CMW: Nine Canadian Arena Acts That Aren’t Drake

As Canadian Music Week hits Toronto, a look at the domestic acts headlining major venues.

Dean Brody, performsJUNO Awards, Show, Calgary,
Brian Patterson/REX/Shutterstock

Canada has long had its own stable of music stars, the most successful domestic act being the Tragically Hip, a band that spent much of its 30-year-career headlining shows coast to coast — until cancer recently claimed the life of frontman Gord Downie.

Artists like Michael Bublé, Drake, The Weeknd, Nickelback and Bryan Adams also play arenas around the world, as did Rush before their retirement, but Canada also has a number of acts who can consistently sell out big venues at home.

Some acts choose to play “soft-seaters” for a more intimate experience — for example, Johnny Reid just did 125,000 tickets over 40-plus dates, including multiple theaters in every market — and with Canadian Music Week showcasing the best of the country’s musical exports, here are nine names (in alphabetical order) who consistently headline arenas or amphitheaters in a country whose population is one-tenth of the United States.

It’s taken a decade but Arkells popularity continues to explode with a strong indicator last summer when they headlined Toronto’s Budweiser Stage behind 2016’s “Morning Report.” A recent indicator? The rock band will headline their own festival, The Rally, June 23 at the 26,000-capacity stadium Tim Hortons Field, in their hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, a charity event for refugees. With the release of their upcoming album, they are plotting their way into arenas across Canada.

The rock band, which is receiving the Legends of Live Special Achievement Award at CMW’s Live Music Industry Awards, is celebrating its 25th anniversary — if you include their previous incarnation Pezz. But it wasn’t until their first major label deal and the release of their self-titled debut album in 2003 that things took off. It didn’t take long before they were headlining arenas all over the country  — the band first played their hometown hockey arena, Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, in 2007 — and they haven’t looked back.

Since forming 31 years ago, roots-rock veterans Blue Rodeo have sold 4 million albums, been inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, received a star on Canada’s Walk of Fame, and been named to the Order of Canada. While they like to mix in special halls, they have been playing arenas since the late 80s and in major markets since the late 90s. For 18 years, the band has also headlined a hometown show at Toronto amphitheatre Budweiser Stage.  Their 15th studio album was 2016’s “1000 Arms.”

The 2017 Canadian Country Music Hall of Famer, who debuted in 1996 with the million-worldwide-seller “Calm Before the Storm,” made history with Dean Brody on The Road Trip Tour, Canada’s biggest co-headlining country tour to date, selling 73,000 tickets. The two played everywhere from Sudbury Arena to Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre. Brandt, the most played domestic artist on Canadian country radio in history (Nielsen BDS), just released the first of two Eps, “The Journey YYC: Vol. 1.”

The country singer, whose latest album is 2016’s “Beautiful Freakshow,” typically plays arenas in Canada — full scale in secondary markets and in markets such as Calgary, Edmonton and Winnipeg as cut-downs — approximately 3,500 to 6,000-plus seats. In Toronto, though, he drew almost 9,000 to Budweiser Stage last year, becoming the first country act to headline the venue based solely on domestic success. Brody will be repeating it again Aug. 17.

Originally the gentler solo project of platinum-selling Alexisonfire singer Dallas Green — debuting with 2005’s Sometimes — in time, City and Colour’s mainstream appeal brought the act to headline status, including Toronto shows at then-named Molson Amphitheatre and Air Canada Centre. He recently came off a two-year worldwide tour cycle behind 2015’s “If I Should Go Before You.”

Now on “indefinite hiatus” after allegations of sexual misconduct and rape surfaced against frontman Jacob Hoggard in February just as their 32-date national arena tour — behind their seventh studio album, Cageless — was underway, Hedley opted to see the tour through until March 23 in Kelowna, B.C.  Hedley has consistently headlined arenas with varying capacities for many years but the band’s future is uncertain.

The band, whose Grammy-nominated singer Josh Ramsay is responsible for co-writing and producing Carly Rae Jepsen’s ubiquitous hit “Call Me Maybe,” did a lot of relentless touring to finally achieve headliner status. Since forming in 2001, the harmony-driven pop outfit debuted with 2006 Fix Me, and a decade later, with its fourth full-length, 2015’s Astoria, still had arenas en-Trench-ed on their itinerary, including Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.

The pop-rock act, which debuted in 2002 with “No Pads, No Helmets … Just Balls,” continue to headline arenas in select Canadian markets. While supporting their fifth studio album, 2016’s “Taking One For The Team,” they did dates at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, Quebec City’s Centre Videotron, and their hometown of Montreal at the Bell Centre, but for their NPNHJB anniversary tour last year they opted for theaters and halls.