Once upon a time, the only way to listen to music was to see it performed live. Hundreds of years later, evenings of live music are still one of the most popular events you can attend. The musical styles may have changed slightly over those centuries, but the core concept remains the same. Listening to live music is unlike anything else. It temporarily forms a special connection between performer and audience that is completely unique. Of course, the venue has a major impact on your experience. The sound mix, the acoustics, and the general vibe of the place can totally change how you experience the music, so going to a good venue is important. At the venues on this list, you’ll get the greatest live music experience, whether it’s a major band or a local singer-songwriter.
While Budweiser Gardens
may be the home of the London Knights and the London Lightning, it is also one of the most popular live music venues. It draws some of the biggest names in music to the city, saving Londoners the time and gas of going to Toronto to see popular artists perform. Budweiser Gardens hosts concerts of all types. Country stars like Keith Urban and Shania Twain have graced the stage with their cowboy boots and rockers of all types, from the pop punk of Sum 41 to the 80’s ballads of Simple Minds, have brought the house down. There’s even the occasional touring Broadway show performing at the Gardens! Depending on the size of the event, there may be as many as 10,000 tickets available. For the largest concerts, two thirds of the arena seats are open – the final third of the seats are behind the stage resulting in a very poor experience, so they’re closed off. The floor is opened for general admission standing room, allowing you to get as close as you possibly can to the performer. Budweiser Gardens is the beating heart of London’s newly dubbed “entertainment district,” flooding the streets of downtown with thousands upon thousands of people on a regular basis. It drives local business, culture, and art in an incredibly powerful way. To see the big names in London, you’re more than likely heading to Budweiser Gardens. Whether you’re on the floor or in the nosebleeds, the concerts are always exciting and are bound to blow you away.
London Music Hall
The London Music Hall
is also one of London’s top tier music venues. Recently undergoing a pretty major renovation, the Music Hall has expanded from a small event location to a medium-sized venue with a larger stage, a second-floor mezzanine, and three private boxes. As if that wasn’t enough, they also added more bars so lines for drinks will move more quickly and you can get back to jamming. The London Music Hall is split into two rooms – the Main Room and Rum Runners. The main room holds 1,600 people including the aforementioned new mezzanine. With booming speakers and pumped up crowds, you’ll forget the venue’s smaller size and feel as though you’re at a massive festival. Rum Runners is a much smaller, more intimate affair. Holding only 350 people, the band you’re about to see likely be mere feet from you and that’s when you’re standing at the back of the room! Rum Runners also opens itself as a bar/club on Fridays and Saturdays when there are no concerts. Fridays have a rock vibe while Saturdays are more focused on EDM. Despite its modest size, London Music Hall has attracted some absolutely huge performers to their stage. Acts like DeadMau5, Snoop Dogg, Alexisonfire, Calvin Harris, and Skrillex have all put on shows at the Music Hall. London Music Hall may not be the biggest, but they’re still one of the mightiest. They constantly bring great musicians, with both broad and niche appeal, to their venue. It’s a place for music lovers to experience arena vibes in an intimate space.
Call the Office
A London institution, Call the Office has been providing Londoners with opportunities to see live music since the 1980’s. This no-frills nightclub is known for its eclectic mix of shows, from big names to people you haven’t heard of (yet). Many regulars remark that this is the place to go in London to find up-and-comers. They say that you’ll see some great opening acts that haven’t hit it big, but given a few months or years, their talent will end up with them headlining their own shows at the club. Watching their journey to stardom as returning acts develop over time really gives a different vibe than anywhere else in the city. Call the Office embraces the underground and the fringe, bringing in performers of all types to their stage through their decades of service. From indie to alt-country to hip hop, Call the Office has heard it all. Local bands and touring crews are often on the same bill, embracing the local scene to a degree that is not often seen. The décor could be described as shabby chic, though chic maybe overselling it. Call the Office made its home in a building that was over a century old at the time they opened, and it shows its age at times. Many find this part of the authentic, historic appeal of the place. To stay connected with the underground scene in London, there’s no better place to go than Call the Office. Discover local and touring bands that you’ll love, but they aren’t getting any radio play just yet. It’s the perfect venue to discover new music and grab a pint, no wonder it’s been open so long!
On the average day, Harris Park
may be just some lovely greenspace in the downtown core of London, but on event days, Harris Park transforms completely. The mild-mannered park becomes an outdoor concert venue unlike anything in the city. VIP tents, food and refreshment vendors (typically including a beer garden), and most importantly, a full stage and sound system are set up. Harris Park is the host to a whole variety of concerts and music festivals throughout the year. Events range from London Bluesfest
, a celebration of blues and classic rock, and BlockParty London
, a 2-night rave with some of the biggest names in EDM. Harris Park has also the home of Rock the Park
for the last 14 years. Rock the Park is a music festival that spans a range of genres itself, each night having a different genre or theme. Performers at Rock the Park throughout the years have been punk rockers, 80’s popstars, rappers, and country music legends. Every year, the lineup is exciting and surprising. Being a park, there is plenty of open space and seemingly more relaxed fire code regulations, as the maximum capacity of the park as a concert venue is a staggering 50,000. The majority of tickets are sold as general admission and standing room only. However, at most of the events, big spenders are invited to purchase VIP tickets, which gives access to a private area with tables and chairs. Being an outdoor venue also has some drawbacks, however. Most of the concerts are rain or shine events, so your enjoyment may be hampered by whether the weather is cooperating that day. Harris Park may not always be a live music venue, but when it is, it never fails to impress. You’re almost guaranteed to find an event that caters to your music taste throughout the year, so head downtown and jam in the fresh air!
The Aeolian Hall is a historic music venue, built in 1882 with the intentions of being a town hall. It has also been home to a public school, a public library, and a church before it was finally turned into a concert hall in 1968 by Gordon D Jeffery after his original Aeolian Hall was destroyed by arson in May of that year. Opening night was in September 1969, in which Jeffery conducted the Aeolian Town Hall Orchestra in a program of three Brandenburg Concerti and the Violin Concerto in E major by Bach. If that sounds up your alley, fantastic! The Aeolian still puts on a number of classical concerts throughout the year! The Aeolian isn’t a one trick pony though, they are also host to concerts in a wide variety of genres from rock to Celtic to bluegrass. The Aeolian Hall’s eclectic mix of genres attracts Londoners of all types to appreciate music, be they quieter, contemplative events or more raucous, on-your-feet concerts. The concert hall itself is not the largest in the city by far: the maximum capacity with full concert seating is 313. This shouldn’t be taken as a negative though! The smaller space creates a much more intimate experience, connecting the performer with the audience. Aeolian Hall is more than just a concert venue though. It is governed by a registered non-profit called The Aeolian Hall Musical Arts Association, which promotes education, exploration, and inclusivity in the musical community. They have a variety of programs that aim to bring music into the lives of all Londoners. The Aeolian is packed with historical significance, but it is by no means stuck in the past. They host events and concerts of all sorts to appreciate a variety of genres, both classical and modern.
The Richmond Tavern is the oldest running bar in town, but it doesn’t show its age! Originally opened in 1852, the Richmond is still entertaining Londoners seven days a week. No matter what day you go into the Richmond, you’ll find yourself engrossed in live music from local bands, some nights even have two different sets – one around dinner time and another later in the evening. They have regulars that appear most weeks. Monday nights are the designated jazz night, featuring the Vibe Tribe. You’ll usually find Devon Nickerson at the Richmond on Tuesdays and BerKnarlies playing the blues on Wednesdays afternoons followed by Traditional Music Session in the evening. Thursday through Sunday has more variety, featuring different artists week by week. Local artists play jazz, rock, the blues, and folk to patrons of the tavern as they enjoy their beverages. An exciting thing to note about the Richmond is that there is no cover charge to see the performances. They welcome you to pay what you can when it comes to tipping the musicians, but nothing is mandatory other than having a good time! The Richmond Tavern is steeped in London history, and as such it’s no surprise they love to feature London musicians. Their emphasis on local and Ontario-based talent is fantastic as it reminds Londoners how talented their city really is!
The Wortley Roadhouse
Dance the night away at the Wortley Roadhouse every Friday and Saturday! This restaurant, pub, and live music venue, as you may have guessed, located in the Wortley Village. They bring musicians from all around London and Ontario to perform for pub-goers. The Roadhouse is a popular spot for classic pub grub in the Old South neighbhourhood, but it’s not just about the food and drink. On Friday and Saturday evening, you’ll be treated to a performance from jazz, rock, and blues musicians. In the cooler months (October through May), you can also come around on Sunday afternoons to enjoy a matinee set! Regular performers include the Geoff Masse Band, Hot Tub Hippies, and Tom Cat Prowl, each performing a set on a roughly monthly basis, if not more often! Enjoy a pint and some grub as you nod your head along to the tunes or get up and have a blast on their dance floor! Just don’t try to combine the two, as burgers don’t tend to hold up to a vigorous dancing session.
The Wortley Roadhouse
The Old East 765 Bar and Grill is a new bar in a historic location. Since the 1930’s, there has been a tavern at 765 Dundas Street. It started with the Queen’s Hotel, then became the Town and Country in 1982. In 2016, the location became Old East 765, a bar dedicated to booking a wide variety of musicians. Old East 765 has put on shows from country to heavy metal. They recently played host to the Swollen Members, a Juno Award winning alt-hip hop group from Vancouver, and Knot Slip, Canada’s top Slipknot tribute band. When both sections – the front bar and the Backstage Lounge – of the tavern are open, Old East 765 has an impressive 700-person capacity. Their shows are loud, exciting, and unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else in the city. Old East 765 Bar and Grill is definitely a place to check out for those with diverse music tastes.