Toronto’s Bluegrass Renaissance

Toronto in the year 2017 is no doubt a far cry from the Appalachian Mountains in the early 20th century, and yet, by some strange twist of fate, the folk music of the Appalachians – also known as bluegrass – has found its way into the heart of the city’s music scene. Early heroes of bluegrass such as Bill Monroe popularized a foot stomping, good time genre of music in which the instrumentation consisted of stringed instruments: guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle and stand-up bass guitar. The excitement of the genre came from the way that musicians traded off solos, showcasing each player’s virtuosity. This tradition created an inclusive feel that bolstered a strong sense of community.

While Toronto is not exactly a pioneer post on a high and lonesome mountain, bluegrass has been a catalyst for the creation of a tight knit community within the city’s cliques of musicians. Up until recently the Silver Dollar Room (which unfortunately closed its doors for good last month) hosted a well-loved bluegrass night every Wednesday. But fret not, there are still many great opportunities to catch quality pickers in the city. Not only are there opportunities to see great musicians, if you’re inclined to participate there are even open jams that anyone can attend. If you’re a little rusty on the guitar or you need to rent one, you might want to stop by a Long & McQuade Music Lesson Centre to brush up on your licks or rent an instrument – right now there’s actually a huge sale on instrument rentals at L&M locations across Ontario.

Listed below are a number of recommendations if you’re looking for a bluegrass destination:

  1. Bluegrass Brunch at the Dakota (Sat & Sun): The Dakota has become one of Toronto’s coolest venues over the past decade, offering a warm, unpretentious atmosphere at the bustling intersection of Dundas and Ossington. What better way to spend a Saturday or Sunday morning than devouring bacon and eggs with a Caesar while a rotating cast of Toronto’s finest pickers serenade you sweetly. It’s also kid-friendly if you have children and find it difficult to make it out to shows at night.
  2. Thursdays at The Tranzac with Houndstooth: If you’ve never been to the Tranzac (Toronto New Zealand Australia Club), you’re in for a treat. The talented Houndstooth performs with a variety of special guests every Thursday. These sessions are drop in friendly, but the standards are pretty high so make sure you polish your singing saw before you jump onstage.
  3. Hamstrung String Band at the Local (Monday Nights): The self-proclaimed “longest running bluegrass residency in Toronto” is a super laid back jam session featuring true virtuosos, but really it’s open to anyone. A friendly, inviting vibe in the cozy Roncesvalles tap room, with a variety of craft beer available. A lovely way to spend a Monday.  

Aside from having a rich history, bluegrass is super fun to sing along or dance to, and definitely fun to perform. Now you have some sense of the vibrant nights of twang your city has to offer you, so go forth and get grassed!

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