Headline News By Ted Raymond 789 Views

Ottawa Bluesfest 2020 cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic

OTTAWA -- The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the cancellation of one of Ottawa's biggest events.

The 2020 RBC Ottawa Bluesfest has been cancelled.

Executive Director Mark Monahan made the announcement Tuesday morning.

"Having been at the helm of RBC Bluesfest since 1994, I can say that although we have weathered many storms, including a tornado in 2005, a stage collapse in 2011, and a family of stubborn killdeers in 2018, COVID-19 is one that we cannot overcome in 2020," Monahan said in an email.

"Even a month ago, the idea that we might not hold the 27th edition of the festival was unthinkable. 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."

Earlier this year, festival organizers had been encouraging fans to stay home, wash their hands, and practice physical distancing in the hope of flattening the pandemic curve in time for the popular summer festival. This year was set to feature acts including Alanis Morissette and Rage Against the Machine.

But Monahan said, ultimately, public health must come first.

"Our decision to cancel was not taken lightly. Over the past several weeks, we have listened to advice from healthcare 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."

Even if music fans saw the decision coming, it didn't make it easier.

“It was a really good lineup which is why it’s so disappointing,” said Lise-Anne Wheeler, who had a festival pass. “It was definitely disappointing but at the same time it’s kind of to be expected given everything that’s going on these days.”

With so many international artists, many from the United States, not able to travel with current restrictions and Bluesfest employees not able to work on the set-up, the massive summer festival was not feasible this year.

“Never before have we faced this kind of challenge and the frustration really was it was something beyond our control,” said Monahan in an interview with CTV News Ottawa.

“I feel like it’s like the one big thing in an Ottawa summer that kind of brings so many people together because there’s so many different genres of music and everything,” said volunteer Morgan Oda.

Although disappointed, Oda said “I feel like it’s definitely the right call with all of the uncertainty going on right now.”

Bluesfest also showcases a number of local artists. All of the acts set to perform this year will be given performance slots for next year.

“It’s truly an epic and iconic festival to be a part of and to be an Ottawa girl it really does mean a lot to me to have that opportunity,” said musician Sophia Radisch. 

Full refunds offered, but fans encouraged to hold on

Ticket holders will be entitlted to a full refund and will be contacted May 1 with more information.

"We understand how important that is to many in this time of uncertainty," Monahan said. "We are honoured that so many of you put your trust in us by purchasing advance tickets, and while our plans have changed for 2020, rest assured we are moving forward with future projects to bring music to our community. More on that later."

Monahan is encouraging fans to hold on to their tickets for next year, if they can, because it will help keep Bluesfest staff employed, but he said staff will move quickly to provide refunds for anyone who requests one.

Several acts have already been rebooked in anticipation of next year's festival. Monahan said Billy Talent, Blink-182, Blue Rodeo, Boyz II Men, Dashboard Confessional, Jack Johnson, July Talk, King Crimson, Lil Tecca, Patrick Watson, Sharon Van Etten, and The National have already been confirmed.

The 2020 edition of RBC Bluesfest was scheduled to run July 9-19 at LeBreton Flats.