An Interview with RBC Bluesfest Executive Director Mark Monahan

From July 8th – 19th, one of the largest and most anticipated outdoor music festivals will take place in Canada’s capital. RBC Royal Bank Ottawa Bluesfest is coming into its 21st year with a diverse lineup of artists ranging from Kanye West to Keith Urban. We were able to catch up with Bluesfest’s Executive Director Mark Monahan for an interview via e-mail to tell us a little bit more about the festival and its history.

We at Bucketlist are very excited about attending Bluesfest again this year, thank you for having us. Can you tell us how it all started?

The Bluesfest org re-cast its vision in 1999, becoming a registered charity with a focus on music education. It has since contributed millions of dollars to that end through programs such as Blues in the Schools  and Be in the Band.

How many people attended the festival in it’s first year? How many can we expect this year?

5000 attended in the first year, and we expect 350,000 to attend this year.

I understand that it’s a nonprofit and charitable organization, what kind of charities or activities are being supported?

Specifically (Curriculum-based) Blues in the Schools(Extra-curricular) Be in the BandSHE’S THE ONE, and Bluesfest School of Music and Art (BSOMA).

With multiple stages and so many artists in the lineup, how challenging is it to create a schedule that works?

Multiple stages lend themselves to multiple genres — not necessarily theme-based stages but stages that provide multiple options for a wide variety of acts often performing at the same time throughout the park. This is where variety is important. The challenge is to offer diversity throughout the event and to not book like-minded or similar sounding acts in the same time slots. This increases the chances of always having choices and hopefully something on stage that will attract a wide variety of music fan(s).

Did you ever think that Bluesfest would become this successful?

We were initially hopeful for a sustainable model and knew we were on to something after the first three or four years, as attendance increased incrementally . . . but we never expected the rapid growth and eventual international standing as one of the top-ten music festivals in North America. We credit our attention to production values, organizational effectiveness, and building great relationships in the industry for the ability to book the high-end programming we’ve become known for. The basic formula for success has always been affordable pricing and the best possible line-up, with a great on-site experience.

Is it safe for us to assume that Bluesfest will be returning in 2016?


Photo by Steve Gerecke
Photo by Steve Gerecke

Written and Compiled by Jamie Markell
Header photo by Paul Couvrette

About Jamie Markell 10 Articles
Jamie resides in Ingleside, a small town in eastern Ontario working as a Lab Tech Monday to Friday. On weekends you're likely to find her in Hamilton with her other half or checking out the music scene in Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto - wherever it takes her. While she will listen to just about anything, her favourite bands include Led Zeppelin, Foo Fighters, Alexisonfire and Monster Truck.

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