23 essential fall festivals, concerts and events

From a drive-in symphony to livestreamed dance shows, the season is full of cultural events – online and a few IRL


Organizers of the fall big literary, art, stage and music events in Toronto are getting creative to keep culture alive in the COVID era.

Many events have shifted online, become free or figured out distanced experiences. The upshot: out-of-town festivals like Pop Montreal are now stream-able. Put these events on your calendar. And remember that in-person events are subject to cancellation or change due to the pandemic.

Please note some in-person events may be affected by temporary COVID-19 lockdown measures. Dates are subject to change or cancellation.


AsialiciousTO

This city loves its ‘licious events. We didn’t get Summerlicious this year, but we do get AsialiciousTO, a giant food festival offering $10, $20 and $30 set menus from 200 local restaurants. There are some amazing spots offering Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean, Filipino and other Asian cuisines in the city, and this is a great way to explore them. You can dine in, take out or get your meals delivered via the Chowbus app.

To October 11. asialiciousto.com

BigArtTO

Next year is the Year Of Public Art in Toronto, but with COVID forcing most people to socialize outdoors, the city is getting a head start. This temporary public art initiative will see more than 200 hours of projected loops by local artists displayed across the city. The Bentway will be a particular focal point, but light shows are scheduled throughout the season in all 25 wards.

Various locations. Wednesday-Saturday evenings to December 5. Free. toronto.ca/bigartto

Pop Montreal

Many of the shows at the Montreal music fest are, surprisingly, in-person. But everything is livestreamed online too, meaning you can watch from the safety of your T.O. home. (Get some bagels delivered from Montreal for the full experience.) Performers include Jeremy Dutcher, Lido Pimienta, Land of Talk, Jonathan Personne and Backxwash, who’s played some of the pandemic’s most compelling livestreams.

To September 27. Pwyc-$10. popmontreal.com

Bricks & Glitter

The community might not be able to gather in the same way, but this queer festival has found a way to endure in 2020. There are a series of events, some online and some socially distanced in-person, including video performances, drag, workshops, poetry, art and more. Check out their website for the list.

To September 27. Free/pwyc. bricks-glitter.com

Sarah Bodri

Catch How To Pronounce Knife author Souvankham Thammavongsa at Word On The Street.

The Word On The Street

The annual book and magazine fair co-presented Words Across Canada at the start of this month in tandem with other WOTS festivals in Canada. The Toronto festival weekend links up with that on September 26-27. Highlights include a panel discussion on Black history in Canada with Afua Cooper and Wanda Taylor; an interview with The Certainties author Aislinn Hunter on speculative fiction; and virtual appearances by Giller-longlisted author Souvankham Thammavongsa and poet and physician-in-training Bahar Orang.

September 26-27. Free/pwyc. thewordonthestreet.ca

Dance In High Park

Even though Canadian Stage didn’t use the High Park amphitheatre for its annual Shakespeare productions in the summer, they’re not letting the space go to waste this fall. Its Dance in High Park series runs over three weekends. First up is Solo in High Park (September 26-27), featuring a variety of artists doing tap, flamenco, house and contemporary. Then comes Dusk Dances in High Park (October 3-4), moved from its former east end home here and showcases the work of three notable choreographers. The series ends with Red Sky in High Park (October 9-11), a collection of pieces from the Dora Award-winning Indigenous dance company’s repertoire. The performances are all one-act, family-friendly and will be physically distanced. With the temperature dropping, this could be one of your last opportunities to experience live performing arts in 2020.

September 26-October 11. Pwyc (reservations required). canadianstage.com

Sarah Cass

Black Belt Eagle Scout hits the virtual stage at Venus Fest.

Venus Fest

Like so many other events, this Toronto festival with a mandate to support women and non-binary artists has figured out a way to make programming COVID-friendly. This year’s festival fully embraces the YouTube-iness of digital events. Musical performers including U.S. Girls, Lido Pimienta, Black Belt Eagle Scout and more are paired up with visual artists to create original live performance music videos. Sook-Yin Lee hosts. There will also be an online conference called The Future Of Music on financial literacy for artists, rebuilding local scenes and more. It’s all free.

September 28-October 2. venusfest.net

Fall For Dance North: The Flip Side

For the past few years, one of the highlights of the fall entertainment season has been the Fall For Dance North Festival, which usually presents a starry lineup of eclectic, diverse acts over several days. This year’s reimagined festival – called The Flip Side – assembles a ton of first-rate talent, but it’s presented in such a way that’s safe, accessible and interactive. A Netflix-style digital platform offers up lots of free content, including a podcast, interactive encounters and augmented reality. You can also pop by and see an open rehearsal. The ticketed centrepiece is a livestream performance of a show featuring original work by Red Sky Performance’s Jera Wolfe, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal’s Vanesa Garcia-Ribala Montoya, Broadway tap dancer Lisa La Touche and others. Live stream October 3 at 2 pm from the Fleck Dance Theatre.

September 29 to October 18. Free-$15. ffdnorth.com

Sam Roberts Band at OLG Play Stage

The only way to see a concert with more than 50 other fans is from the safety of your own car, and the drive-in season continues into fall. Canrocker Sam Roberts and his band are the latest to play to an audience of honking horns at this Ontario Place drive-in venue.

September 30. $86-$109. ticketmaster.ca

Jessie Baumung

PUP perform a livestreamed concert from Sneaky Dee’s on October 23.

PUP’s This Stream Sucks Ass

Local pop-punk band PUP are supporting their upcoming EP This Place Sucks Ass with an aptly named virtual concert. They’ll be playing at beloved dive Sneaky Dee’s, which may or may not be becoming a condo, and their longtime music video collaborator Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux will direct. “It will be fun and unhinged and entirely unprofessional,” the band says.

October 23. $13. noonchorus.com/pup

Honey Jam

At first it seemed the pandemic would put a crimp in the 25th anniversary celebrations for this influential nonprofit organization and mentorship program that supports female-identifying artists. But they’re forging ahead with a celebration that will be livestreamed from the El Mocambo. Founder Ebonnie Rowe and Honey Jam alumni will pay homage to songs from trailblazing artists. Performers haven’t been announced yet, but there’s an impressive list of alumni that have taken place over the years, including Nelly Furtado, Haviah- Mighty, Michie Mee, Jully Black and Melanie Fiona.

October 1. Free. honeyjam.com

Legends Of Horror at Casa Loma (CANCELLED)

Halloween isn’t totally cancelled this year. If COVID isn’t scary enough for you, the interactive theatrical horror walk returns to the iconic venue with safety protocols in place – including timing, pacing and directions. The two-kilometre walk through the castle’s interior and grounds is billed as “the only horror-themed entertainment in town this year.” Do you dare?

Tickets already purchased will be automatically refunded to customers at their point of purchase. legendsofhorror.ca

X Avant

The Music Gallery is moving its annual festival of new and experimental music online. But, true to its nature, X Avant is an exploration of its own livestream structure. Under the theme “Transmissions” (cultural, not viral) it will host a series of free online events, including shows by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Tara Kannangara and more, plus talks, meals and panels with folks like Alanna Stuart of Bonjay and Toronto Black music historian emeritus, Norman “Otis” Richmond.

October 1-18. musicgallery.org

Courtesy of Bell Media

Will Canada’s Drag Race winner Priyanka recreate her Celine Dion lip sync at the drive-in?

Canada’s Drag Race: Live At The Drive-In

A global pandemic is not keeping the queens of Canada’s Drag Race from taking advantage of the career-boost that follows an appearance on the cult reality series. Brooke-Lynn Hytes is on hosting duties and the top three – including hometown winner Priyanka – are on the bill. Get your horns ready.

CityView Drive-in. October 2-4, at  & 8:30 pm. $99 per vehicle. ticketmaster.ca

Nuit Blanche

The all-night art party is cancelling in-person events this year to curb the spread of COVID-19. Instead, Nuit Blanche moves online under the curatorial theme The Space Between Us. This year’s works, which have yet to be announced, will examine links between cultures, communities and environments.

October 3, 7 pm-7 am. Free. toronto.ca/nbto

TSO At The Drive-In

Of all the strange new experiences the pandemic has brought us, a drive-in night at the symphony might be the strangest. Close to 20 musicians from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra will perform three drive-in programs, one celebrating Ragtime, one for Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and one for female soul singers, from Billie Holiday to Beyoncé.

October 7, 16 and 17. $80-$200 per vehicle. tso.ca/drive-in

Second City 84th Revue

Alas, this will be Second City Toronto’s final revue… at its current location. The as-yet-unnamed show, directed by SC alum and improv star Ashley Botting (and adhering to all the COVID-19 protocols), will be the final production on Mercer before the building is torn down for more (you guessed it) condos. Then SC will pop up in its new Harbourfront location later in the season. Since it hasn’t exactly been a slow news year, there’ll be lots to satirize. Where will they begin?

Previews from October 9. $40. secondcity.com

Just For Laughs Festival

The pandemic has affected all of the world’s big arts festivals, including Montreal’s legendary Just For Laughs and Toronto’s own JFL42. But even though there won’t be live in-person shows full of packed audiences, the comedy festival is offering up a star-studded, two-day event featuring more than 100 artists in performance, in conversation, on panels and taping podcasts. Sarah Cooper, Hannah Gadsby, Jo Koy, Howie Mandel, Kenya Barris, Nicole Byer and DeAnne Smith are among the first acts announced, with more names to come. The best part? It’s all free.

October 9-10. hahaha.com

Samuel Engelking

Desmond Cole participates in two events at the Toronto International Festival of Authors.

Toronto International Festival Of Authors

The city’s biggest literary event is going virtual – and free. The fest’s 200 events will also be viewable around the globe. Margaret Atwood will open TIFA in conversation with festival director Roland Gulliver and preview her new poetry collection. Other events include a panel on the opioid crisis, a hip-hop and spoken word performance by Harlem’s The Last Poets and an interactive podcast on Indigenous storytelling. Other authors on the bill include Desmond Cole, Billy-Ray Belcourt, d’bi.young anitafrika, Anne Michaels, Lindwood Barclay and Khaled Hosseini.

October 22-November 1. festivalofauthors.ca

Art Toronto

The annual art fair is going national – online and in-person. Instead of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre being the hub, galleries in Toronto and other Canadian cities, including Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary. Of course, there will also be online programming, including virtual exhibitions, curated collections, talks and tours.

Various venues. October 28-November 8. Opening night online event $30 (proceeds to AGO), free after. arttoronto.ca

The Stream You Step In

The pandemic has forced artists to get creative about how to make work. And this anthology of Zoom plays, produced by Outside the March and performed by the graduating class of the University of Windsor’s School of Dramatic Art, is a good example. Over the past few months, four playwrights – Marcus Youssef, David Yee, Elena Eli Belyea and Karen Hines – have hung out (virtually) with 16 U of W students and have written plays tailored to their strengths. This fall, in two double bills, the young actors will perform the plays online. Audiences will be part of the Zoom experience, and in some cases may be able to follow characters into breakout rooms. Make sure your internet connection is strong.

November 5-8 and 19-22. outsidethemarch.ca

Kensington Market Jazz Festival

It’s hard to do a virtual version of a festival with a neighbourhood in its name, but Kensington Jazz Festival has figured it out. They’re hosting an extensive series of pre-recorded performances over two days from two Market venues: Handlebar and Poetry Jazz Cafe. Musicians include Jay Douglas, Shakura S’aida, Laila Biali, John Alcorn, Micah Barnes and more. Shows are free, but you’re encouraged to “tip” the musicians and donate to the festival.

November 7-8. kensingtonjazz.com

Garth Lenz

World Of Tar by Garth Lenz goes on display at the ROM as part of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

Wildlife Photographer Of The Year

The fall favourite touring show from London’s Natural History Museum makes its annual return to the ROM. As always, the focus is on beautiful wildlife photographs by amateurs and pros alike. This year’s show features work by four Canadian shooters who have received special recognition. There are two images of oil extraction, World Of Tar by Garth Lenz and The Price Of Oil by Andrew S. Wright, both photojournalists. Snow Moose by Matthew Henry and The Perfect Catch by Hannah Vijayan are both in the youth photography category.

Royal Ontario Museum. November 21-May 2. rom.on.ca 

Fall Preview 2020

Why Sarah Cooper is the pandemic’s breakout comic

Every film festival happening in Toronto and online this fall

The best art shows to see in Toronto this fall

This post has been updated.

@nowtoronto

Leave your opinion for the editor...We read everything!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *