'We’ve simply run out of time': Bluesfest cancelled for second straight year

Bluesfest sunset
Bluesfest has been cancelled for the second year in a row, organizers said Thursday. File photo

The pandemic has forced Ottawa Bluesfest organizers to cancel the annual music festival for the second year in a row ​– but the glum news comes with a bit of a silver lining.

While the hugely popular event won’t be happening at LeBreton Flats this summer, executive director Mark Monahan said Thursday that California-based hard rock band Rage Against the Machine has already been confirmed as one of next year’s headliners. 

“We’ve been working hard at trying to figure out a way to put on this year’s event, but we’ve simply run out of time, so we’re just going to have to move on,” Monahan said in a statement, adding he had some “good news” to report – RATM will perform on Friday, July 15, 2022.

Monahan said anyone who kept their 2020 tickets for this year’s festival will be eligible for a full refund, but he’s urging ticketholders to hold on to their passes to “guarantee the best prices possible” for next year’s event.

Noting the pandemic “blindsided” organizers last year, Monahan said he’s much more optimistic about the festival’s future heading into 2022 despite not being able to host the event again this year.

“With vaccines rolling out, health authorities expect most people to be vaccinated by the end of this year, so the prospects for 2022 are quite promising,” he said.

“There are many exceptional acts that are showing interest in touring in 2022 and taking part in the RBC Bluesfest. This is very encouraging. We are working on the lineup right now, in preparation for one of our best years ever.”

This year’s festival was scheduled for July 8-18 at LeBreton Flats. Tickets for next year’s edition, which is slated to run from July 7-17, are now on sale.

The event is a major contributor to Ottawa’s tourism industry, attracting more than 300,000 spectators annually. In 2019, Bluesfest injected more than $40 million into the city’s economy, according to the festival’s website.

Meanwhile, another music-themed event aimed at kickstarting Ottawa’s beleaguered tourism sector has been postponed after the province tightened restrictions aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Music livestreams on hold

The Room Service Concert Series ​– a mix of music and comedy shows that was slated to be streamed to guests at participating Ottawa hotels later this month ​– has been put on hold indefinitely due to the Ontario government’s latest stay-at-home order that came into effect Thursday, organizers say.

“We wanted Ottawans to continue supporting local businesses and have the mental health benefits of planning a staycation, encouraging them to also consider a museum visit, a guided tour, ordering in food and drink, or dining on a patio, for example,” Ottawa Tourism CEO Michael Crockatt said in a statement. 

“But with the move to stay-at-home through the month of April, it simply is not possible, nor is it consistent with the directions coming from Ottawa Public Health and other entities.”

Eight shows were scheduled to be streamed at 20 local hotels from April 9-30, featuring acts such as Great Big Sea frontman Alan Doyle, comedian Gerry Dee and American rock band Third Eye Blind. 

Organized by Bluesfest and Ottawa Tourism, the event was expected to give a boost to a hospitality sector that has been hit hard by the pandemic, with hotel occupancy rates stuck in the low double-digits at most local properties.

Ottawa Tourism says up to a third of the 43,000 people previously employed in the capital's tourism sector have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The organization estimates that total visitor spending in Ottawa plummeted from $2.2 billion in 2019 to about $800 million last year, adding it expects only a slight improvement in 2021.

Monahan said new dates for the concert series will be announced as soon as possible. Anyone who booked a room for the event is asked to contact the hotel or booking agency to cancel the reservation.

It’s the second event recently organized by Bluesfest to be rescheduled due to the pandemic. Last month, the Long Road Back concert slated for March 27 at Lansdowne Park was postponed after Ottawa moved into the more restrictive red zone of COVID-19 protocols.