It’s that time of year again, first everyone is excited about the forthcoming announcement of the Ottawa Bluesfest lineup and then for the next 5 months won’t stop complaining about the lack of “blues” in the lineup.Does it really matter? I mean honestly this will be my fifth straight year attending the event and the thousands of people in attendance really don’t seem to care about the fact that the event is called Bluesfest and is missing blues.


Blues, by definition in Merriam-Webster, is “a style of music that was created by African-Americans in the southern U.S. and that often expresses feelings of sadness”…well that can be expanded to include country music, jazz and even some rock. Heck most of the music today grew out of the blues movement in some way.

But all that aside…there’s a number of reasons I feel this yearly argument needs to end…now (besides the fact that there’s no way Mark Monahan is going to change the name of the festival after 20+ years).

The blues in RBC Ottawa Bluesfest more so represents what the festival does the other 11 months of the year, they do good things you know! Ottawa Bluesfest supports it’s own charity (and a handful of other local charities) called Blues in the Schools, in this day and age where we are seeing more and more arts programs get cut and here one of the biggest festivals in North America is working to change that every year.

The Blues in the Schools mandate is to reach out to students and involve them in a universal form of communication; namely music. Music reflects the feelings of the times. Through Blues music, students can learn how an oppressed people empowered themselves with song in order to cope. Our intent is to integrate students from different ethnic backgrounds and in this way teach harmony and coping skills that will lead to a more fulfilling school experience. In 2015 the program had over 6000 participants in 20 schools.

Bluesfest itself has a mandate to support and sustain the growth of emerging and diverse musical genres, including the Blues, World Music, Alternative, Rock, Jazz, Funk, Soul, Rap, Folk, Urban, and other forms of music that develop from time to time…how many other festivals actually have a mandate to support and sustain the growth of pretty much every musical genre known to man? Not to mention the $40 million dollars in economic impact the event has for the region.

What I’m getting at is musical tastes and flavours change all the time, Mark Monahan and his team work tirelessly every year to put together a lineup that is diverse and relevant some 8 to 12 months after the contracts are first drawn up and every year they manage to please thousands of fans and keep the festival affordable and extremely reasonable with a wide variety of genres, including blues, so that there’s something for everyone’s musical taste buds.

There’s way more to Ottawa Bluesfest than the name, just like there’s way more to Canadian Tire than tires. Plus it’s a brand, a brand recognized internationally, not for blues but, as a world class festival that attracts artists and fans of ALL genres and ages. It’s a brand that has existed for 22 years now and that’s not something you mess with.

So perhaps now we can finally put an end to the age old conversation about the Blues in Bluesfest, be thankful that Ottawa has a festival of this calibre to call our own and focus on more important things…like building our personal schedule for this summer’s event!

I’d love to hear your thoughts, tweet me on Twitter or simply leave your comment at the bottom of this post.