Improving the laneway experience with music

exploring new venues for TORONTO'S thriving music scene 

Musical performances are often remembered by the space you are in, the people you are with and of course, the artist you see.

Toronto’s music scene has slowly begun to expand the breadth of venues and experiences in which music lovers can interact with musical performances, lead by the city’s popular arts & culture festival North by Northeast (NXNE).  Musical headliners of this festival perform in tourist-ridden Dundas Square, while rising indie bands are sprinkled across various venues around the city – some of which come together to perform at “Live at Bellwoods”, an annual NXNE picnic series in Trinity Bellwoods Park. Boat and streetcar performances have also been added into the mix.

As Toronto continues to explore new spaces for musical performances, one obvious (and inexpensive) choice is the city's charming laneways.

This is not an original thought – St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival originated in Melbourne, Australia over a decade ago. The festival started as a series of weekly shows, locally known as the Summer Series, every Sunday at the back of a Melbourne bar. The ‘secret’ shows garnered a cult of attendees and eventually more space was needed. The owner of the bar, Jerome Borazio, convinced neighbouring restaurants to sell food out of their rear doors while artists performed in Caledonian Lane. Soon, every show was sold out.

The history of St. Jerome's Laneway Festival

The first official festival in 2005 was held in Melbourne and had 9 bands that performed, including Montreal’s The Dears. Ten years later, the festival has expanded nationally and internationally to Adelaide, Auckland, Brisbane, Detroit, Fremantle, Singapore and Sydney. This expansion caused an increase in the number of artists, along with a need for larger stages and areas. As a result, some cities don't host the festival in laneways; this would require negotiations with municipal governments for the use of laneways in each city. Only Australian cities have stayed true to repurposing laneways for musical performances.

Melbourne continues to be a leader in reimagining laneways. Love Your Laneway is a program that ‘seeks to improve the amenity and presentation of Melbourne’s celebrated laneways.’ The program facilitates the interaction of laneway communities and “Laneway Champions” with the City of Melbourne to collaborate on shared goals. The program identifies 5 new laneways on an annual basis, each who have local residents and businesses that are interested in revamping their laneway.

The organic evolution of St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival indicates two things:

  1. The opportunity that laneways can provide as a stepping stone to larger artistic initiatives; 
  2. Their ability to cultivate community and foster local collaboration.

Toronto’s music scene should look to explore some of the 2400 laneways in our city as spaces not only to pass through, but for communities to engage with local artists.