Features Articles Massey Hall's Five Greatest Performances

Massey Hall's Five Greatest Performances

Wilco at Massey Hall
Massey Hall
Article by: Colton Eddy

It's no secret that those famous red doors have welcomed audiences to countless musical and cultural experiences. Everyone from Oscar Peterson and Neil Young to Winston Churchill and Justin Bieber have graced the Massey Hall stage.

It was recently announced that the historic venue will begin a new live concert film series this spring, appropriately titled "Live At Massey Hall". So far, the first two concerts that are planned for late May feature the Timber Timbre trio with the haunting Cold Specks. Another evening welcomes special guest Bry Webb, with the best reason to learn French: Coeur de Pirate.

Celebrating their 120th anniversary this year, Massey Hall will be selling tickets for this series for $18.94 exactly, which commemorates the year their doors opened and is a remarkable price for the quality acts in one of the most iconic venues that has offered a world-stage from our backyard. These Live at Massey Hall films will appear as thirty minute episodes, which is the best possible chance for a fan to re-experience a great night of music over and over again.

Built by Hart A. Massey in memory of his son Charles, Massey Hall was donated to the city of Toronto as a gift. Hart hoped it would inspire "an interest in music, education, temperance, industry, good citizenship, philanthropy and religion". For its grand opening on June 14, 1894, a large choral performance of Handel's "Messiah" kicked off a three-day festival. Since then, the Hall has been renovated four times over the years, and in 1981, it was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada.

For many years, Massey Hall was the only building in Canada that was designed expressly for concerts, as the home of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir and Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Taking note of its significance, many dignitaries and other famous figures have appeared at the venue, including the future King George V, Queen Mary and Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier in 1901. And later that year, Winston Churchill took to the stage to talk about his Boer war experiences to capacity audiences. It has gone on to feature films, boxing matches, opera, ballet, and theatrical performances, but in recent years, it's become best known as an excellent rock venue.

Gordon Lightfoot had his first solo appearance at the Hall in 1967 and also set a record for the largest number of solo performances there. The Grammy and Juno Award-winning musician has become a staple of Massey's calendar, performing a run of dates at the venue. In 1978, he performed 10 shows in 9 days to sold-out audiences and on May 25 last year, he celebrated his 150th show on that same stage. His latest album All Live compiles selections from his Massey performances between 1998 and 2001 and are not technically altered with any overdubs or mixing. This is a look at the Canadian legend at Massey Hall, performing "Shadows" in 2008:

To ring in his 60th birthday in 1995, Juno-award winning rockabilly musician Ronnie Hawkins staged a concert and documented it on his live album, Let It Rock. A few good friends strutted on stage with him that night, including Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jeff Healey and Hawkins' old band The Band. Instead of being billed individually, the musicians performing that night were dubbed The Rock'N'Roll Orchestra

Many other greats favour the acoustics, ranging from pianists Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould to Canadian prog-metal heroes Rush. They documented their three-night 1976 stint on their All The World's A Stage double album.

And of course, there's also Neil Young's brilliantly lonely Live at Massey Hall album from his "Journey Through the Past" solo tour. Below is a segment of "A Man Needs A Maid/Heart of Gold Suite" from that set:

Our final historic Massey Hall performance is often referred to as "the greatest jazz concert ever". On May 15, 1953, the venue played host to a quintet consisting of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach.