Ottawa Bluesfest

Ottawa Bluesfest
Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest 2007 in LeBreton Flats

The Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest is an annual outdoor music festival that takes place each July in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. While ostensibly focused on blues, 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 and a small group of full-time employees, including director of sponsorship, Nathalie Laperrière and director of communications, AJ Sauve, adding current director of operations Mike Rouleau in 2004 and director of volunteer services Tammy Parent in 2006. In 2008, Sarah PC and William Yap joined the team as programming assistant and accounting coordinator, respectively.

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.




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 and featured Ray Charles. Bell Mobility and CIBC Wood Gundy joined the list of sponsors.


In 1999, the festival was moved to LeBreton Flats. Smokey Robinson, Little Richard, and Booker T. & the M.G.s played on the Main Stage and the "Blues in the Schools" program was launched. The Bluesfest became a registered charitable organization while attracting over 95,000 fans with performers such as Sting, Al Green, Taj Mahal, and Buddy Guy. 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. The festival featured Dr. John, James Brown, Blue Rodeo, and George Thorogood and attracted 140,000 people.


In 2002, Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest moved to Festival Plaza in downtown Ottawa and 200,000 fans showed up to see the Tragically Hip, Melissa Etheridge, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Colin James.


In 2003, the festival expanded to eight stages to celebrate its tenth anniversary. 220,300 people came to see the likes of Ben Harper, Sheryl Crow, Sum 41, The Allman Brothers Band, and Dan Aykroyd & James Belushi.


George Thorogood kicked off the 2004 festival, which included The Tragically Hip, Taj Mahal, The Mudboys, Bryan Adams, Blue Rodeo, and others.


2005 saw the festival further diversify its offerings, reaching out to a younger audience as well as those interested in more than just blues. Four on-site stages featured headliners such as War, ZZ Top, Kid Rock, Simple Plan, The Black Eyed Peas, K-os, Alexisonfire, India.Arie, as well as performances during the day and on the side stages by The Neville Brothers, Xavier Rudd, The Harlem Gospel Choir, Campbell Brothers, Percy Sledge, Neko Case, and one stage dedicated to acoustic and Cuban music. The eleven-day event brought over 220,000 people to Festival Plaza to enjoy and appreciate a wide variety of music from around the world.

Alan Doyle performing with Great Big Sea at Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest 2006


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 main stage headliners were Great Big Sea, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Franti & Spearhead, Sam Roberts, Blue Rodeo, Live, Etta James, Rihanna, Wilco and KC’s Boogie Blast.


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 and featured acts such as Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, George Thorogood, Steve Miller Band, Blue Rodeo, The White Stripes, Manu Chao, INXS, Kanye West, and Solid Gold Dance Party.


The 2008 Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest was held again at LeBreton Flats Park between July 3 and 13. Some of the featured acts were James Taylor, The Tragically Hip, Great Big Sea, Steely Dan, Fergie, Feist, Brian Wilson, The Black Crowes, Wyclef Jean, Plain White T's, Akon, Snoop Dogg, Primus, The Wailers, Three Days Grace, Theory of a Deadman, and Donna Summer.


In 2009, the festival was held between July 8 and 19. Some of the featured acts were The Black Keys, Jeff Beck, Jackson Browne, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sam Roberts Band, Loreena McKennitt, Matisyahu, Stone Temple Pilots, Xavier Rudd, Joe Cocker, Neko Case, Our Lady Peace, Blue Rodeo, Ice Cube, King Sunny Ade & His African Beats, Cake, Ludacris, Drive By Truckers, Live, Paolo Nutini, Jennifer Warnes, Spencer Davis, Estelle, Femi Kuti, Mick Taylor, Ani DiFranco, The National, Kiss, Styx, Busta Rhymes, DeVotchKa, Girl Talk, The Dead Weather, Toots & the Maytals, The Alan Parsons Project, Ornette Coleman, Iron and Wine, Los Lonely Boys, The Zombies, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Metric, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and The Yardbirds.


The 2010 edition included: Babe Ruth (band), Carlos Santana, Rush, Iron Maiden, Alexisonfire, Hole, Matthew Good, Marianas Trench, Lights, Arcade Fire, Drake, The Flaming Lips, Keith Urban, Faber Drive, Weezer, Dream Theater, John Hiatt, Down with Webster, Roger Hodgson, Taj Mahal, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, The B52's, Steve Winwood, The Lost Fingers, Great Big Sea, and Crowded House.[2]


The toppled main stage in 2011

Bluesfest 2011 took place from July 5 until July 17. Bands performing[3] included Soundgarden, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, A Perfect Circle, The Tragically Hip, The Black Keys, Tegan and Sara, Ben Harper, Steve Miller Band, The Roots, Cage the Elephant, Three Days Grace, My Morning Jacket, Rise Against, Billy Talent, Blue Rodeo, Mother Mother, Jane's Addiction and Death From Above 1979. Death Cab for Cutie and Joe Satriani were cancelled after a storm blew in and collapsed the main stage.

On July 17, just 20 minutes into Cheap Trick’s set, a violent thunderstorm blew through the festival area. A downburst[4] from an intense derecho that evening caused the stage upon which Cheap Trick had been playing to collapse. The band had interrupted their set and left the stage just before the downburst hit. No one from the band was injured.[5]

See also


External links

Coordinates: 45°25′00″N 75°43′00″W / 45.4166667°N 75.7166667°W / 45.4166667; -75.7166667

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