Opinion: 102 Bands—Lessons In A Summer Of Concert Going

By Elena Gritzan

I have always been one to set ridiculous summer goals for myself: read 50 novels, watch 100 films, visit 20 new places in my city. Much like typical New Year’s Resolutions, these always fell by the wayside, and I would succumb instead to the monotony of working and spending countless lazy hours with friends. It turns out that the problem wasn’t laziness, but just choosing the wrong goal to fill my summer time. I have always been obsessed with music, and covering shows for a local blog had me experiencing it in a live setting increasingly often. I became infatuated with the idea of seeing 100 unique bands play during my four month break from school.

And here I am, 102 bands later (122 performances if you count repeats). I have learned a lot about the local music scene, explored new venues, met new people, and developed a better sense of my own music taste. Perhaps most surprisingly, I still have an insatiable desire to see music live.  These are some lessons I have learned along the way.

1.       Festivals are a beautiful alternate universe

NXNE is Toronto’s biggest music festival: hundreds of bands playing at dozens of venues over the course of five days. It was exhausting (I was pulling 15 hour days in between my summer job, attending shows and writing articles about each day), but the adrenaline and excitement of the experience pulled me through. NXNE is by design a very self-directed experience; I was able to piece together my schedule with bands I have wanted to see for a long time (future-pop band Purity Ring and quirky crooner Sean Nicholas Savage especially), bands that I have seen again and again (most notably staying up until 4am for a dance-filled set by Kontravoid) and new discoveries (such as New York’s enigmatic Young Magic). After five days and 31 bands, it was a bit of an adjustment to return back to the real world (and get back to normal-life things, like doing dishes or maybe buying some food).

2.       Toronto Island is chalk full of musical opportunities

Just a ferry ride away, a visit to the Island is a fantastic summer experience in its own right, but I spent a lot of time this summer watching bands play on its scenic beaches and fields. From first year festival New Traditions (complete with home cooked food and art installations) to the more established ALL CAPS! (the only festival in Toronto that involves camping, so of course I threw myself into the full experience and had a facial fire ant bite to show for it), there was something beautiful about hanging out in nature and listening to music. Concept-wise, I loved the Poor Pilgrim Island show; it is kind of a musical adventure-hike with all of the bands in different locations around the Island to find.

3.       Some bands never get old

While my goal was to see 100 different bands play, that certainly didn’t stop me from going back to some bands again and again. I saw some three times: OG Melody, Moon King, Absolutely Free and Most People (plus an attempt to see them a fourth time, but unfortunate timing led me to see only the last ten seconds of the set), and some twice: the Elwins and Kontravoid. If I was making a point to re-experience a band, that was a pretty good indication that I had found something special.

4.       Sometimes a show is worth the travel time

The East End seemed impenetrable to me before the summer, but with a bit of adventurousness I found myself travelling past the DVP to seek out new shows. Feast in the East is a real gem, combining delicious dinner with diverse sets of bands.  I also sought out venues a bit far out of my comfort zone, from west (Parkdale’s Wrongbar) to east (the Opera House). Exploring the city and seeing something a little outside of the usual can only add to the experience.

5.       The Garrison is my home base

After going to a lot of shows, you start to develop patterns. I would have thought that my favourite venue would be something close to home, but the place I found myself occupying most weekend nights was actually a trek down to Dundas and Ossington. Excellent programming brought me in (even during NXNE, a lot of the show I wanted to see ended up being in this dark, familiar space) and the excellent staff and atmosphere brought me back.

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Even after spending four months submerged in Toronto’s expansive music community, I still feel like I am only scratching the surface.  This is a testament to how many options there are for the Toronto-based music fan.  Take any night of the week and there are bound to be multiple shows worth checking out, multiple musical experiences worth having.  Occasionally overwhelming, sure, but there is no better way to deal with that than just diving in and exploring. The main result of this summer may have been the birth of a lifelong obsession with live music, but I am certainly okay with that.

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  1. […] Last summer I made it my goal to see 100 different bands play here in Toronto, which of course led me to check out a variety of different venues and to consider bands and scenes […]



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