Ottawa Bluesfest

Our Organization

The RBC Bluesfest is a nonprofit & charitable organization overseen by a volunteer Board of Directors.

Executive Director

Mark Monahan

Board of Directors

Jim Mountain – President
Erin Benjamin
Penny Bertrand
Elizabeth Gray-Smith
Richard Mahoney
Zainab Muse
Darcy Walsh 


Ottawa Bluesfest Mandate and Historical Summary

Click here for a historical retrospective of the Festival’s commemorative posters – these posters are available for purchase, on-site during the festival, in support of Blues In The Schools. The mandate of the Ottawa Bluesfest organization is to provide a world-class event that showcases local, regional, national and international musicians. The objectives of the Ottawa Bluesfest are:

  • to maintain one of Canada’s foremost music festivals, in the City of Ottawa;
  • to support and sustain the growth of emerging and diverse musical genres, including the Blues, World Music, Alternative, Rock, Jazz, Funk, Soul, Rap, Folk, Urban, and other forms of music that develop from time to time;
  • to produce and present the art of music to the public, including new audiences, and to sustain a vibrant music community for local, regional, and national artists/performers/composers and songwriters;
  • to provide professional local, regional, and national artists/performers/composers and songwriters with substantial exposure to new audiences;
  • to provide an educational program within schools in the Ottawa region for the purpose of promoting among students the appreciation of Blues music as an art form and its impact on various genres while advancing and developing the careers of local and regional artists and educators;
  • to support other charitable organizations, institutions, events or activities where the subject is related to the above objectives.

Historical Summary

Over the years, Bluesfest has grown to become the landmark event of the Ottawa summer and one of the top-ten music festivals in the world, according to Billboard Magazine. The ongoing love affair between the ‘fest and its fans continues to this day. Clarence Clemons took the stage in 1994 and helped kick off what would become Canada’s fastest growing outdoor music festival. Five thousand people descended on Majors Hill Park that first year, probably not realizing the tradition they were helping to create.

Over the past 24 years, more than a million people have tuned in their ears and opened their hearts to some of the biggest names in the music industry. In more recent years, Bluesfest has become the Canadian version of Bonnaroo, Coachella, and/or the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival; all highly regarded tourist attractions and highly popular outdoor music festivals. The festival has grown from a one-stage, three-day event to a multi-staged, two-week music showcase featuring some of the best talent available on the planet. Bluesfest continues to increase its diversity and programming scope and offers an assortment of stages that incorporate a variety of genres.

Recent years’ highlights include:


From sponsors to spectators, patrons to promoters and volunteers alike, the 2013 edition of the RBC Bluesfest will be remembered for years to come. The 10-day event drew more than a quarter of a million fans, and what seems to have resonated most with many is not simply the variety of music but the excellence of the acts and the iconic representation of each genre. Think rap and you have to think of Wu-Tang Clan; for country, there was Grammy-award winners Zac Brown, the Dixies Chicks, and the fabulous young multi-instrumentalist Hunter Hayes. Looking for one of the world’s best power rock trios, look no further than recent Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers RUSH; you want a party? Bring on Great Big Sea, or the Hip, or FUN. There was a Texas flood with Alejandro Escovedo, Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos. The list goes on and on and included the best representative of the blues out there, the inimitable B.B. King! But it didn’t end there. With ongoing audience development in mind and an amazingly well balanced diet of cutting edge acts, singers and song writers, indie and alt, punk and pop, the ‘fest ended with a sonic and visual crescendo when Skrillex took the stage with his pal Boys Noize and their Dog Blood project. Talk about wrapping things up with a bow . . . actually, make that a bang!


RBC Bluesfest organizers celebrated a 20th anniversary in 2014 and hosted 300,000 guests. From AWOLNATION to ZEDD — with Lady Gaga, Lady Antebellum, and even ‘Lady Luck’ (in terms of weather) included in the mix — the RBC Bluesfest pulled out all stops. The multi-stage, multi-genre event featured more than 200 acts, with iconic representation of every style of modern music from blues, rock and pop to EDM, indie, and more, and had an estimated 300,000 music fans of every stripe singing the ‘fest’s praises. The event is not only supported by hundred of thousands of fans, it also boasts 3,500 community volunteers and substantial private- and public-sector support . . . and for good reason. The RBC Bluesfest has established itself as one of the premier festival stops for artists and music fans in North America and generates close to $40 million in economic impact in the region. Festival organizers say they’re happy to have 20 years in the books and are looking forward to another 20 and more.


In 2015, more than 300,000 music fans welcomed Kanye, Iggy and many other iconic acts to Canada’s capital. “It’s been more than 20 years since we launched the ‘fest, and people seem to be enjoying what we’ve been bringing in for them, especially the broader appeal—it’s been an evolution,” says the festival’s executive/programming director Mark Monahan. “It used to be, ‘why are you bringing in EDM or rap, or why country or world music?’ Well, it turns out that a lot of people like a lot of different kinds of music; especially in Ottawa where music fans are very savvy.”


In the world of mega-festivals and a multitude of fledgling festivals, the RBC Bluesfest has maintained its stature as an incredibly popular music event by sticking to its diverse roots. From Alessia Cara to Zeds Dead — with hundreds of other acts included in the mix — the multi-stage, multi-genre event featured more than 220 acts in 2016.  There was world-class representation of every style of modern music from blues, rock and pop, to indie and more. Once again, hundreds of thousands of music fans from all walks of life were singing the festival’s praises. Also in 2016, the RBC Bluesfest had its first sell-out in close to two decades, thanks to the far-reaching popularity of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who performed on July 15. This was the first time that has occurred since Ray Charles’ performance at Bluesfest’s much smaller site, in 1998.


The festival had another stellar year with headliners such as Tom Petty, P!nk, Muse, and more gracing RBC Bluesfest stages. From rain to sunshine, loyal fans came out and made RBC Bluesfest a key part of their Canada 150 festival summer.