Austin, Texas, is a much smaller city than Toronto, but it has the very distinct reputation as a go-to venue for musicians and artists. Almost any night of the week you can stroll down the streets of Austin and hear live music of all sorts. So why is it that Toronto can’t have the same voltaic live music scene?
Toronto is known for many great things, but having a strong music scene is not one of them. It seems everybody has an opinion as to why this is and exactly how to fix it, including Mayor John Tory. That is why the Mayor has taken a trip to the ‘live music capital of the world.’ This trip was meant to help him figure out what changes can be made to increase the musical appeal of Toronto.The Mayor already has some small changes he thinks can be made that will help Toronto, but they are only minor issues. Changing things such as noise complaint worries and a somewhat ‘skittish’ attitude towards outdoor venues can help, but there is still a long way to go.Take Austin’s infamous South by Southwest festival, for example. This major music festival brings in almost $150 million for the local economy. Toronto’s own North by Northwest festival brings in a paltry $50 million for local businesses, even though Toronto has almost two million more residents.
Local musicians have their own takes on things that could change the Toronto music scene. Tony Dekker of the local Toronto band Great Lake Swimmers suggests closing off streets for music festivals like North by Northwest. Music festivals cater to very large crowds, and blocking off traffic on some streets could open up the festivals even more.
For proof one only has to look at the Taste of The Danforth Festival held in the Greektown area of Toronto. Birthed from The Taste of Chicago in Illinois, the Taste of Danforth is the largest street festival in Canada. As the name would imply, Danforth Street is partially closed to provide space for vendors, artists and pedestrians.
Over 20 years old now, the Taste of The Danforth Festival has an attendance of almost 1.3 million people over the course of three delicious days. By comparison, the North by Northwest music festival hosts and attendance over just over 350,000 over five days.
Expanding music to more than just local inside venues could increase both attendance and visitor enjoyment. South by Southwest already does this and the numbers speak for themselves. Of course, there are other changes that can go a long way to help increase Toronto’s music scene.
Graham Henderson, president of the non-profit organization Music Canada, suggests allowing musicians to park outside their venues, among other things. Mayor Tory’s anti-congestion policy is his flagship legislation, and it is the reason many musicians’ vans get towed if parked outside venues, especially during rush hour. It is unlikely this is a change he would be in support of.
During his speech in Austin, the Mayor explained how the two cities working together can not only benefit Toronto’s music scene, but can also help the growing city of Austin.
On Toronto’s end, the city can learn a lot about saying yes to small changes to make large music festivals more appealing to artists and businesses. Some of these ‘yes’ ideas include allowing food trucks a little more freedom, dealing with noise complaint issues and traffic congestion, among other things.
The Mayor also spoke about his intent to help give Toronto a reputation as being a hip city. Being hip will do more than make Toronto seem cool. It will also help attract the large businesses and individuals who work for those companies. This is why Tory held meeting with companies like IBM, Google and AMD, each of which have a visible presence in Austin.
On the other hand, Austin can learn a thing or two about managing a burgeoning population and the infrastructure issues that come with that growth, according to Austin Mayor Steve Adler. To further cooperation between the two cities, Mayor Tory has plans to invite Austin officials to Toronto for a summit to discuss how the two cities can work together.