Best Ways to Get the Blues

Toronto’s ultimate live music fan reveals her favourite places for live music

Michele Gare will never forget her recent birthday held at the Orbit Room on College Street. “I wanted to celebrate my birthday listening to some live music,” she says of her favourite go-to venue.

“My daughters and boyfriend had my friends show up as a surprise. The guitarist from Lady Gaga’s band was the special guest that night, playing along with musicians from Colin James’ band and the drummer for Tom Cochrane. I was blown away.”

It’s fair to say that Michele is Toronto’s ultimate live-music music fan, often going out three nights a week to listen to sets, sometimes visiting a couple of venues a night, driving home after 2 am, and still getting up at seven to pursue her busy freelance marketing career in event and social media management.

Rock, country, pop and even classical and opera – she loves it all. But especially the blues. That’s the one that twangs her passion the most. And if a broken heart is what gives birth to the blues, she’s had that too.

“Four years ago, I divorced and my kids were older, so I suddenly had time to see live music,” Michele recalls. “But I was a woman on my own going to these late-night spots, so I had to look for places where I felt comfortable, that had a sense of community, where I wasn’t going to feel hit on.”

And the Orbit Room (580A College St.) fit the bill, with its residential acts, strong visiting talent playing a wide range of music styles, including the blues. “I love the staff there,” she says. “They’re very much aware of me as a single woman and would be there for me if anything should ever arise. It’s small, intimate, the music is great and I’ve never felt uncomfortable there. It’s not a pick-up joint.”

A little bit further west and south is another go-to club with great staff and a safe setting: the Dakota Tavern (249 Ossington Ave.), humbly billing itself as “Home to the best live music in Toronto.”

“The staff pride themselves on creating a safe environment and making those policies known in signs throughout the venue,” says Michele. “I was pleasantly surprised the first time I saw them.”

She adds: “They do two sets with great bands. The Dakota’s acts are regularly rotated, so you might get a band that’s bluesy followed by country or a new young pop act. Again, known musicians will sometimes pop by and play half a set.”

Near Dufferin Avenue is the Cadillac Lounge (1296 Queen St. West) run for 20 years by Sam “The Man” Grosso. “It’s a bigger joint but has great sound, friendly staff and wonderful acts. It also has a great restaurant. The Orbit and Dakota don’t but you can bring in food, if you want.”

Michele will also travel across town to Sauce on Danforth (1376 Danforth Ave.), billing itself as a “Victorian-Goth Bordello-Chic Lounge,” with an array of 1920s cocktails to back this up. The husband-and-wife owners have given their intimate space great ambience with “New Orleans-style décor.”

For the weekend coming up, which live acts does Michele plan to catch? “Saturday night? I don’t have plans,” she says, surprising herself, then adds with a laugh: “But that will change soon.”

Michele Gare, Freelance Marketing, Social Media and Event Manager, Toronto Photo by Lisa MacIntosh