Unsurprisingly, I am a diehard fan of outdoor concert venues. Though typically the kind of person who would rather stay inside at all costs, outdoor concerts are one of the few exceptions I make. Unfortunately, however, more and more outdoor venues keep getting shut down each year. Case in point: Even Philadelphia lost Festival Pier in Summer 2019, and no more appear to be taking its place.

And that’s kind of heartbreaking. Existing in some kind of liminal space between the world of music and the world of everyone else, outdoor concert venues offer a unique way to experience music in a greater context. For me, this space was Echo Beach—an outdoor venue filled with my teenage memories.

Located on the shore of Lake Ontario and only minutes away from the heart of downtown Toronto, Echo Beach is a small outdoor concert venue that somehow manages to attract a consistent influx of big names. Over the past few years alone, I’ve been lucky enough to see everyone from Lorde to Billie Eilish to Halsey at Echo Beach, and I have an endless list of incredible memories from those nights.

On the night I saw Stromae, a group of high–school–aged girls nearby counted up their money for merch while a group of twenty–somethings, still in business casual, laughed as their friend tried to subtly shotgun a Molson. Some people had sprinted for the barricade as soon as the doors opened; others set up camp on one of the small hills at the property's edges. Only a few meters behind me was a middle–aged mother setting up beach chairs and corralling her young children. Nearby, a couple, dressed like they were going to a rave, made out behind a tree. 

Photo: Kelly Chen

It was a weird vibe, as were all Echo Beach concerts, but it was also undeniably a cool vibe. 

I’ve been to Echo Beach with my friends, my cousins, my sister, and my mom. Regardless of who you are or who you go with, nobody seems to look twice. It’s as if the open air or the lack of age limits makes concerts, which already welcome people from all walks of life, even more inviting.

This trend of inclusivity extends outside of the group of ticket holders. No Echo Beach show is complete without the silhouettes of runners on the jogging trails slowing down to see what’s going on as they pass or the lights of the boats that pull up to the shoreline to join in on the experience. People line up along the rail of the nearby marina to check out the scene, while the cars driving by roll down their windows. And why shouldn’t they? The music’s free for everyone.

Let me be clear. I’m not trying to present outdoor concert venues as egalitarian utopias because, frankly, that's not true. Many outdoor venues have VIP sections and tiered prices just like anywhere else. Also, the one complaint most people have with outdoor venues—the weather—is not groundless. For every ten gorgeous evenings at Echo Beach, there is one less–than–fabulous night. However, while Jack Ü played in the intense heat, the Echo Beach employees brought out sprinklers for people to run through. And while the rain ponchos that employees handed out right before Marina's concert were admittedly flimsy, they kept us dry enough to still have a good time in the near–freezing rain.

Would these concerts have been a bit less stressful without weather issues? Of course. 

Did I enjoy them any less because of said weather issues? No. 

The Stone Pony in Asbury Park offers an outdoor Summer Stage in warmer months. // Photo provided by Wikimedia Commons

In Philadelphia, the number of outdoor concert venues is always decreasing, and the ones that still exist, such as Skyline Stage at the Mann and The Dell Music Center, are all outside the city's center. An outdoor venue in the middle of a park is still great in its own way, but there's just something so unique about a night with good acoustics and the twinkling lights of countless skyscrapers viewable on all sides.

For 14–year–old me, there was something so special about those lights. At the time, I don’t think I would have been able to name it, but now I know that they made me feel like I was a part of something. That my world was not confined to my rigid schedule of classes, extracurriculars, and reblogs of angsty Tumblr posts. Surrounded by all those tiny lights, I was both my own person and a member of my city. I was able to forge my own path and know that I was part of something bigger than my tiny world.

Of course, I was 14, and my mom was only a few minutes of a walk away at the other side of the venue. But the feeling still mattered. 

Echo Beach formed, and still forms, the nexus of music and the rest of my world, and from Toronto to Philadelphia to anywhere, music is and should always be part of a city’s culture. With an already long list of concert venues and a plenitude of buskers on countless city corners, Philadelphia of all cities deserves some form of an outdoor music venue that is both centrally accessible and able to host mainstream artists. Obviously, such a feat is made difficult by the fact that much of downtown Philadelphia is filled with historical buildings, and consequently complicated zoning laws, but, nevertheless, I really do believe that outdoor venues can set the tone of a city’s music scene and make it more accessible for all.