Bluesfest unplugged

Yesterday, we were treated to the announcement so many Ottawans breathlessly await each year at this time: the official announcement of the intention to officially announce the date for the official announcement of the Bluesfest lineup.

It was an edge-of-seat moment that local electronic-music aficionados in particular had been eagerly anticipating. That younger demographic, after all, was the target-audience for last year’s Bluesfest, as the event boldly sallied forth into unchart-hitted territory. Oldtimers are still welcome to attend, we were assured, but the future of the festival belongs to the younguns. And the younguns prefer that their music be largely free of musicians. Live musicians, at least.

As you’ll recall, local press couldn’t say enough about this positive development in the successful festival’s history. Long live electronic Bluesfest, the dailies cried as one. The festival must grow, and growth means skewing younger. Throughout the festival, we were told the new even-less-bluesy festival was a tremendous success, veteran attendees still showing up for the sidestage shows while electronic fans crowded the mainstage.

Sure, the press were curiously silent (even as we were silently curious) when it came to their usual practice of tallying the daily attendance numbers. And when the festival ended, other than excessive use of the word “successful” we were given no figures on just how much growth Bluesfest had seen over previous years. But success is success. And according to the local press, it was surely the best Bluesfest ever.

So as speculation begins about the 2013 lineup, Bluesfest has assured us one thing, according to local reporters: “More blues and fewer electronic acts.”

Pardon? Didn’t Bluesfest organizers read the papers last year? Electronic music is where it’s at, dudes!

Or not. It seems ticket sales were “stagnant” last year. Worse, beer sales were not up to expectations. Crusty Bluesfest ticketholders, meanwhile, cried for less Skrillex and more Thorogood — in a voice evidently more insistent than the words of praise presumably uttered by electronic-music lovers.

“Younger people,” Bluesfest boss Mark Monahan explained, “are less critical of things they don’t like.”

That may come as news to any parent of a teenager. As will the further observation that younger people don’t drink their share of beer. (Offering evidence to the contrary is a sign placed outside Oliver’s pub at Carleton University Monday morning: “Come in for breakfast! $7.50 MGD mini-pitchers.”

Mind you, I can only judge such behaviour against that of my five-month-old niece. And while she will speak up when displeased with a situation, she cares not for beer.

So fair enough. More blues. More classic rock. More Blue Rodeo. And so forth. Speculation over the lineup can now proceed as it has in previous years, with names like Clapton, Petty and McCartney presented and withdrawn as the big day approaches.

Not that yesterday wasn’t big enough already. Next year, here’s hoping that bombshell will be properly introduced by an official announcement of a coming official announcement. Ottawa deserves as much. Just as it deserves its classic rock.

Then again, I have for years been arguing that Bluesfest should be a blues festival. Seems only fair. And with B.B. King already onboard, fingers are appropriately crossed. Blues and Bluesfest. Stranger things have happened.

Just ask the folks whose Bluesfest tradition was rudely interrupted last year by an unspecified number of electronic devotees. At least that danger has passed, eh?

1 Comment

Filed under Media, Music

One response to “Bluesfest unplugged

  1. Rob D

    Wonderful column.As an ex-Ottawa resident and avid blues fan, I usually note the latest lineup for BluesFest with a laugh and a smirk and make plans to attend an actual blues festival like Chicago’s each year. My wife and I used to attend religously…WE sat and clapped and danced (when appropriate, I mean, Ottawa can be cruel to from noon to closing every night. Sometime after RAy Charles got a huge cross over audience, a light went on in the organizers heads and its been profit over substance ever since. I have no quarrel with that. The same thing has happened to every festival that started out supporting a particular genre like jazz or folk etc. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a good example..the argument for many come down to supporting local NO’s musicians over mainstream headliners who draw a different crowd. My friend came up with a good line that he’d heard there was going to be a blues tent at BluesFest! Just about sums it up for many of us who love blues, soul and Gospel.They’ve lost many of us fans and we won’t be coming back.


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