Remembering Michael MacRae, the man who shaped the Horseshoe Tavern

The Canadian music scene has lost one of its most influential figures. Michael “X-Ray” MacRae, the co-owner and talent buyer of the legendary Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto, passed away on Jan. 26, 2024, at the age of 72, after a long battle with cancer. MacRae was known for his passion, vision, and generosity, as he helped launch the careers of many iconic Canadian artists and brought international talent to the Horseshoe stage.

Michael MacRae
Michael MacRae

A legacy of live music

MacRae joined the Horseshoe Tavern in 1981, when he partnered with Kenny Sprackman, who had bought the venue from its original owner Jack Starr. Together, they transformed the Horseshoe from a country and rockabilly bar into a diverse and vibrant live music venue, featuring genres such as blues, folk, reggae, punk, new wave, and alternative rock.

MacRae had an ear for Canadian talent, and he booked and supported many emerging artists who would later become household names, such as Blue Rodeo, The Tragically Hip, The Watchmen, and Amanda Marshall. He also had a love affair with Austin, Texas, and he brought many Texan artists to Toronto, such as Jimmy Dale Gilmore, Kelly Willis, Bill Kirchen, and Alejandro Escovedo.

MacRae was a talent buyer in an era of no advance ticketing, no contracts, no offers, and no artist rider. He relied on his word and handshake, and he earned the trust and respect of both musicians and fans. He was also a curator of indie, alternative, and rootsy music, and he created a space where artists could express themselves freely and authentically.

A larger-than-life personality

MacRae was not only a music lover, but also a storyteller, a mentor, and a friend to many. He had a larger-than-life personality, and he was always ready to share his wisdom, humor, and anecdotes. He was also generous and kind, and he often helped out struggling artists and musicians with money, food, or a place to stay.

MacRae had many memorable moments at the Horseshoe, such as hosting the Blues Brothers 2000 film crew, which included his close friend Dan Aykroyd, and hanging out with Steve Cropper of the MGs. He also attended the first South by Southwest festival in Austin, and he later organized annual pre-SXSW parties at the Green Mesquite patio, where he invited Toronto councillors, music industry professionals, and media representatives.

MacRae retired from the Horseshoe in 1998, and he worked for Aykroyd’s House of Blues until 2013. He then moved to Nova Scotia, where he enjoyed fishing, gardening, and spending time with his family and friends. He is survived by his wife, two sons, two daughters, and four grandchildren.

A lasting impact

MacRae’s death has sparked an outpouring of tributes and condolences from the Canadian music community, who have expressed their gratitude, admiration, and sorrow for the loss of a legend. Many have shared their stories and memories of MacRae, and how he influenced their lives and careers.

MacRae’s legacy lives on in the Horseshoe Tavern, which is still one of the most iconic and beloved music venues in the country. The Horseshoe has hosted thousands of shows and hundreds of artists over the years, and it continues to showcase the best of Canadian and international music. MacRae’s spirit and vision are still felt in the venue, and in the hearts of those who knew him.

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