City of Toronto Mayor John Tory last year stated his desire to have Toronto recognized as Canada's Music City. It's a great goal to have, as Toronto has provided its share of big Canadian stars on the world stage, with Drake being the most recent example. Toronto was the developmental ground for one of the most influential bands in music history, The Band, as they played the Toronto club circuit in the summer months prior to returning to Arkansas, the home state of Ronnie Hawkins and Levon Helm in the winter months. But today, there could be a disturbing trend developing that is throwing a big wrench in Mayor Tory's plans for Toronto as a musical hotbed.
A mere 5 weeks in the new year, Toronto has already experienced a rather astounding amount of live music venue closures. Reports from the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun, among others, indicate that two venues (The Silver Dollar Room and Hugh's Room) hope to re-open, but the fact so many venues (4) have closed in such a short period of time is concerning. Revitalization and redevelopment are just two of the reasons for the closures, in addition to the more standard financial causes. But if Toronto is losing music venues to redevelopment and revitalization, how can they claim to be a Music City?
Closing down live music venues does not revitalize a city, nor does it do anything for redevelopment. Both aspects should mean that you're improving a situation. Closing music venues does more harm than good. It takes away the development stream for aspiring artists to learn and hone their craft, it limits their ability to learn how to play in front of live audiences. In a recent broadcast of Great Performances on PBS, country star Brad Paisley stated the advice he provides to aspiring artists is that they become local stars first, prior to becoming national/international stars. Becoming a local star is important in their overall development as a complete performing/recording artist and musician, and assists the artist in handling an ever growing level of fame. If live music venues are being taken away, it would be akin to removing the minor league system of baseball ... the development stream ends, which in turn hurts the overall product.
To their credit, the Toronto City Council seems to recognize there is a problem. The Toronto Star reports that The Silver Dollar Room will not be closed permanently. Having been designated a heritage space, it will re-open in the newly developed space that will take the place of the building currently occupying the corner of College St. and Spadina Ave. In the meantime, The Silver Dollar is still slated to close on May 1. Hugh's Room is still hopeful for a reprieve with some additional financing, but this outcome is still not clear. A committee has been formed to set a new path forward that will be financially viable and will continue to provide a venue for national and international touring musicians, as well as showcasing some of the finest local talent Toronto has to offer.
These closures notwithstanding, Toronto does still have a decent amount of live music clubs. Having said that, the time is now for the community, music and otherwise, to come together and work toward solutions that will keep the local live music establishment healthy and financially viable and provide that development system for aspiring musicians to take that next step in their careers. With many people doing the heavy lifting, Toronto can still fulfill its aspiration as Canada's Music City.