High-profile acts boost attendance in event’s return to LeBreton Flats

David Gonczol for Metro Ottawa


Dallas Green and the rest of Alexisonfire exploded onto the Bluesfest stage last night as one of the final acts of this year’s festival. While security frantically tried pulling as many body surfers out of the crowd as possible, Alexisonfire played a torrid set, which is just what their fans jamming the River Stage had come to hear.

As Bluesfest wrapped yesterday, it was clear the city’s largest music festival has made a triumphant return to LeBreton Flats.

Preliminary attendance figures point to a 20 per cent jump in attendance over last year, with over 300,000 seeing the likes of Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, the White Stripes, and dozens of lesser-known acts on stages scattered around the site.

Mark Monahan, executive director of Bluesfest, said that despite criticism the festival is drifting away from its blues origins, increased attendance proves that organizers are on the right track.

“Ultimately the test is the fans that attend and we have had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to the line up,” said Monahan, who added that at least 60 blues acts performed. “That’s what really drives the artistic program and we have to program an eclectic mix of acts because we have an eclectic audience.”

He said that the festival ran smoothly, but in about a month organizers will study surveys taken of festival goers to see what tweaking is needed. “Coming to a new site is always a challenge, how you set this thing up. Are people going to be able to get around? Are they going to be able to hear, have good sight lines, avoid sound bleed, all that sort of thing. In my opinion it’s been quite successful.”

The 12-day festival did not come without any controversies. Some Centretown residents complained of noise, but Monahan said the festival makes a point of going silent every night at 11 p.m.

The festival also grappled with conflicts between those who wanted to sit in chairs and those who stood in front of them closer to the stage. After flirting with the idea of managing the issue, organizers eventually decided to “not manage people.”

Still, Monahan and his army of volunteers seemed to push the right buttons with festival goers.

“It has blown us out of the water. We need a break,” said David Faro, who attended the festival with his wife and infant son.

He said the best shows were the White Stripes and Michael Franti.

Daniel Kennedy, of Ottawa, said the variety of music alongside the blues is a plus. “There has been a lot of different types of bands playing and lots of different music. It’s been a very good time.”

Vanessa Banks, of Ottawa, was at Bluesfest Sunday to see Sam Roberts and the Village People. She said Blue Rodeo was great and that J.D. Fortune was the highlight of the INXS show partly because he is “so pretty.”