Cool for the Summer

After two mostly silent years, music festivals are back. Here’s what to catch and where

Once upon a time, summer music festivals were a convenient way to get day-drunk, work on your sunburn and listen to your favourite band while waiting in an endless line for the porta-potties. But after two pandemic-plagued years that forced clubs to shut down and kept us all cooped up at home, outdoor concerts have become evermore essential to staying sane. And we’re happy to report that Toronto’s festival calendar is stacked once again, with many of the city’s flagship events returning alongside some new gatherings that we hope become annual traditions. Here, a cheat sheet on what not to miss.

Rolling Loud

September 9 to 11 at Ontario Place. Tickets starting at $369.

What it’s all about: Launched in Miami in 2015, before expanding to other cities, Rolling Loud is America’s premier rapalooza, its massive weekend gatherings attracting the world’s elite MCs. And now, in recognition of Toronto’s outsized presence on the global rap stage, the festival is coming north for the first time.

Why you need to go: Since Drake’s star-studded OVO Fest is just a rumour at the moment, we’ll have to make do with a three-day party featuring Atlanta trap god Future, British breakout star Dave, Afrobeats phenom Wizkid and a hundred other notable names in hip-hop right now. And if you don’t have several hundred dollars in the bank for passes at the moment, the festival is offering affordable layaway plans.

Don’t miss: Haviah Mighty, the Brampton-bred dynamo whose fiery 2021 mixtape Stock Exchange recently made her the first woman to win the Juno Award for rap album of the year.


Field Trip

July 9 at Fort York and Garrison Common. Tickets starting at $115. 

What it’s all about: Field Trip started in 2013 with free admission for children and enjoyed a six-year run catering to a very specific demographic of aging hipsters who’d sooner drag their kids to a day-long concert than fork out for a sitter. On hiatus since the summer of 2019, it returns with its winning formula intact: indie rock and craft brews for the parents; a dogs-on-skateboards show and hula-hooping for the kids.

Why you need to go: With its eclectic mixtape-like array of rising rappers (Mighty), CanRock veterans (Rheostatics), Indigenous EDM trailblazers (The Halluci Nation) and rowdy roots-rockers (Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats), Field Trip truly has something for everyone. It’s also the rare festival that allows in-and-out access, for guests who want to duck out before sunset to drop the tykes off at grandma’s and make it back down for the headliners.

Don’t miss: Pierre Kwenders, the Montreal dynamo bringing Congolese rumba into the digital age.


TD Toronto Jazz Festival

June 24 to July 3 at various locations. Tickets starting at $35. 

What it’s all about: For 35 years, Jazz Fest has been a pillar of the summer concert season, bringing in A-list acts for big-ticket events at the city’s most prestigious concert halls. And don’t be fooled by the moniker—the festival has embraced an increasingly elastic definition of jazz that spans soul, funk, blues, experimental rock and EDM.

Why you need to go: While this year’s line-up features headlining performances from Motown legend Smokey Robinson at Meridian Hall and soulful crooner Gregory Porter at Koerner Hall, the real festival happens in the streets. Once centred in the expansive concrete environs of Nathan Phillips Square, the Toronto Jazz Fest has built a much cozier homebase in Yorkville in recent years, transforming the hoity-toity ’hood into a bustling multi-stage free street party that’s open to everybody.

Don’t miss: Les Filles de Illighadad, a Nigerien ensemble from a remote village in the Sahara that specializes in an ecstatic, trance-inducing brand of Tuareg folk-blues.


Hillside Festival

July 22 to 24 at the Guelph Lake Conservation Area. Tickets starting at $149.

What it’s all about: Hillside is a literal oasis on the Southern Ontario summer-concert circuit. A Guelph tradition since 1984, it’s less a music festival than a summer-camp getaway: organizers cap attendance at a comfortable 5,000 people per day; eschew corporate sponsors and advertising for all-local vendors and hand-painted signage; and allow attendees to cool off with a dip in nearby Guelph Lake in between performances. And while Hillside will always exude a strong whiff of its hippie folk-festival roots, the programming offers an adventurous array of indie rock, country, hip-hop, punk, reggae and spoken-word poetry.

Why you need to go: After scoring three Grammy nominations for her excellent 2021 album, Outside Child, wowing audiences on Ellen and Stephen Colbert, and earning a spot on Barack Obama’s best-of-2021 playlist, Montreal-bred country-soul singer Allison Russell is officially having a moment—and Hillside is just one of two Ontario dates currently on the books for this summer. She’s joined by dad-rock guitarist Bahamas and Anyway Gang, the supergroup featuring Sam Roberts, Hollerado’s Menno Versteeg and Sloan’s Chris Murphy.

Don’t miss: Ombiigizi, the Ontario duo filtering classic indie-rock sounds through a contemporary Indigenous perspective.


Decadence Festival

June 30 to July 2 at CityView. Tickets starting at $93.

What it’s all about: During the worst of Covid, CityView Drive-In became a popular destination for socially distanced concerts enjoyed from the (dis)comfort of your car. The 2022 edition of the Decadence Festival will be refreshingly IRL, transforming the site into the city’s largest waterfront rave for the Canada Day long weekend. Produced by nightlife mavens INK Entertainment, Decadence is a supersized reboot of the event series that the company used to host a short pedal boat ride away at the now-defunct Guvernment.

Why you need to go: On top of hosting the biggest names in EDM—Dutch trance-master Tiësto and veteran London club-thumpers Above & Beyond—Decadence has an added advantage: the entire Toronto skyline as its twinkling LED backdrop.

Don’t miss: Denver future-bass hitmaker and Friday night headliner Illenium will spin records from his recently Grammy-nominated release, Fallen Embers.

Born and Raised

June 30 to July 3 at Montebello Park. Tickets starting at $108.

What it’s all about: The roots of Toronto powerhouse label Dine Alone Records extend south to St. Catharines, where their franchise player Dallas Green first found his voice in the early 2000s. To remind us of the region’s importance to music lore, Dine Alone founder Joel Carriere has created Born and Raised, a four-day hometown blowout.

Why you need to go: Beyond a rare opportunity t0 see Green perform in both his City and Colour and Alexisonfire guises, Born and Raised doubles as a Canadian alt-rock hall of fame ceremony, with old-school heroes like Broken Social Scene, Sam Roberts Band and Billy Talent.

Don’t miss: The OBGMs, the raucous Toronto garage-rock trio bringing a welcome dose of Black power to a predominantly white punk scene.


Mixto Festival

July 7 to 10, Lynx Music and Lula Lounge. Tickets starting at $25. 

What it’s all about: Mixto is a truly Toronto festival with programming that reflects the city’s unique multicultural character. Launched by local arts collective Uma Nota Culture in 2019, it unites boundary-pushing international artists with like-minded local performers. The result is a weekend-long outdoor jam that feels more like a neighbourhood cookout than the typical wallet-depleting summertime music spectacle.

Why you need to go: Because no other festival in town has such an international mix—including genre-bending R&B Brazilian singer Xenia França, Nigerien Tuareg desert-blues star Bombino, São Paulo electro/bossa-nova synthesist Céu and djembe-wielding Colombian Afro-house crew Ghetto Kumbé—playing on consecutive nights.

Don’t miss: Toronto singer/producer Victoria Cheong, a.k.a. New Chance, who creates abstract electronic pop that’s as jarring as it is mesmerizing.


Veld Music Festival

July 29 to 31 at Downsview Park. Tickets starting at $155.

What it’s all about: This all-ages festival has become Canada’s largest annual EDM gathering, drawing daily crowds of 30,000-plus revellers. For its post-lockdown return, expect a mix of top international DJs, a number of pop-crossover artists and a sprinkling of rap stars.

Why you need to go: The Veld line-up is loaded with DJs like Alesso, Martin Garrix, Armin van Buuren and Marshmello, as well as live performers including The Chainsmokers, Gunna, Polo G and Porter Robinson, who provide a reprieve from the omnipresent oontz-oontz-oontz.

Don’t miss: Dvbbs, the fraternal duo from Orangeville whose 2013 single “Tsunami” took the EDM world by storm and more recently cut tracks with the likes of Blackbear, Aloe Blacc and Wiz Khalifa.


Boots and Hearts Music Festival

August 4 to 7 at Burl’s Creek. Tickets starting at $111.

What it’s all about: For the biggest names in country music, Torontonians will need to trek out to the country. Nashville all-stars and Canadian country royalty converge at Burl’s Creek in Oro-Medonte for a veritable four-day cowboy Coachella that, since its 2012 debut, has grown into the largest country-music hoedown in Canada.

Why you need to go: One word—Shania. In recent years, fans wanting to see the Timmins country-pop queen in action would have to book a flight to Vegas to catch her ongoing residency at the Zappos Theater. Shania Twain’s Sunday-night headlining slot at Boots and Hearts will be her first local performance in more than four years. Saturday’s line-up, meanwhile, is topped by a return visit from bro-country behemoths Florida Georgia Line.

Don’t miss: The Redhill Valleys, a quartet from Hamilton, whose tender serenades and rich harmonies summon all the soft-rock breeziness of mid-’70s Fleetwood Mac.


Canadian Music Week

June 6 to 11 at various locations. Tickets starting at $50.

What it’s all about: Canadian Music Week is an industry schmoozefest by day and a citywide live music showcase by night, allowing fans to check out hundreds of up-and-coming artists at dozens of venues over multiple evenings for the cost of a wristband.

Why you need to go: Public Enemy legend Chuck D will appear as a keynote speaker, and he’ll receive CMW’s Social Justice Honours Award.

Don’t miss: Crown Lands, the Southern Ontario power duo that’s filling the void for glass-shattering cosmic-prog epics left by Rush and bringing an Indigenous consciousness to mainstream Canadian rock radio. They play the festival’s kick-off party at the Axis Club.


North by Northeast

June 14 to 19 at various locations. Tickets starting at $20.

What it’s all about: Since it debuted in 1995 as the humble Canadian cousin to Austin’s South by Southwest fest, NXNE has taken on many permutations, whether staging massive free concerts with rock legends in Yonge-Dundas Square, or attempting to transform a barren patch of asphalt in the Port Lands into a mini-Lollapalooza. But for its post-lockdown comeback, the festival is returning to its mid-’90s roots as a club-hopping scavenger hunt for your favourite new artists.

Why you need to go: Being a hardcore music fanatic is largely about bragging rights and being able to say “I saw them back when…” This year’s NXNE offers plenty of opportunity to see under-the-radar acts from near (like local R&B phenom Osé or Afro-soul futurist Desiire) and far (like Indiana indie eccentric Diane Coffee) up close before they graduate to bigger stages. And even if the majority of NXNE’s line-up may be unfamiliar to even the most plugged-in music enthusiasts, the festival’s bargain-basement price ($20 for a five-day pass—$10 cheaper than the 1995 sticker price) provides more than enough incentive to sample the goods sight unseen.

Don’t miss: Broken Fires, a BBC 1-approved Welsh indie-rock outfit whose shimmering Death Cab for Cutie–worthy anthems will transport you back to a time when Seth Cohen was America’s most influential tastemaker.


Something Else!

June 16 to July 16 at various venues. Tickets starting at $130.

What it’s all about: While the TD Toronto Jazz Festival traditionally brings the biggest brass-wielding stars to town, this annual grassroots event series in Hamilton strives to bring fans of the genre, ahem, something else, with a programming slate orbiting the intersection of punk-schooled jazz, experimental indie rock, freaky funk and neoclassical composition.

Why you need to go: On top of hosting special collaborations like Dave Douglas’s Marching Music (which sees the celebrated New York–bred trumpeter backed by Henry Rollins’ old rhythm section), Something Else! offers an array of venues as eclectic as its line-up, with shows happening at the new warehousey concert space Bridgeworks, the Cotton Factory’s industrial studios, the central branch of the Hamilton Public Library and the futuristic lakeside gazebo at Bayfront Park.

Don’t miss: JoyfulTalk, the ever-mutating project of Nova Scotia-via-Calgary composer Jay Crocker that filters spiritual-jazz improvisation through modern electronic cut-up techniques.


Woodbine Weekend (Luminato)

June 18 to 19 at Woodbine Park. Free.

What it’s all about: Part of the annual arts extravaganza Luminato, Woodbine Weekend is a festival within a festival: a two-day concert at the namesake east-end park featuring a spectacular line-up of musical greats from around the world, all for the price of zero dollars.

Why you need to go: Because any opportunity to see 71-year-old reggae legend Horace Andy—especially on a bill stacked with violin-wielding R&B ace Sudan Archives, Quebec soul-jazz chanteuse Dominique Fils-Aimé and Mohawk EDM activist DJ Shub—should not be missed.

Don’t miss: Witch Prophet, the local singer-songwriter who draws stories and sounds from her Ethiopian-Eritrean heritage into mesmerizing avant-garde R&B.


T.O. Summer Music

July 7 to 30 at various locations. Tickets starting at $20.

What it’s all about: Operating since 2004, T.O. Summer Music is both a showcase of the world’s top performers and composers in classical music and opera, and an opportunity to check out the emergent artists honing their skills in its namesake Academy program. Most of the events take place at U of T’s Walter Hall and nearby Koerner Hall; however, some of the programming extends into nightclubs like Lula Lounge.

Why you need to go: Because it’s the only festival where you can experience celebrated German-British baritone Benjamin Appl interpreting works by Schubert and local cello duo VC2 performing a classical rendition of Foo Fighters’ “Everlong.”

Don’t miss: Kleztory, the award-winning Quebecois quintet who’ve taken their worldly spin on traditional Jewish klezmer music to stages all over the globe.

Photo Credits: Veld by Visual Bass/Tobias Wang; Marshmello, Allison Russell, Haviah Mighty, Tiësto, Boots and Hearts, Dallas Green and Bombino by Getty Images; Field Trip by Morgan Hotsun, Hillside by Alex Ortega, Bruno Capinan by Cassandra Popescu, Something Else! by John Abbott, Cody Bowles courtesy of Crown Lands/Instagram, Die Mannequin by Anton Mak