909 Lake Shore Blvd W, Toronto, ON
Budweiser Stage is situated on one of the three artificial islands that comprise Ontario Place, the now-closed entertainment park off the shore of Lake Ontario. Budweiser Stage - residing on the “central hub-island,” right between the East and West Islands - is only a few hundred metres from RBC Echo Beach, which is on the East Island.
When Ontario Place first opened in 1971, there was a stage - called Forum - that sat where the Budweiser Stage now resides. Over the winter of 1994-5, the Forum was demolished, with some controversy, to make way for the Molson Amphitheatre on the same site. To inaugurate the newly built and christened venue, Bryan Adams played two sold-out shows in May, 1995. Later that year, the Molson Amphitheatre would win RPM Magazine’s “Best New Concert Venue Award.” In 2017, the Molson Amphitheatre was re-christened as the Budweiser Stage, after Labatt established a business partnership with Live Nation Entertainment (the company that owns the venue).
Some of the world’s biggest biggest acts, both in the past and today, have taken their tours to Budweiser Stage. Muse, Queens of the Stone Age, The Zac Brown Band, Rush, and countless others have all played there at least once. Plus, in 2010, Budweiser Stage played host to the very first OVO Fest, created and Hosted by Drake. The event, which has featured artists such as Kanye West, Eminem, Lil Wayne, and Stevie Wonder, was held at Budweiser Stage every year until 2015, and then again in 2017 and 2019.
The seating arrangement at Budweiser stage is broken into four sections: the floor (which can hold 1,000 people), the innermost seating area (which is covered by the roof and seats 5,500 people), the secondary seating area (which is uncovered and holds 3,500 people), and finally, there is the grass bowl that forms the outermost ring of the venue’s seating area, which can hold 7,000 people. Two large screens display the professionally shot footage captured by the onstage camera operators.
Part of the venue’s appeal is its geographical affiliation with Ontario Place: on a fine summer’s evening before a show, you can wander around the now-defunct attractions of Ontario Place while watching the sun set over Lake Ontario. This provides the perfect pre-show entertainment. As dusk settles in, you make your way to your seat and find that Budweiser’s “open air” arrangement will supplement your live music experience with ample amounts of fresh, dusky summer air.
However, there are few notes concerning this arrangement that are worth mentioning: first, if you are seated in the outermost area, along the grassy hill, the band’s sound will not reach you all too well. The upside of this area though, is that you can smoke. The inner two rings of seating, as well as the floor, count as the “indoor” part of the venue, and smoking is therefore not permitted in these areas. But at the same time, the sound quality is better here - so there’s a small trade-off no matter where you are. There is a small pavilion just outside the entrance that is only a 60-second walk from the inner seating area, so you can quickly pop out for beer or smoke (or for some food from the many trucks that are stationed there) and pop back in just as quickly. Other practical benefits include the fact that Budweiser Stage is not as much of a parking nightmare as other downtown Toronto venues. The parking lot that was used for Ontario Place visitors is still available for concerts, and thus visitors from outside the city don’t need to allocate time for finding an overpriced lot that is nowhere near the venue you actually need to be at. Just be wary of the mass exodus of people leaving the parking lot after the show; the long line of people trying to turn left onto Lakeshore adds a considerable delay to your commute home.
When Ontario Place closed in 2012, it was always with the intention of “revitalizing” for later re-opening. Part of this revitalizing plan might include the revamping of the original “Forum” venue, so the future of Budweiser Stage is unclear - it may be updated, renamed, or replaced in coming years.