By Martinus Geleynse
Every city in the world has a local music scene, but not every city would self-identify as a “music town”. Hamilton does, however, for a variety of reasons. While I hosted urbanicityTV on Cable 14, I made a habit of asking every musical guest that came on the show whether or not they believed Hamilton to be a music town. The unanimous response was that it is. The musicians I asked didn’t simply answer in the affirmative because this city is their home, but rather they explained their rationale. Many referenced the long history the city has of producing big acts. Others talked about the many excellent recording facilities in town. Nearly every single one, however, spoke glowingly of Hamilton’s live music scene and the many venues that support it.
This city does have a wealth of great venues ranging from 8-seat storefronts to the 18,000-seat FirstOntario Centre. The artists that play in them run the gamut, from local high school rockers to global acts like Bruce Springsteen and U2. The largest venues attract the greatest publicity, but Hamilton couldn’t be a “music town” without the many small, independent venues that make the scene so vibrant. While there are literally hundreds of fantastic spots we could mention, here are a few spots that I’d suggest a visit to.
The Legendary Corktown Pub
175 Young Street
A rustic old pub with a great live stage and a rich history
Claiming the title of Hamilton’s oldest licensed music venue, the Corktown Pub started out as Sullivan’s, an Irish grocery store serving the neighbourhood it is now named after. In its years as a live music venue, the Corktown has played host to a wide variety of notable names including the Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo, Big Sugar, the Arkells and Tom Cochrane. If you’re into foot-stomping east coast music, pop in for one of Hamilton’s best music series: The East Coast Kitchen Party every Friday at 6:30 PM.
Point of interest: The pub hosted Jeff Healey’s final show only one month prior to his death in 2008.
Perfect for: A hearty meal, a few pints, and a long night of music with a crowd of friends
Mattson & Co.
225 Locke Street South
An elegant restaurant and lounge serving up live jazz and local cuisine with a contemporary flare
Mattson & Co. offers an upscale but accessible setting paired with a delicious menu. Every Friday and Saturday evening, live jazz acts like Tiff And The Two Fives, Bonnie Hamilton, and Alfie Smith take to the stage. Enjoy the bar, dining room, patio, or even the semi-private, all-glass solarium!
Point of interest: Before becoming a thriving restaurant, the Mattson & Co. building was home to a communications agency.
Perfect for: A romantic date night with dinner and jazz, followed by wine on the elevated patio
This Ain’t Hollywood
345 James Street North
A non-pretentious live music venue focusing on a variety of musical genres
“The Saint” as it’s affectionately called, is one of Hamilton’s best known music halls. Located at the corner of Murray Street and James Street North, the Saint is a dedicated live venue. According to owner Lou Molinaro, the venue seeks to nurture young talent and to give music fans the opportunity to enjoy high-profile acts in a smaller more intimate setting.
Perfect for: A kick-ass night of local talent paired with a PBR
Memorable shows: The Arkells Family Day show, two Johnny Winter shows, Blue Coupe (featuring members of Blue Oyster Cult and The Alice Cooper Group), Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, The Frankie Venom Tribute, Monster Truck Xmas party show and the Dirty Nil record release for their Higher Power record
Zylas Music + Menu
299 James Street North
An intimate venue that features local musicians and artists while providing home cooked Italian food
Owned and operated by Nick Zyla and Cat Coppolino this little storefront venue is often referred to as their “living room”. The space is intimate, often candle-lit, and plays home to everything from jazz to fun jam sessions and even comedy shows.
Perfect for: A chill night out with or without a friend (you’ll likely make a new one there!)
Point of interest: There is a performance or open stage every single night Zyla’s is open, but never a cover charge