Organizers of the RBC Bluesfest in Ottawa spent the last few weeks considering a variety of options for the mid-July festival, including shortening the event and potentially rescheduling it for later this year.
In the end, the decision was made to cancel it altogether and focus on a return in 2021.
“Late last week we realized that the alternatives were not realistic and we really just had to sort of bite the bullet here and plan on moving to next year,” said executive director Mark Monahan.
The popular festival, which usually attracts about 300,000 people each year, joined the long list of summer events that have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This sort of cancellation is very disappointing to everyone,” Monahan said Tuesday from Ottawa. “Not just the staff, but volunteers and obviously the people that support it and ultimately the fans.”
Monahan, who has been at the Bluesfest helm since 1994, noted the event has weathered many challenges in the past — including a tornado in 2005, a stage collapse in 2011, and a family of stubborn killdeers in 2018 — but COVID-19 is one they could not overcome.
“This was something that we felt sort of helpless to control or to mitigate,” he said. “There really was nothing we could do.”
One of the city’s largest cultural events, the 27th edition of the festival was set for July 9-19 at LeBreton Flats Park. This year’s lineup included Rage Against the Machine and Alanis Morissette.
Monahan said the event generates about $30 million in economic benefits to the city.
“Like many of you, I’m sad that @ottawabluesfest won’t take place this year — but it was the right decision from Mark and the team,” Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said in a Twitter post. “I know thousands of loyal fans will continue to support our cherished Bluesfest as they work to come back stronger than ever in 2021. I’ll be there.”
The announcement came a day after the Stratford Festival put its 2020 season on hold. Other recent high-profile event cancellations include the Calgary Stampede, the Toronto Caribbean Carnival and folk festivals in Edmonton and Winnipeg.
All ticket purchasers will be entitled to a full refund.
Monahan said several artists have already been booked for the 2021 festival, including Billy Talent, Blink-182, Blue Rodeo, July Talk and The National among others.
The cancellation “will cause financial hardship for our organization,” Monahan said without elaborating, but the festival is “committed to keeping our staff employed.”
He said there are 15-20 full-time employees on staff and about 3,000 community volunteers.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2020.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press