With stadium tours by Coldplay, Guns N’ Roses, U2 and Metallica crisscrossing Canada over the past year, and headliners including Bruno Mars, Roger Waters and Lady Gaga packing hockey arenas, international stars have recently dominated the nation’s concert business.
But homeland favorites — Arcade Fire, The Arkells, best new artist Grammy winner Alessia Cara and a tribute in Montreal to the late Canadian bard Leonard Cohen — contributed to $277.9 million (U.S.) in Canadian concert grosses for the 12 months ending March 3.
Canadian artists — including The Weeknd, Broken Social Scene, Tegan & Sara and Death From Above — also helped turn the Osheaga Music & Arts Festival, held Aug. 4-6, 2017, in Montreal, into the nation’s highest-grossing concert event. The festival, presented by the independent promotion company Evenko, sold 107,968 tickets and grossed nearly $9.3 million (U.S.), according to Billboard Boxscore.
“There is a lot of competition for people’s discretionary income,” says Nick Farkas, vp concerts and events at Evenko, which also operates the Bell Centre in Montreal. “It is really important, from festivals to arenas to small clubs, that we focus on making the fan experience as great as possible.”
These concert halls have succeeded at that task. Canada’s top-grossing venues for the 12-month period from March 11, 2017, through March 3, 2018, are ranked by ticket sales that were reported to Billboard Boxscore.
1. Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Concert capacity: 19,800
Top-grossing acts: Roger Waters, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga
Nearly two decades after it opened, the Air Canada Centre, locally known as the ACC, will be renamed Scotiabank Arena as of July 1. It may be hard for Torontonians to get used to the change to a downtown landmark that has hosted many major concerts, as well as sporting events by the NHL’s Maple Leafs and the NBA’s Raptors. But the new name will come with a “significant revitalization of the building” over the next three years, says Wayne Zronik, senior vp music and live events at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. A new level of suites in the arena has already been completed. The venue, which recently presented the opening of Justin Timberlake’s world tour, also closed a tour leg for Montreal’s Arcade Fire, with Toronto’s own Broken Social Scene as the support act. “It’s not that often that we get to host shows like that from a lineup of Canadian artists,” says Zronik.
2. Bell Centre, Montreal
Concert capacity: 18,000 (21,000 in the round)
Top-grossing acts: Coldplay, Roger Waters, Bruno Mars
While Bell Centre drew several international superstars in the past year, it also was the venue of choice to stage and film a tribute to Montreal native Leonard Cohen. Spearheaded by Cohen’s son Adam, the sold-out Tower of Song event held on Nov. 6 featured Courtney Love, Lana Del Rey, Sting and Elvis Costello, and later aired on CBC. “It was incredible to see all the artists and fans come together for one special night and remember the great Cohen,” says Farkas. After two decades of operation, the arena is in the midst of a $100 million upgrade, most recently with the addition of new seats and the widening of the concourses, but work hasn’t disrupted bookings or hockey matches of its home team, the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens.
3. Rogers Arena, Vancouver
Concert capacity: 18,305 (in the round)
Top-grossing acts: Bruno Mars, Roger Waters, The Weeknd, Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga opened her world tour at Rogers Arena, and Roger Waters ended his at the Vancouver venue. While both shows contained their share of spectacle, the most memorable concert moment of 2017, according to Jeff Stipec, COO of Canucks Sports & Entertainment, was the wedding that took place onstage at Chris Stapleton’s concert, after a couple held up a sign that read, “We want to get married. Here. Now.” “After a bit of scrambling, we were able to track down a minister in the building,” says Stipec. The arena itself has undergone many fan-friendly changes. There’s the members-only Encore Suite, revised music playlists in the club areas, an updated wine list and “Suite Experience Carts” that offer craft cocktails, cheese and port selections as well as a chef-manned dessert cart.
4. Rogers Place, Edmonton, Alberta
Concert capacity: 18,892
Top-grossing acts: Coldplay, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran
Since Rogers Place opened in September 2016 as the new home of the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, the staff “has been having lots of fun learning how to use our shiny new building to its full potential,” says Susan Darrington, executive vp of Oilers Entertainment Group. While Coldplay had the venue’s highest-grossing show of 2017 and JAY-Z played to a packed crowd, Darrington says her “goose bumps” show of 2017 was Arcade Fire’s in-the-round performance: “Our building has a fantastic curtain that made our arena feel like a small, intimate, underground music venue.” One notable aspect of the new building’s design is its security measures, including state-of-the-art metal detectors at entrances and over 350 cameras throughout.
5. Rogers Centre, Toronto
Concert capacity: 55,000
Top-grossing acts: Coldplay, U2, Metallica
Known as the SkyDome when it opened in 1989, the Rogers Centre is a Toronto landmark and home to the city’s beloved Toronto Blue Jays baseball team. But between ballgames, no fewer than three stadium tours — two nights from Coldplay and one each from U2 and Metallica — played the dome in 2017. “Having more than 45,000 fans in one place will always be an energetic experience,” says Marnie Starkman, vp marketing and events for Rogers Centre. “But an open roof on a summer night with the views of our city and the flickering lights of our neighboring condos is truly the best.” She adds: “The size of our venue and ability to have a full stadium in the middle of the city is what makes our experience so great for our fans.”
6. BC Place Stadium, Vancouver
Concert capacity: 54,000
Top-grossing acts: Coldplay, U2, Guns N’ Roses
BC Place Stadium, which opened in 1983 and is home to Major League Soccer’s Vancouver Whitecaps, hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010. A year later, the venue was extensively renovated and is now “the most technologically advanced stadium of its kind in Canada, with outstanding acoustics,” says BC Place senior director of business Graham Ramsay. Unique to the stadium is an exterior architectural lighting system, dubbed the Northern Lights display, which “allows us to engage the whole city on event nights.” No wonder, then, that in a year when the venue hosted tours by U2 and Guns N’ Roses, Ramsay says his most memorable show of 2017 was Coldplay, which distributed wristbands to the crowd containing red, yellow and blue LEDs that were synchronized to the band’s music. It was, says Ramsay, “a unique production element that had the entire audience united — spectacular.”
7. Videotron Centre, Quebec City
Concert capacity: 20,000
Top-grossing acts: Roger Waters, Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran
Videotron Centre is just over two years old but has quickly drawn top tours to Quebec City. During the three-day Canadian Thanksgiving weekend in October, the building hosted two shows by Roger Waters and one night with Katy Perry. “Those three shows drew more than 35,000 fans,” reports venue COO Martin Tremblay. Earlier in the summer, Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran played sold-out dates. Since arriving at the venue in August, Tremblay has made it possible for artists to book smaller setups “such as a 3,500-seat theater,” offering fans “intimacy and high-quality acoustics.”
8. Budweiser Gardens, London, Ontario
Concert capacity: 10,294
Top-grossing acts: Dixie Chicks, Green Day, Eric Church
With the support of local boosters, including the city’s tourism office, Budweiser Gardens has won the rights to present the 2019 Juno Awards — the first time in the 48-year history of Canada’s top music awards that London, Ontario, will serve as host city. In 2017, the arena made a major investment in LED lights to reduce energy usage and utility costs, and added metal detectors for improved security. In a year that had quite a few international tours play the arena, venue GM Brian Ohl says a highlight was a November date by the Canadian rock band Arkells. “They filled the place,” he says. “It is good to see their growth and success.” On Ohl’s ambitious booking wish list: The Rolling Stones, whose only previous show in the city in 1965 was cut short by fan mayhem.
9. The Colosseum at Caesars Windsor, Windsor, Ontario
Concert capacity: 5,850 (general admission)
Top-grossing acts: Adam Sandler, Lionel Richie, Rascal Flatts
The Colosseum proves the potency of the casino-concert model in Canada. Despite its more modest capacity, the venue’s 40 shows during the recap period earned it a top 10 ranking. Director of entertainment Tim Trombley points to the venue’s audio and video upgrades as a draw. During Canada’s 150th birthday celebration last summer, the Colosseum hosted an all-ages show on July 2 headlined by Canada’s Alessia Cara (ahead of her 2018 Grammy award win as best new artist). “Alessia,” says Trombley, “has that rare ability to connect with her fans in a powerful, universal manner.”
10. Budweiser Stage, Toronto
Concert capacity: 16,000
Top-grossing acts: Zac Brown Band, John Mayer, Iron Maiden
Upgrades at this Lake Ontario amphitheater, which came with Budweiser’s new title sponsorship in 2017, include the refurbished Riverbar, which features up-and-coming acts before the main concert. “This helped establish the venue as more of a destination for the whole evening,” says Adrian Walker, GM of venues for Budweiser Stage/Live Nation Canada. Walker’s favorite shows of last summer included the season kickoff by Chance the Rapper, despite a delayed start due to flooding from record-high lake levels. “It was a tremendous team effort from all staff” to clean it up and prepare the show, he says. Another standout was Drake’s annual OVO Fest, for which the local rapper had a replica of the CN Tower built for the stage.
This article originally appeared in the May 5 issue of Billboard.