With months of ice and snow, Toronto isn’t your usual music festival destination. The Long Winter monthly concert series, however, brings the experience indoors: Hundreds of music fans pour into the Queen Street West’s historic Great Hall to shake what their mamas gave them. It’s a multi-level venue with art installations, streetwear vendors, DJs, and more, but the main attraction is definitely headlining bands. You won’t miss the sun when you’re dancing to Hidden Cameras or Sheezer – or at least you’ll forget about the -15 temperature for a while.
You also won’t mind shivering in the lineup waiting for the doors to open; it’s a rite of passage for Long Winter fans to brave the cold before filtering through the archways for a night of great music. Our tip for surviving the lineup? Meet your friends at Swan, just down the street from Great Hall, to fortify yourselves before you face the elements. Let the Queen West diner’s old-school vibe set the tone for the evening, and slurp up some freshly shucked oysters and easy-drinking Conductor’s Craft ale. After that, you’ll be more than ready to claim your spot in line, blending in with the jovial crowd.
You feel the energy of the crowd lift as you step into the magnificent Great Hall — it dates back to 1889, and it’s a classic piece of Old Toronto. On Long Winter nights, the creaky nooks are bursting with stuff to do: You wander over to see pop-up flea markets, go contemplate the modern art on display, maybe go nab a baked good of some sort from that month’s food vendors. The top level is a mezzanine-like balcony where you can go establish a spot and view the crowded floor below, bobbing your head to the band’s beats. With its vintage vibe and its happy crowd, the stage area of the Great Hall feels like a school auditorium on the last day of class — except the quality of the music is undeniably better.
And with only a couple months left in this season, your chances to catch the party are running out. The next show is on Feb. 13, when a new fleet of bands and DJs will arrive to help you while away another Long Winter night: genre-busting indie rockers Bruce Peninsula, irresistible beats from Gingy, even rousing chorus versions of pop hits from Choir! Choir! Choir! Among many other things, festivalgoers can check out video art by Joele Walinga while Holy Moly Donuts will be on hand to keep everybody fed and full of sugar. If you’ve never been – or haven’t been in awhile – now is the perfect time to go.