Entertainment

Toronto’s Budweiser Stage feels like home to me


The excitement begins toward the end of winter or early spring when my favourite artists begin to announce their summer-tour lineup. I anxiously scroll down the list, hopeful to spot Toronto’s iconic Budweiser Stage as a venue on their itinerary.

I saw my first concert there in the summer of 1998 (Backstreet Boys) and I’ve gone back summer after summer — sometimes several times a week — to catch performances by artists of all genres. Sure, there are many places in Toronto that are go-to, favoured haunts and I love our city’s amazing roster of venues. But this outdoor, lakeside-spot is the favourite. Each time I go, I feel like I’m coming home.

I love live music; I live for it. I’m a fangirl through and through. I love hearing the music and the magic that is creating sound through sheer talent. I love watching singers and performers do their thing on stage.

I also love the power of connection that comes through a like-minded community, all of us there to celebrate our shared love for a particular band.

I’m the Goldilocks of Toronto live music venues. The city’s arenas are just too big and Massey Hall — legendary though it may be — is just too small. But Bud Stage is just right.

Dave Matthews Band performing at Budweiser Stage in July 2022.

It has a seating capacity of 16,000, yet there isn’t one bad seat in the house. It’s our only outdoor venue — open May through October — and there’s something poetic about that.

A visit begins with soaking up the sun, then catching the sunset as the intimacy among the crowd builds beneath the stars (or rainstorm), with perfect views (depending on your seat) of the CN Tower. It feels like such a proudly Canadian space. And because it’s on the Ontario Place grounds, surrounded by water, it also feels like its own little island, a secret spot for you and your fellow fans to bask in.

The sound is fairly predictable, whether I’m sitting front row, in the 200s or out by the lawn in the standing area. But with so much space for artists to roam, they’re anything but predictable.

I was at a Florence and the Machine gig in June 2019 when Florence Welch ran offstage, barefoot, into the audience, through the rows, as security chased her. The excitement! The whimsy!

At a 2018 show, I saw a cape-wearing Jared Leto — there performing with his band Thirty Seconds to Mars — run into the crowd, just in front of section 400, climb a pole to sing to the fans on lawn, while flipping his cape back and forth matador-style.

I’ve seen all 15 performances of Dave Matthews Band, their first in 2001. Every one I see is better than the last and I can’t seem to ever get enough. If I had to describe my perfect day it would be at a DMB show at Bud Stage, with those I love most, sun-soaking my skin.

Contributing columnist Jen Kirsch and her brother Aaron Kirsch at the "Dave Matthews Band" show at Budweiser Stage in 2009.

The fact that Bud Stage is in my own town adds an element of pride, knowing I get to share a snapshot of the city with the musicians who pass through for but a night or two.

Each time I walk up to the pearly white gates, the butterflies in my stomach kick in and a wide smile spreads across my face while shivers run up my back and arms. As soon as I arrive, I take a photo in front of the large, lighted sign displaying the name of the evening’s talent, then I veer onto the “Walk of Fame,” with its embedded stars emblazoned with the names of bands that have played the venue.

The energy in the air is electric as so many like-minded people flutter through the outdoor venue, most with the same goal: to have an amazing night, to see a favoured musician and to get lost for three and a half hours or so.

Being lost in the crowd either with a friend or on my lonesome, I let loose. I let the music take over and I vibe with it. It’s a natural high. I sway! I sing! I dance! I jump! And boy, do I ever cheer.

Recently, I took my dad to see Rod Stewart there and I caught myself wiping away tears more times than I care to admit because I was so genuinely happy. This is a place where I can be who I am, where I am. After all, there’s no place like home.

Tell us about your favourite place in the GTA in 600 words or less. Email entertainment@thestar.ca. Write: “My favourite place” in the subject line.

Jen Kirsch is a Toronto based freelance writer. She covers relationships for the Star. Follow her on Twitter, @jen_kirsch

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