Ottawa Bluesfest

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Ottawa Bluesfest
Aerial view of '07 site.jpg
Aerial view of the 2007 Bluesfest
Genre Blues, pop and rock
Dates July
Location(s) Ottawa, Ontario

The Ottawa Bluesfest is an annual outdoor music festival that takes place each July in downtown Ottawa, Ontario. While mainly focused on blues at the start, the festival has increasingly showcased mainstream pop and rock acts in recent years. The Bluesfest has become the largest blues festival in Canada and the second largest in North America.[1]


Since its inception, the festival has been managed by executive and artistic director Mark Monahan. Over the years a small group of full-time employees has been added, including director of sponsorship, Nathalie Laperrière (1999), director of communications, AJ Sauve (2000), director of operations, Mike Rouleau (2004), artist liaison Catherine Côté (2007) and director of marketing, Allison Shalla (2009). [2]

In 2002, the Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest won the Best Event Award from the Ottawa Tourism and Convention Authority and in 2003 the organization received the Keeping the Blues Alive (KBA) award for arts education from the Memphis Blues Foundation. Mark Monahan is a past recipient of the Toronto Blues Society's Blues with a Feeling award. In December 2011, Bluesfest reached a five-year sponsorship deal with RBC Royal Bank to ensure its financial stability. Henceforth, the event will be known as the RBC Royal Bank Bluesfest.[3]


Bluesfest crowds during the 2011 festival

The festival was first held in 1994 at Majors Hill Park with the performance of Clarence Clemons, attracting 5,000 spectators. The following year the festival attracted larger crowds with entertainers like John Hiatt and Buddy Guy. In 1996, 25,000 fans attended the Bluesfest to see Robert Cray, Los Lobos and others. It was then that the Mitel corporation became the first major sponsor of the event. In 1997, the festival was moved to Confederation Park to provide more space for the increasing number of fans to see musicians such as Dr. John and Little Feat. In 1998, over 80,000 people showed up for the festival, which coincided with Canada Day.[citation needed] Bell Mobility and CIBC Wood Gundy joined the list of sponsors. In 1999, the festival was moved to LeBreton Flats. The Bluesfest became a registered charitable organization while attracting over 95,000 fans. The Royal Canadian Mint became a sponsor. Cisco Systems became the Bluesfest Title Sponsor in 2001, while the Ottawa Citizen and the National Post became Presenting Sponsors. In 2002, Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest moved to Festival Plaza in downtown Ottawa and 200,000 fans.[4]

In 2003, the festival expanded to eight stages to celebrate its tenth anniversary with 220,000 people in attendance.[5] 2005 saw the festival further diversify its offerings, reaching out to a younger audience as well as those interested in more than just blues. The 2006 festival saw continued growth with increased crowds and the move of the MBNA stage to Lisgar Collegiate Institute to provide more capacity. The 2007 Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest was located at LeBreton Flats Park, a move from the site at Festival Plaza the previous year. The new site offered five stages in and around the Canadian War Museum. The stage set-up featured twin main stages akin to the Austin City Limits Music Festival, which allowed audiences to transfer between headlining acts. The festival drew more than 300,000 attendees that year.[4] In 2012, Bluesfest took place from July 4 - 15. In 2013, the festival was shortened by one day and will take place from July 4 - 14.[6] In 2014, the festival ran from July 3 to July 13.

Along with showcasing musical talent from near and abroad, Bluesfest instituted the Blues in the Schools program in 1999, which worked to educate young musicians and people with an interest in music about the significance of the blues genre on culture, art, and other musical genres. Two local Ottawa schools were responsible for initiating the program, but it has since spread across the city. Every spring, several musicians who serve as instructors come to these schools and offer in-class education that is both academic and hands-on. The program is setup in the form of a residence day camp, meaning that the students sleep over at whichever school they are attending for the duration of the program, which is nine days in length. A non-profit organization, Blues in the Schools receives its funding through both the administrative fee paid by each partaking school, and also through donations from several sponsors, including the Royal Bank of Canada (who is the primary sponsor of RBC Bluesfest), and the Holiday Inn hotel chain.

The Blues in the School program is divided into two components, phases 1 and 2, which both serve different purposes. The first phase of the program consists of an assembly style organization. Therein, there is an hour long presentation from the guest speaker. This lecture period is incorporated into the student's academic timetable, as it is considered part of their educational curriculum. Presentations generally include both lectures and performances, and are open to all students at the school.

The second phase of the program consists of what are known as core group sessions. 30 students per day are assigned a group, which practices musical theory with an avid blues musician from the local music scene, as well as a music teacher to aid in the lesson process. In addition to musical practice, the instructor and the musician also gives an in-depth history lesson on the history of blues music. The program also allows students to develop and practice musical creativity. Students are encouraged to practice writing their own music and lyrics, and they are taught about different musical instruments used in the blues genre. Mark Monahan, the executive director of Bluesfest stated that the intent of the program is "to expose students from all backgrounds to music and to encourage them to use music as a positive outlet in dealing with the world around them." At the end of the program, the students are given the opportunity to perform onstage at their school with the musician who helped teach them. Finally, the students involved with the program will be invited to perform onstage at the RBC Bluefest festival in July.[7]

In order to get involved with the program, schools across Ottawa are able to apply via an online application that will assess how prepared each school would be to manage this program at their school. There is a $900 fee for each school that partakes in the Blues in the Schools program. [8]


On July 17, 2011, just 20 minutes into Cheap Trick’s set, a thunderstorm blew through the festival area. The band and crew narrowly exited the stage before the 40-ton roof fell. It fell away from the audience and landed on the band's truck which was parked alongside the back of the stage, breaking the fall and allowing everyone about 30 seconds to escape. Robin Zander was treated for a laceration to the abdomen and released from hospital the same day.[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bluesfest". Ottawa Information Guide. Retrieved 2012-08-17. 
  2. ^ [1][dead link]
  3. ^ [2][dead link]
  4. ^ a b Official city of Ottawa Representative. "Ottawa Bluesfest - History - Ottawa Bluesfest - Ottawa Festivals and Events". Retrieved 2013-03-02. 
  5. ^ "Ottawa Bluesfest 2003 Live Review". Retrieved 2013-03-02. 
  6. ^ "Ottawa Bluesfest". Retrieved 2013-03-02. 
  7. ^ "Ottawa Bluesfest program Blues in Schools is back". Ottawa Sun. Retrieved 2015-11-11. 
  8. ^ "Blues in the Schools | RBC Ottawa Bluesfest 2015". 2014-06-20. Retrieved 2015-11-16. 
  9. ^ Kot, Greg (10 October 2011). "Cheap Trick lobbies Congress to regulate temporary stages". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 20 December 2011. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 45°25′00″N 75°43′00″W / 45.41667°N 75.71667°W / 45.41667; -75.71667