 1 or 2 songs with a featured performer. Coffee, tea, and biscuits are provided with the $2 cover charge (originally $1 for many years). No one has ever been turned away for lack of funds.

House Concerts
More and more common House Concerts offer a solution to continuously playing the usual bars, music rooms, and concert halls, and a chance to hear some of the finest performing artists in an intimate setting. How often can you hear Brent Mason, Dave Gunning or Emilyn Stam in your neighbour's living room with your closest friends? With no hard rules as to how to host a House Concert, guidelines provided by Acoustic Roof and/or Home Routes are a good jumping point to put on successful shows. Generally these concerts are fully acoustic (no amplification) with performances in spaces for 25-40 (sometimes 60) people. Lists of touring/available artists and event host info is also provided by Acoustic Roof and Home Routes.

Writing by Ryan Ayukawa. Photo via Village Vinyl.



Hoyle Osborne / May 24, 2014 at 06:47 pm
Toronto is a great city, so naturally it has thriving (and striving) folk and roots music scenes. My partner and I first played the Fiddler's Green folk club decades ago, and we just spent a week in Toronto, giving three rather different performances in three very different venues (a folk club and two house concerts).
I was so lucky to have come of age when folk music was cool. Both in my hometown of Austin and in my college city, Philadelphia, a brilliant variety of roots music was featured in any number of venues, from pass-the-hat coffeehouses to concert halls. Interest in folk music has diminished considerably over the last forty years, especially among younger people, but there are still plenty of wonderful artists offering engaging, heartfelt, and virtuosic intimate music. I strongly encourage everyone to visit any or all of the venues mentioned in this article.
Nicole / May 24, 2014 at 08:16 pm
Hey there, thanks blogto for the mention! My artist name is Songbird and I'm a folk singer/songwriter thats perform on the second Saturday of each month at Humble Beginnings. I thought it such a beautiful place to perform right in the window of the gorgeous open kitchen room that along with the owners we decided to make it a weekly event. It's been so wonderful to see people of ALL AGES enjoying the music, since it's during the day, in a family friendly environment. With food that's good for you, a beautiful environment and music for the soul it's a such a nice way to spend a Saturday afternoon in Toronto!
David Newland / May 24, 2014 at 09:57 pm
Well done - a useful and thoughtful follow-up to the article on bands to watch. Thanks for doing it. I still think the Cameron deserves a mention. Hat tip to the Silver Dolllar for their support of bluegrass over the years.
Kim Jarrett / May 25, 2014 at 03:13 pm
Nice article! So much great music & wonderful venues in Toronto - including north of Bloor.
Lillian Wauthier / May 25, 2014 at 06:06 pm
Very nice to have mention of the long running Acoustic Harvest concert series!
Come out to hear multiple award-winning Lynn Miles and Keith Glass from the legendary Prairie Oyster, on June 7th.
And next season, our 18th, will feature the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, the 4th Annual Healing Garden Benefit to raise funds for a garden of solace for cancer patients at the MacKenzie Health Foundation in Richmond Hill...featuring Caitlin Hanford, Wendell Ferguson, David Woodhead, John Sheard amongst others.....also David Ross MacDonald from Australia, Jory Nash's new CD Release, R-P-R - Steve Ritchie, Al Parrish and Rob Ritchie from Tanglefoot and more. Visit:
Artistic Director: Lillian Wauthier
T. Manson / May 25, 2014 at 06:19 pm
As David Newland says, the Cameron House deserves a mention here. It's not always folky, but they have interesting artists every single night of the week. Corin Raymond and the Sundowners have held down a semi-regular Thursday evening (6-8) slot for the past 9 years and are well worth catching. To me, this place epitomizes the acoustic/roots scene in Toronto.
Paul Read / May 29, 2014 at 07:10 pm
There is a monthly folk club at the Yellow Griffin pub at Bloor and Runnymede. The club is Another Bloody Folk Club and it takes place from October to June on the first Sunday of the month 7 to 10 p.m. We are mainly traditional folk music. If you sing songs you have written about how you feel we are probably not the club for you. The date is occasionally moved so check us out on Facebook. The web site is under construction
Paul Read / May 29, 2014 at 07:11 pm
The last ABFC of the season will be this Sunday, June 1st with Sweet Felons All, Ian Robb, Eve Goldberg and James McKie with John Williams.
Karyn / June 1, 2014 at 04:21 pm
We really were pleased to see that our music store, Village Vinyl, made your list. Since the fall of 2012 and very shortly after we opened we debuted our "Sunday Sessions'. They were originally designed to feature the talents of our many local musicians and help them in their quest for commercial success. As news of these free live music sessions on Sunday afternoons spread so did the geographical base of our performers. We have had artists from as far as California and the West Coast of B.C. request to play here...and they have. We welcome all genres and now generally feature a double or triple bill of mixed musical styles each week. We will be going on summer hiatus beginning July 6 until September 14 but we have music till the end of June and hope to see some new faces check us out. We will have a 'big bash send off Sunday' on June 29. Come on out to Lake Shore Village in west Toronto and enjoy the music, our unique music store and maybe even a renowned
Signature V V Iced Latte.
Paul Read / January 6, 2015 at 12:28 pm
ABFC season 3 is in full swing. Check the dates at This month, in addition to the house band, Sweet Felons All, we have Bouree a Trois, Jim Armour plus John Mayberry and Jamie Beaton. Upstairs at the Yellow Griffin, right next to Runnymede subway station. Doors open at 6, concert starts at 7 until around 10. See you there!
Other Cities: Montreal