PANAMANIA: a manic feast of freebies

By Quinton J. Hobson

Hip-hop stars The Roots will bring some soulful sounds to PANAMANIA this summer.
Hip-hop stars The Roots will bring some soulful sounds to PANAMANIA this summer.

Toronto is The City That Works, a term coined by a Harper’s Magazine writer in 1975 in reference to our undying work ethic and constant urban planning.

Sounds promising but in April, Statistics Canada reported Toronto is the second unhappiest city in Canada, behind only Vancouver.

Torontonians generally agreed, citing the need to work constantly to pay for the city’s expenses – “free” is considered a rarity – with little leisure time left to enjoy ourselves.

Enter PANAMANIA, a 35-day free entertainment showcase.

While ticket prices for the 2015 Pan Am / Parapan Am Games range from $20 to $350 depending on the event – the most expensive being the coveted opening and closing ceremonies – CIBC is offering Torontonians a chance to attend several entertaining alternatives in tandem with the Games. PANAMANIA promises to “enrich the Toronto 2015 Pan Am / Parapan Am Games experience,” the publicity materials say.

On July 10, the 23-day-long event billed as PANAMANIA Live @ Nathan Phillips Square will kick off PANAMANIA in true North American fashion reminiscent of Times Square with a live broadcast of the opening ceremony of the 2015 Pan Am Games via Jumbotron before commencing its versatile lineup of performances the following day.

An enormous 130 acts deep, the Live at Nathan Philips Square set list features performances by musicians, artists and dancers renowned and obscure, among the former: singers Tessanne Chin, Janelle Monae and Jann Arden, each scheduled to perform on different days.

So vast and expansive is the set list that organizers had to divide it into two separate segments, the first running from July 11-26 while the second occupies Aug. 7-12.  Performances are 12 to 2 p.m. and 6 to 11 p.m. on weekdays and weekends 12:30 to 11 p.m. Each evening concludes with a colourful fireworks display.

Joining artists booked to perform at the famous Queen and Bay intersection on Aug. 8 are hip-hop group The Roots. Founded in Philadelphia during the late 1980s, The Roots have since become known for their unique, eclectic approach to hip-hop that incorporates elements of jazz and neo soul music, as well as their use of several musical instruments during live performances.

From 2009 to 2014, The Roots gigged as house band of the talk show Late Night with Jimmy Fallon before following the comedian to his current The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Now 14 well-received studio albums in, The Roots were raged about by as “Hip-hop’s first legitimate band.”

PANAMANIA Live @ Nathan Philips Square is only one aspect of the umbrella that is PANAMANIA, which also features three other events: CIBC Pan Am Park, PANAMANIA Live @ The Distillery District, and PANAMANIA Presentations, of which only the last is charging admission while the former two are free.

So while planning for summer 2015, Torontonians should consider this as a personal invitation from the city you work so hard for to turn off your mental calculators for once and enjoy it.

For more scheduling, pricing and lists of acts and performers, visit