Music History

The Live At Massey Hall Concert Series

March 4, 2015


There is a reason why Vincent Massey gave Massey Hall the nickname “The Grand Old Lady of Shuter Street” back in 1953.  Since she opened her doors in 1894, her walls have soaked up the sounds of both Canadian and international cultural performances.  While she has hosted a variety of artistic events, her music history is rich with iconic moments.

What is arguably the best jazz concert ever performed occurred on her stage on May 15, 1953 – the only time that jazz legends Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach ever played together.  On January 19, 1971, Canadian music legend Neil Young performed a solo acoustic concert on the Massey Hall stage.  His performance was released 36 years later in 2007 and became a No. 1 album in Canada.  Canadian rock band Rush recorded their first live album at Massey Hall in June of 1976.  Their album, All the World’s a Stage sold over 1,000,000 copies.  The Grand Old Lady’s stage is so special that Canadian folk singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot has performed over 150 concerts at Massey Hall beginning in 1967.


There are many things that make Massey Hall so appealing to both performers and audience members.  The way her seats hug the stage creates a warm sense of intimacy between the performers and spectators.  Even though she can currently seat over 2,500 guests, the theatre’s intimate design encourages a sense of connection between those on stage and those seated.  This connection is part of the magic of Massey Hall.  Performers indulge in story-telling and interactions with the crowd who hang on every word and every note.  Her history fills the theatre with a special aura and anticipation that almost guarantees incredible performances.

Massey Hall Interior

In her 120 years, Massey Hall has been officially named a heritage site by the City of Toronto (June 20, 1973), has been designated a National Historic Site (June 15, 1981), and has been the site for multiple historical performances.  Now, through Live at Massey Hall, new moments of music history are unfolding and are being captured on film.


Live at Massey Hall is a live concert and concert film series that launched last spring.  The purpose of this project is to showcase Canadian artists on the historic Massey Hall stage and to record their performances on film so music lovers can discover Canadian talent and relive the performances.  The films are as intimate as each experience at Massey Hall with footage of audiences arriving, musicians preparing backstage and reflecting on their impressions of “The Grand Old Lady”.  Running approximately 25 minutes in length, the Live at Massey Hall Film Series are beautifully edited summaries of the night shared on the stage.

Season 1 of Live at Massey Hall debuted last May with performers Cold Specks and Timber Timbre launching the series.  Fellow Live at Massey Hall Season 1 performers included Rural Alberta Advantage, Great Lake Swimmers,  Coeur de pirate, Basia Bulat, Destroyer, and Bry Webb who recently announced he will be releasing a live album of his Live at Massey Hall performance.


Season 2 was launched last Saturday night with Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden and Canadian indie rockers Dan Mangan + Blacksmith performing to a sold out crowd.

Hayden began his set on the keys with some of his more intimate songs.  Throughout his performance, he engaged the audience with witty and personal stories (including a tender story about his young daughter) as well as insights into his songwriting.  Hayden’s harmonica and vulnerable yet wise voice created a warm tone with his accompanying charming banter and moving lyrics.
The set gained momentum with some uptempo tracks that brought Hayden to his feet with his guitar.  Standout songs of the performance were a track from Hayden’s new album Hey Love called No Happy Birthday” (which provoked many to tear up after his personal introduction to the song), “Rainy Saturday”, and a fan favourite from 2004, “Woody”.
In the second half of the night, Dan Mangan + Blacksmith took the stage and filled Massey Hall with some serious indie rock.  Unlike Hayden’s intimate performance, Mangan and Blacksmith shattered any potential moments of silence.  Their musicianship shone from the first notes of their set and continued to captivate the audience with impressive solos. Songs from their new album, Club Med, like “Vessel” and “Mouthpiece” flooded the theatre with energy that never faded.
Dan Mangan’s voice was a force that ranged from raspy grit to stunning dynamic height.  There were moments when it seemed as if Mangan had the power of an organ’s blast shooting up through his feet and projecting a vocal tone so strong, steady and loud that it seemed to fly through the audience and slam against the back walls.  The Massey stage was electric and alive throughout their performance.
Although Dan Mangan’s + Blacksmith’s set was louder and less intimate than Hayden’s, he engaged the sold out crowd by leading a harmonizing singalong at the end of their set.  The audience stood on their feet singing in unison and, together with Dan Mangan + Blacksmith, closed the first show of Season 2 of Live at Massey Hall.
Dan Mangan + Blacksmith
Upcoming Season 2 Live at Massey Hall concerts include performances by Shad with special guest Zaki Ibrahim, The Constantines with special guest Chad VanGaalen and Spirit of the West with special guest Lisa LeBlanc.  Season 1 concert films can be viewed at now.

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