free concerts toronto

The top 10 free concerts and music festivals in Toronto

Free concerts and music festivals in Toronto have always been welcome, but particularly since the festival scene has become richer and richer (ahem, how much was that wristband, again?). Music in Toronto is as diverse as the city's neighbourhoods, and thankfully you don't need to make a six figure salary to enjoy it all.

Here are my picks for the top annual free music events in Toronto.

Beaches International Jazz Festival
The Beaches International Jazz Festival continues to grow each year. The festival features international, local, and "new generation" Jazz, Latin-salsa, reggae, hip-hop, big-band and even workshops. Events happen on six stages (and on the street) from Qew Gardens to Woodbine Park. Total attendance is approaching the million mark.

Harbourfront Centre
The Toronto Harbourfront Centre has long been home to family-friendly festivals and special events year round on its five concert stages, though the more adult programming has recently gotten better. From July though September, the Summer Music in the Garden series presents contemporary interpretations of music from around the world.

Yonge & Dundas Square
Throughout the summer Yonge & Dundas Square becomes a concert area. Weekday lunch hour shows are open to all-ages at no cost with a mix of folding chair seating and standing room. They feature a range of genres from indie singer-songwriter to alternative adult. NXNE invades YDS during mid-June with special free shows from big name acts.

Pedestrian Sundays
On the last Sunday of each month throughout the summer, Kensington Market is closed to vehicular traffic. Residents and non-residents are free to explore the sights and sounds of the market on foot. As eclectic as the shops are, so too are the blend of street musicians performing on street corners.

Junction Music Festival
Only a few years in, the Junction Music Festival demonstrates the growth of the neighbourhood as a music destination. Local venues do special programming while a main stage brings out a huge crowd each September.

Roncy Rocks
Demonstrating that Toronto neighbourhoods are full of locally grown talent, Roncy Rocks shows off the best of its own. Roncy musicians fill several outdoor stages all day long during the multi-arts celebration (Saturday June 6, 2015). Sidewalk sales, art sales, and a youth talent show complete the event.

Toronto Bicycle Music Festival
The pedal-powered music festival takes to Toronto parks and streets every September. Organizer James Davis was inspired by a similar bicycle festival in San Francisco. The music part involves musical performances powered by human bicycle power in area venues. Bike marshals guide cyclists safely through city routes with on-the-way music.

Great Hearts Festival
During NXNE week each June, Young Lions Club and Humble Empire present the Great Hearts Festival in Trinity Bellwoods Park. About 20 NXNE artists (even though it's not an offifical NXNE presentation) perform completely acoustically over the course of four days for hundreds of listeners.

Bloor Ossington Folk Festival
Don't let the name deceive you. The Bloor Ossington Folk festival includes other genres and from well outside the Bloor-Ossington hood. Headliners take to the stage at Christie Pits where a beer garden, food, and crafts are all available. Each year the festival has grown with all-day programming and community support.

Mel Lastman Square
North of Sheppard on Yonge St., Mel Lastman Square has a number of summer concerts that are free. Early evenings by the water stream the are a concerts under the stars with big bands, Broadway tunes, and community music/performing groups. The annual Hispanic Fiesta also takes place, drawing thousands to listen to Latin music.

CORRECTION: Roncy Rocks has been cancelled for 2015. (7/5/2015)

What did I miss? Add your suggestions for Toronto's top free annual music events in the comments.

Photo of the National at Yonge-Dundas Square

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