Inside the Drake and Live Nation concert hall in Toronto
The 2,500-seat Eastern Concert Hall opened with a concert by Bleachers. This is what it looks like
Toronto has a brand new concert hall. After years of rumors, months of COVID-related delays and a few consultations with concerned neighbors, History opened to the public last night (November 7) with a concert by the band of Jack Antonoff Bleachers.
A few days before the opening concert, NOW was able to take a look around the hall as she got ready.
The 2,553 capacity story is located in the Ranges at 1663 Queen East in a space previously occupied by the Champions off piste betting center (which still operates next door in smaller digs). It’s a sparkling opening – a collaboration between mega-music promoter Live Nation and music superstar Drake.
The entrance to history
The venue adds a much-needed intermediate space to the Toronto music scene, which lost the government complex a few years ago. After much angst about the disappearance of sites, the relaxation of pandemic restrictions is now giving life to many such sites. El Mocambo has finally reopened to the public, the Mod Club has reappeared as Axis Club and the historic Massey Hall is set to reopen later this month after a major revitalization.
Live Nation, the continent’s largest music promoter, has pivoted to a vertically integrated model, owning several of its own venues in Toronto in recent years. The story adds to their portfolio which includes the Danforth Music Hall, the Velvet Underground and the Budweiser Stage (which, as part of the recently revealed development plans for Ontario Place, will soon become an all-round venue. ‘year).
Designed with the design agency, History is spacious but still somewhat intimate at 35,000 square feet, set up for good visibility no matter where you choose to stand or sit. The main general admission area is on two levels, so there are different levels of elevation, and a ‘premium’ general admission upstairs gives you a bird’s eye view.
Standing on the stage of history.
There are several VIP areas – two on the main level, a more private ‘friends and family’ style area above and 10 small box-style seating areas as well as 55 theater-style seats overlooking the stage from the upper balcony ( also adjacent to accessible seating).
These spaces offer a more “elevated” dining experience with a menu collaboration with the Food Dudes, as well as a more chic bar, private bathrooms and bartenders, and more. Depending on the VIP style you’re sprinting for, you can enter through a separate entrance, enter your section, and stay there overnight. If you choose GA, there’s always food – including takeout pizza slices from the Food Dudes Blondies restaurant.
A view from the start of History.
The venue is completely cashless, tickets are mobile only, and water bottles are refillable. The bathrooms on the ground floor are also gender neutral. There are multiple cloakroom areas and $ 5 parking is an option when you purchase your ticket.
The design hasn’t changed due to the pandemic, but there are some operational efforts to keep the crowd flow moving, so there aren’t a lot of bottlenecks (although this hasn’t prevented a first queue outside the place).
What does Drake have to do with history?
The collaboration with Drake gives them an additional cultural cachet, although the nature of the collaboration is not very clear.
As with some of his other hotel activities in the city, the specifics of Drake’s role are ambiguous. When asked if he is an owner or financial partner or if he is more involved in marketing / branding, a spokesperson for History gives a vague answer.
“Partnering with Toronto music legend Drake to create a new venue for live entertainment in Toronto was a natural fit for Live Nation,” said the spokesperson. “Drake brings a unique perspective on the needs of artists when touring and performing, while being keenly aware of what fans expect from a top-notch entertainment experience. Drake and Live Nation’s partnership brings together the knowledge and know-how to create an elevated experience for fans and artists.
During our visit, Umu Sowe, Director of Food and Beverage Services at History, offered a bit more insight.
“He didn’t just lend his name, that’s for sure. He’s really involved, him and his team, in creating the space and making it what he wants it to be, ”she says. “This vision, this influence is everywhere in this place. He and his team were involved with every little touch, from how soft and heavy the furniture is to the various light fixtures around the bar. Nothing is an afterthought, everything was intentional and thought out.
The name History was coined by Drake, which might explain how they chose something so unseen-friendly.
“When I was younger in Toronto, the biggest goal in the world for me was… to try and participate in this legendary night called History Dance,” Drake wrote on Instagram a few months ago. “I never did but I always heard about it in the days that followed.”
His influence seems to be felt more on the side of the artists in the room. Sowe says one of the goals was to give performers an “arena-style experience” in a much smaller venue.
She says Drake has someone on his team who designs locker rooms, so furniture, artwork, and even washrooms are all organized based on his experiences with shows.
One of the locker room areas.
The large H logo that greets you as you walk in is an obvious Instagram bait, but other than that, the space is relatively utilitarian and doesn’t draw attention to itself. There may in fact be more in the spaces that are only accessible to talent. A staircase leading from the backstage to the stage features LED lights that can be colored according to the artists’ preferences.
Another Staircase features lyrics by Canadian artists like Avril Lavigne, Neil Young, Arkells, Shania Twain, The Tragically Hip and more. Then the staircase below reads one of Drake’s most-cited songs, Started From The Bottom Now We’re Here.
Started from the bottom now we’re here
There were rumors for months that Drake would be the first act to play the story, but he was nowhere in sight for opening weekend. Instead, he was in Houston at Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival, which became tragic when eight people were killed when the crowds rushed. Both Live Nation and Drake are being sued for their roles in the event.
With little local connection, the bleachers felt like an ominous first party. In a way, however, they exemplify the omni-genre philosophy of the place, something for everyone. The group is led by Jack Antonoff, the premier producer of pop artists like Lorde, St. Vincent, Lana del Rey and Taylor Swift, but also makes rock music closer to Bruce Springsteen.
Upcoming concerts include electronic dance groups like Zeds Dead and Kaytranada, hip-hop and R&B like Jack Harlow and Teyana Taylor, Canadian indie rock like July Talk and the Beaches, and jazz-focused projects like Thundercat and BadBadNotGood.
Despite Drake’s involvement, it’s certainly not a strictly hip-hop venue, but with many venues in Toronto with unspoken policies against genre booking, it’s likely to become one of the go-to places for it.
But until Drake shows his face there, he’s going to be the elephant in the room.