RBC Bluesfest Celebrates Its Most Diverse Lineup Ever In Its 21st YearArticle by: Azra Kassam
Wed July 22, 2015 | 00:00 AM
What once began as a single-stage, three-day love note to blues and jazz in Canada’s capital city is now a multi-stage, two-week affair featuring the best in rock, pop, dance, indie, and of course, its namesake genre.
Nestled in Lebreton Flats Park next to the Canadian War Museum with the Canadian Parliament serving as a backdrop, RBC Bluesfest (formerly known as Ottawa Bluesfest) plays host to over 200 international acts spread out over two weeks, with over 300,000 in attendance in 2014. The 21-year-old festival boasts one of the most diverse festival demographics made possible by an equally diverse, carefully curated lineup – a far cry from the all-blues lineup the festival began with years ago.
This year, Bluesfest kicked off with Full Flex Express – an electronic music tour featuring Anna Lunoe, Mija, Zeds Dead, Jack Ü, and more bringing hoards of young dance music fans. A day later, crowds were screaming for country star Jason Aldean. That same week, the festival played homage to Canadian roots rock band Blue Rodeo. Kanye West, Keith Urban, Deep Purple, the list goes on. What this means is it’s not uncommon to see festival-goers in their high 40s chilling in lawn chairs swilling Molson Canadians while 17-year-olds freak out over Simple Plan, and college graduates jam to Interpol.
Kevin McNally is a self-described old-folk. This year was his eighth Bluesfest and he says he has definitely seen the festival evolve over the past decade – particularly now that Bluesfest books more rock and dance music acts.
“I’m here for the Blues...and there’s very little of that anymore. I don’t like any of the music up there,” he says pointing to the main stage.
But McNally is positive.
“Bluesfest is bringing in more young people – they listen to their own kind of music, which is okay. They’re supporting us in our old age and keeping Bluesfest going!”
According to an on-site survey conducted by Acuity Research Group this year, age groups from 18 to 64 were almost equally represented at Bluesfest, with age groups 25-34 and 45-54 each representing 24% of Bluesfest’s audience.
Not only does Bluesfest attract all ages, those who attend Bluesfest once are likely to come again next year. According to the Acuity Research Group survey, 78% of Bluesfest-goers this year had attended before, and more than half of Ottawa’s population attended Bluesfest over the last five years.
A main reason for this is Bluesfest’s smooth operations and dedication to providing attendees with a conflict and hassle-free experience.
Cameron Wheler is a music festival lover. Having been to Coachella and Bonnaroo earlier this year and this being his third Bluesfest, he says Bluesfest is by far one of the easiest festivals to navigate.
“I never have to worry about constantly checking the schedule or missing part of my favorite show to make the next one. Bluesfest is small, but that’s what makes it appealing.”
Have you ever attended Coachella, Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza? If yes, you know it's hell walking (or running) fifteen minutes through thousands of people from one stage to another because your favorite act is on but you just can’t miss Bad Religion but you also really need to pee and you’re also thirsty but the water refill station lineup is too long so you might as well grab a beer but the closest beer tent is an extra five-minute walk and you don’t really feel like spending 11 dollars on Heineken just yet.
That doesn't happen at Bluesfest.
With five stages strategically located within five minutes of each other, each with its own drinks tent serving a selection of beers, wine, and non-alocoholic beverages, as well as water refill stations and squeaky clean port-a-potties with hand washing stations beside all stages, Bluesfest strives to make festival goers’ lives conflict and hassle free.
Remember that one time at Lollapalooza when you really wanted to after-party but lineups at all the downtown Chicago clubs were massive and ticket prices were through the roof? Lebreton Flats is centrally located, close to downtown Ottawa. A quick 20-minute walk and you will find yourself on Sparks Street, with bars featuring craft beer, cool patios, and a place to enjoy a post-festival beer. Venture a bit more, and you’re in the historic Byward Market with clubs, restaurants, a bumping nightlife, and after-parties that won’t break the bank.
Adam Daigle, a two-time Burner, Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Lollapalooza veteran says Bluefest has a unique identity.
“Bluesfest is sponsored by huge international companies and partners with the government of Ontario and City of Ottawa, which means it can’t afford to be exclusive. It’s kid friendly, senior friendly, family friendly and accessible, which is awesome…but those lawn chairs have got to go!”
Some of Bluesfest’s sponsors this year included RBC Royal Bank, Bell, Claridge Homes, Best Buy, and Cisco, which makes walking in to the festival feel like walking into a city of billboards. While ads play on large screens in between sets and stages are all named after major sponsors, gone is the laidback, passionate attitude that the blues evoke, and in is the in-your-face attitude that cash rules everything.
But then again, does mo’ money really mean mo problems?
While blues may not be the focal point anymore for RBC Bluesfest, the Canadian festival celebrates its twenty-first year stronger than ever, holding its own among major international festivals.