RBC Bluesfest - An Ottawa Summertime Highlight

Zeus perform at Ottawa Bluesfest - photo: Mike Bouchard

By: Todd Snelgrove

Ottawa Loves summer.

Maybe it's because we endure such harsh winters (as anyone in Ottawa can tell you, ours is one of the world's coldest capital cities, second only to Ulan Bator, Mongolia) or maybe it's because we have so much wonderful green space to enjoy when the beautiful days finally come around; either way there's no mistaking this city's affinity with the warmer months.

While tourists crowd the busy downtown Market and the Sparks Street pedestrian mall you're more likely to find locals winding their bicycles along the canal pathways or hitting any one of the more than 800 public parks in the city for some summer fun. But nowhere do you see Ottawa's love for the warmer months more vigorously celebrated than at one of the many music festivals that dot our busy summer calendar.

Italian Festival, Chamberfest, Folkfest, the list goes on and on, but for my money the festival of festivals for locals and tourists alike is the RBC Bluesfest, a ten-day, five-stage entertainment extravaganza nestled around Canada's National War Museum in a simply gorgeous setting along the Ottawa River.

Yes, in the dead of winter when the days are so short as to seem non-existent, when I picture summer I see myself standing under a blue sky with a tasty local beer in my hand watching an iconic band like Rush or the Violent Femmes rock the main stage with the Peace Tower looming majestically in the background...it's that kind of imagery that gets us Ottawa natives through the cold, bitter nights.

What began as a single-stage, three-day event twenty years ago has grown into a multi-staged, two-week music showcase featuring some of the best talent available on the planet and pulling in more than a quarter of a million music fans every year. Household names such as Bob Dylan, The Tragically Hip, Bryan Adams, Van Morrison, Blue Rodeo, The White Stripes, Arcade Fire, KISS, and Ray Charles have joined lesser-known yet still hugely influential acts like Neko Case, Broken Social Scene, The New York Dolls, Dr. John, and Harry Manx at Bluesfests gone by, and this year's roster of talent is as strong as ever.

To mark the festival's 20th anniversary the RBC Bluesfest announced a monstrous lineup that is sure to appeal to an eclectic crowd. With acts as varied as Lady Gaga, Tim Hicks, Tegan and Sara, Said The Whale, Lady Antebellum, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Tokyo Police Club, there truly is something that will appeal to every music fan.

One of the great things about the RBC Bluesfest is their five-stage format. While the whole family will have a great time together seeing bands like the Barenaked Ladies at this year's fest there might be times when acts have a more focused appeal. So while mom and dad are classic-rocking it out to bands like Blondie, Journey, or Foreigner in the festival's mainstage area the kids can hit the other stages for newer acts like July Talk, St. Vincent, Snoop Dogg, Deer Tick, and Ryan Hemsworth.

More intimate shows featuring the likes of David Maxwell, Royal Canoe, and Noah Gundersen happen inside the museum in the 231-seat Barney Danson Theatre. While it's a great place to sit and relax for a set in a controlled environment bands have been known to really tear it up in there, so you never know what you're going to get!

In addition to all the music the RBC Bluesfest also boasts a diverse merchant area and a wide variety of food options. So after splitting up to see some bands or check out some of the the cool stuff for sale everyone can meet up for some spicy Thai food or a gourmet festival burger before half of the group heads one way to see The Sam Roberts Band while the other half finishes off the evening at the River Stage with a set by classic Canadian rockers Goddo.

So while it may indeed be our long, dark winters or the vast greenery that rises from winter's wake that encourages us to celebrate this season so earnestly, with ten days of great music at the RBC Bluesfest it's no wonder Ottawa loves summer so much!