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Ask a Local: Live Music in Halifax

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There’s no better way to experience a place than by living like a local. Discover cool coffee shops, live music venues, and secret beaches with tips from locals who make Halifax an amazing place to live and visit. Each of these Haligonians are passionate about this place, and have a story to tell. Get to know them and experience Halifax like a local.

Trevor Millett: Live Music in Halifax

There’s just a lot of music here. A lot. Maybe it’s something in the water. When I moved here from Toronto 23 years ago, I settled into a relatively small city whose music scene felt much more vibrant than the city of millions I’d just left. And I was working in the music industry in Toronto, so I was paying attention. Since then, the scene has only grown and evolved year by year, making Halifax one of Canada’s most important music cities.

So, where can you get some of this goodness in your earholes? I’m hear to help. Pun intended. While what follows is by no means exhaustive—there’s too much happening to be on top of it all—it should be more than enough to get you started on a satisfying Halifax musical journey.

First stop on the tour

A great place to begin is in the heart of downtown at The Carleton. Here, it’s all about the music. Housed in one of the city’s oldest buildings, it was carefully designed as a listening room, with not a bad seat in the house acoustically. Booked by one of Halifax’s most important music champions, Mike Campbell, it brings in the best of the best from a wide range of genres throughout the region and beyond. Food is not an afterthought here either, with the resident chef making beautiful culinary music.

Nothing sad about it

If nothing makes you happier than the blues, you’ll want to head over to Bearly’s House of Blues & Ribs. It hasn’t been around as long as the blues, but it feels like that inside. There are no frills or modern décor on tap at Bearly’s. It’s just an authentic blues joint slinging tasty ribs and a revolving door of the best blues players around.

Beautiful noise

If smashing your head on the punk rock is more your thing, Gus’ Pub has you covered. Kicking it since 1961, the North End venue has an anything-goes vibe, playing host to everything indie—from hardcore punk to pop, metal, hip-hop, alt county, folk, electronic, bluegrass, experimental… well, you get the picture. It’s kind of like Halifax’s CBGBs. It is a great place to catch bands on the way up, the way down, and on the way to the bar to get a pitcher of Olands.

Another much younger upstart venue, Radstorm, located on Gottingen Street, is also becoming a go-to spot for left-of-the dial sights and sounds from some of the city’s youngest noisemakers.

A musical merry-go-round

Up the street from Radstorm, you’ll find a music mecca comprised of the legendary Marquee Ballroom and Seahorse Tavern. For decades, many of Halifax’s and the world’s biggest alternative bands have graced their stages. With acts often playing on the upstairs Marquee stage and downstairs at The Seahorse, you may have trouble deciding which floor you want to be on. Add to that the more recent addition of The Local, hosting more intimate shows, and you’ve got yourself a merry-go-round of musical goodness on any given night.

Get out and get down

Sometimes, you just want to let loose and dance to familiar tunes played by folks who know them all and know what they’re doing. Downtown Halifax’s Lower Deck and The Split Crow are good bets. Pacifico fits the bill for those more inclined to shake their hips to jazz, funk, soul, and house, with live bands and DJs ready to get you moving. Dartmouth’s Monte’s Showbar Grill hosts an eclectic mix of country, hip-hop, pop, and rock acts doing their own stuff and crowd-pleasing covers.

Fiddle around

Celtic toe-tappers will find plenty to raise a pint to at Durty Nelly’s and The Old Triangle on the Halifax side, and Celtic Corner Public House in downtown Dartmouth. Celtic music is a pretty big deal here, so don’t be surprised if you hear it pop up in many places you happen by in the city.

Beach party

We’ll finish with something a little further afield. Located in Hubbards, just over a half-hour drive from downtown Halifax, you’ll find something special in the Shore Club. This rustic hall has been serving lobster dinners and live entertainment nearly 80 years.

Many local favourites like the Mellotones, Reeny Smith, Joel Plasket, Asia & Nu Gruv, Big Fish, Classified, Rich Aucoin, Matt Mays, and Adam Baldwin make their way there throughout the summer to put on shows that somehow have an extra-special vibe to them. It’s kind of like summer camp but with booze, great food, and fantastic music. My kind of summer camp.

This article only scratches the surface of places where you can experience the sounds of Halifax. Do yourself a favour, throw on some comfortable shoes and wander around the city on any given night—if you hear something you like pumping out a door, drop in and join the party. Everybody’s welcome around here.

Meet the local

Trevor Millett (he/him)

Trevor Millett is a freelance writer, creative director, and advertising strategist. He lives in the middle of Halifax and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. He’s a musician and music junkie with a deep sickness for collecting vinyl.