More Than Just Your Average Blues Festival


By Keith Sharp

Ottawa Bluefest commuications director AJ Sauve understands why people keep asking why their festival is called a Blues festival when this year’s headliners feature The Foo Fighters, Jethro Tull, Bryan Adams and Shawn Mendes to name just a few of the all star cast which will assemble on five different stages in Ottawa’s urban LeBron Flats region between July 5 – July 15th.

Celebrating it’s 25th anniversary, Sauve and event programming chief and event director, Mark Monahan claim there is still a blues spirit about the event, but to be successful long time, the Ottawa Bluesfest has needed to expand to incorporate a wide range of musical styles.

AJ Sauve
AJ Sauve

“Bluesfest is the name of the event, it’s not a dictum of the contents,” Sauve noted over the phone from Ottawa as his crew again prepares to execute one of Canada’s premiere festival events. “If you look at the lineup for our first show in 1994, we had Clarence Clemons, Randy Bachman, and Buckwheat Zydeco, all performers who are not noted as true blues artists.

Noting that most people could not name 10 blues artists who could headline a Blues Festival, Sauve explains that the festival has featured the likes of B.B King, Buddy Guy and Bonnie Raitt at previous shows and this year again spotlights Colin James and a blues jam band featuring Monkey Junk, The Split and the, Texas Horns who can back a series of international artists and play virtually anything.

Sauve says the trick of the festival’s on going success is the ability of programming chief, Mark Monahan to select artists that fit specific genres but are iconic to that genre. “Mark is always coming up with artists that are a little left of centre. That’s what makes our lineups unique. There is always someone new and interesting to discover,” observed Sauve.

Sauve noted that Monahan also likes to book interesting combinations of talent which complement each other. “For example, we have booked The Foo Fighters (Tuesday July 10th) and we know they will draw a huge crowd. But Mark has also matched them with Michigan’s Greta Van Fleet, a band of teenagers who sound just like Led Zeppelin.”

Greta Van Fleet
Greta Van Fleet

With similar combinations that match Country star Brett Eldredge with alt rockers The Strumbellas and pop idol Shawn Mendes with rapper Chromeo, each night promises a number of unique musical match-ups.

And what is truly unique about this festival is its passport system. For $249, you can catch a show each night but you can also purchase single daily passes for $75 or even customize your own passports to catch any three shows for $139 or any five shows for $169. Which means that if you wanted to catch say Bryan Adams, Foo Fighters and Blue Rodeo you could see each act for $46 each!

Attracting key acts each year is still a challenge but by working with other festivals to create multiple bookings, the Ottawa Bluesfest eventually gets the majority of their target acts. “I know Mark tried for years to get Tom Petty and the stars finally aligned last year when we finally got him,” smiled Sauve.” And man what a show he put on, what a song catalogue he has. It was so heartbreaking to find out he died at the end of this tour.”

For a complete break down of scheduling and ticket information please link to



Related posts