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Ottawa Bluesfest Long Overdue for a Name Change

A recent editorial on the has urged the Ottawa Bluesfest to drop the word, blues, from its name. Bluesfest, one of Canada’s top music festivals, inspires large crowds over populating the LeBreton Flats every summer. Bluesfest started in 1914 as a festival for blues music, it usually featured blues headliners, hosting top performers of those days such as Clarence Clemons, Ray Charles and B.B King. However, the festival has gradually morphed into a diverse musical event that allows various genres from country to rock to hip hop. Begging the question, why is it still branded as a blues festival?

“For comparison, festivals like the Montebello Rockfest and the Ottawa Jazz Festival have stuck to their respective roots. Ottawa Bluesfest looks a little more like the Festival d’Été de Québec (FEQ, or Quebec City Summer Music Festival). FEQ is a festival that prides itself on the diversity and variety of its featured artists. At this year’s FEQ, the 80,000 capacity main stage welcomed many former Bluesfest headliners, plus Camila Cabello, Neil Young and Alexisonfire.” The writer says.

Although Bluesfest is not being asked to get rid of other music genre from its event, it is perhaps time they rebrand themselves by choosing a name that truly represents what the festival is all about as at today rather than what it used to represent in the past.

Blues festivals are not only peculiar to Ottawa. Blues festivals are music festivals which focus on blues music. Blues is a genre of music originating from African-American communities in the Southern United States around the end of the 19th century. It has elements of traditional African music, American folk music, spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads. Blues has since evolved from unaccompanied vocal music and oral traditions of slaves into a wide variety of styles and subgenres, such as country blues, Delta and Piedmont, Chicago, West Coast blues. There are a handful of other cities who organize blues festivals in Canada and the United States. And a lot of others all over the world in Oceania, Asia and Europe.

Last year, the Rochester Main Street’s Blues Festival changed its name to RiverFest. The popular music festival reinvented itself by diversify its music line up and adding a new chili cook off to their mix. Their name change coincided with their renewed interest in the Riverwalk improvement project. Organizers said the festival’s new name better reflects the city’s efforts to make the Cocheco River — the event’s setting — more of a destination, reports

“We thought the idea of a ‘RiverFest’ would be more fun and morph into greater things as the festival grows in future years,” said Mike Provost, the director of Rochester Main Street. “We think it will be good to have something that will attract a wider crowd while also being family friendly.”

The Ottawa Bluesfest could borrow a leaf from here while thinking about its name change which is long overdue.