New pilot program could bring live music to Toronto patios this summer

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You might be able to enjoy live music outside in Toronto this summer. 

Fall concerts are being announced, but the Toronto Music Advisory Council (TMAC) has a proposal to bring back live music sooner with performances on outdoor patios. 

In a letter to the Economic and Community Development Committee, TMAC chair Brad Bradford recommends “designing a pilot program to permit live music and entertainment with limited amplification on prescribed outdoor patios.” 

“I want to see the live music industry coming back as soon as possible, to provide more opportunities to get out there and share their craft and for Torontonians to take in some music,” says Bradford, the Toronto city councillor who recently took over for Joe Cressy as chair of TMAC, on the phone with NOW. 

“We anticipate that as we start to come out of this lockdown, the first thing that will open is patios,” he continues. “This pilot program could be one of the fastest ways to get live music back out there – to support artists, local businesses and music venues, but more importantly reintroducing the city to live music in a safe way as we come out of this.”

The risk of outdoor COVID transmission is significantly lower than indoors, so providing more opportunities for outdoor music would mean performances would be less dependent on vaccination rates. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has coined 2021 “one-dose summer” as the majority of Torontonians will soon have their first vaccine but will await their second in the fall. 

The city has renewed the CafeTO program for this summer, which will allow many more bars and restaurants to extend outdoor patios into curbs and streets once the lockdown is lifted (after a couple of renewals, it is now scheduled to lift in early June). So there are a lot of potential outdoor spaces where musicians could play. 

The letter does say the the patios will have to meet criteria established by city staff. This proposal will be discussed at the May 26 meeting of the Economic and Community Development Committee, where it can then become a motion. The next step would be exploring the feasibility and how it could be implemented: which bylaws will need to be adjusted, and how it can fit within municipal licensing, standards and city planning.

They’ll also confer with city councillors, who will likely want to discuss with local residents. And Bradford says he wants to take into account potential concerns of neighbours and nearby businesses, but thinks it can be done in a creative and mindful way. 

Toronto has a tendency to be conservative and risk-averse when it comes to policy changes, especially those that involve noise. The city often moves at a snail’s pace when it comes to implementing proposals, but Bradford says programs like CafeTO and the expansion of bike lanes with ActiveTO show that Toronto (and when it comes to allowing alcohol for takeout and delivery, the province) can make bigger and faster changes during times of crisis.

And with the live music, events and restaurant sectors among the hardest hit over the last year, there is a palpable urgency. 

“What we’ve seen through the pandemic is that the city can do new and different things that in typical times would take us a lot longer,” says Bradford. “We have an opportunity to reimagine the city. We can be aspirational in a way that’s less impeded than the bureaucratic process that often limits our ambition.”

The key, he says, is to create a pathway towards a “yes” rather than erect barriers that result in a “no.”

“This would be beneficial for musicians, small businesses and ultimately Torontonians,” says Bradford. “We’ve spent the last 15 months talking about vibrant main streets and supporting local business, and this would be one way to do that.”