From Bach to the Blues, It’s all here in Waterloo

By Paul Knowles

Music Genre Line UP

Waterloo Region rocks! It also loves jazz, plays the blues, embraces indie, has fun with folk, and celebrates the great composers from Bach to Lennon-McCartney. When it comes to live entertainment, Waterloo Region is centre stage. Opportunities to enjoy the best in live music range from major annual festivals to performances all year round in music rooms and pubs.

The Festivals

Big Music Fest

In 2014, a first-time event hit Kitchener that got the community all shook up, and set in motion musical reverberations that are going to recur on an annual basis. The community wasn’t sure what was coming when the Big Music Fest was announced for 2014. What arrived was a hugely popular festival of hard-driving rock ‘n’ roll, as 60,000 people came to McLennan Park to enjoy the artistry of Aerosmith, Bryan Adams, and Slash! It was love at first chord! Big Music Fest 2015 returned July 6-12 bigger than ever!

Sun Life Financial Uptown Waterloo Jazz FestivalThe city of Waterloo has become known as a hotbed of live jazz.

If you are serious about jazz you will not miss the Sun Life Financial Uptown Waterloo Jazz Festival on July 17-19. More than 35,000 music fans will attend this free, three-day music festival, enjoying all genres of jazz. This is the 23rd season for this popular event.

Uptown Waterloo is home to The Jazz Room, a perfect venue for jazz, located in the Huether Hotel. The Jazz Room is operated by the Grand River Jazz Society, and presents both national and international performers, and exceptional local musicians from the Region’s thriving jazz community. Jazz is live at the Jazz Room on Friday and Saturday nights.


Mill Race Festival of Traditional Folk MusicThe historic riverfront along the Grand River in Cambridge, Ontario is the setting for the remarkable Mill Race Festival of Traditional Music, this year running from July 31 to August 2.

Roots music lovers come from all around to enjoy this feast of traditional folk music, now in its 23rd season. Founders created the unique event to celebrate traditional forms of music and dance, especially those reflecting the cultures that make up the community of Cambridge and the surrounding area. The multi-stage event also features arts, crafts, food and refreshments.

KOI FestivalEach fall sees the KOI Music Festival, a three-day celebration of kick-ass independent indie, metal and punk music that reverberates through downtown Kitchener in mid-September. More than 150 bands – local stars and national and international performers – are showcased on multiple stages. Some of the performances are free of charge.

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The TD Kitchener Blues Festival attracts over 100,000 attendees to this four-day event, celebrated its 15th year in 2015. The festival, which runs in August, will feature seven stages (with both free admission and paid concerts). The finest blues performers from around the world show up to perform for wildly enthusiastic audiences; local rising stars also get their chance to shine. The music rarely stops during the four-day event, with opening acts on stage by 12 noon, and blues stars sitting in at local pubs for “12 Bar Blues” after the festival stages close at the end of the evening.

Love the blues? You’ll be here.

Interesting fact –  although there are at times more than 12 local bars that participate the name “12 Bar Blues” comes from the popular 12 bars form chord progressions which spread across the music industry during the 1920s and 30s.

Want to catch live Blues?

  • Stop by Bobby O’Briens in Kitchener on Wednesdays and Lancaster Smokehouse on Saturdays!


Another important anniversary celebrated in 2015 – the internationally recognized Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony is marking the 70th anniversary of its founding in 1945.

Led by Music Director Edwin Outwater, the 52-member KWS is one of Canada’s outstanding orchestras. The 38-week season, from September to May, includes a rich and diverse repertoire. Primary stage for the Symphony is the famed Centre in the Square, a music venue with superb acoustics for classical performances. But the Symphony embraces many musical genres, from baroque to pops to music from the movies, attracting music lovers of all kinds.

More Live Music

Waterloo Region is home to a super selection of music venues that offer entertainment, from roots to classical music, throughout the year. Local music lovers are ecstatic that the iconic Boathouse of Victoria Park is back in business under new management, with a full menu of concerts.

Maxwell’s Music House has long been a musical trailblazer; in 2015, it opens in new University Avenue quarters that can host 700 patrons for events ranging through rock, roots, country and more.

Kitchener’s Registry Theatre is an ideal venue for an intimate concert, and throughout the year, patrons enjoy a variety of musical performances, including classics, folk, jazz, and dance.

For lovers of all things classical, this region is home to the superb Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society’s Music Room, which presents an astonishing 70-plus professional concerts a year, in an intimate and delightful setting.

And then there are the pubs and clubs, with music in the air virtually everywhere! A small sample: “The Lanc”, more formally the Lancaster Smokehouse, with live blues; Abe Erb, an uptown Waterloo brewery/pub with an emphasis on live entertainment; The Duke of Wellington, in Waterloo – a little bit of jolly old England with a regular roster of musical performers; Kitchener’s Edelweiss Tavern, with a rock ‘n’ roll edge; Petersburg’s The Blue Moon, featuring local roots entertainers three nights a week (including a kids’ special on weekends); the Argyle Arms in Cambridge, with several nights of live entertainment each week; and when it comes to live music venues, there are literally dozens more.