Ottawa Bluesfest cancelled for 2020

Bluesfest stage
The Foo Fighters drew a sell-out crowd of 30,000 spectators to Bluesfest in 2018. This year's edition of the hugely popular 10-day event has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. File photo

One of Ottawa’s biggest annual tourist draws has joined the growing list of events to be scrapped in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bluesfest executive director Mark Monahan said Tuesday this year’s edition of the annual festival that regularly attracts hundreds of thousands of music-lovers to LeBreton Flats has been called off due to the coronavirus crisis.

“Even a month ago, the idea that we might not hold the 27th edition of the festival was unthinkable,” Monahan said in a statement. “But in light of the serious situation confronting us this summer, it is with a heavy heart that I must announce that the RBC Bluesfest for 2020 is cancelled.”

The veteran music promoter said all fans who’d already purchased tickets to this year’s Bluesfest will be entitled to a full refund, adding that organizers are “moving forward with future projects to bring music to our community. More on that later.”

With COVID-19 still circulating in the community and no firm timetable for lifting government-imposed bans on public gatherings, Monahan said he had no choice but to cancel this year’s event.

“Our decision to cancel was not taken lightly,” he said. “Over the past several weeks, we have listened to advice from health-care professionals and government officials, and heard the concerns of our patrons. We fully agree that public health must come first – now and always – and support the measures being taken to ensure the health of our community.”

Bluesfest was slated to take place from July 9-19. Losing the hugely popular 10-day music extravaganza will be another heavy blow to a local tourism industry that’s already seen a spate of big-ticket events, including the Ottawa Jazz Festival and the annual Canada Day celebration on Parliament Hill, wiped off the calendar.

Since being launched as a three-day event back in 1994, Bluesfest has steadily evolved into a rite of summer for music fans from the National Capital Region and beyond. Some of music’s biggest names have graced its stages, from Ray Charles and James Brown to Bob Dylan and Lady Gaga.

The event now attracts in excess of 300,000 spectators annually to LeBreton Flats and last year injected more than $40 million into the city’s economy, according to the festival’s website.

Monahan said organizers have already booked a number of acts that were scheduled to appear this year for 2021, including Billy Talent, Blink-182, Blue Rodeo and Boyz II Men and Jack Johnson.

“This cancellation will cause financial hardship for our organization, but we are already in the midst of planning for 2021 and have committed to keeping our staff employed and working on next year's event,” he said. “We are also exploring new digital initiatives to further our reach and be more accessible to our community.”