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photo by Michelle Ferguson
Èva Morin | Fulcrum Contributor

Not only is Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest the biggest music festival in Ottawa, but it is, for many, the most highly anticipated event of the year. Rumors of potential headliners spark debates among friends in the early spring and the announcements in March have Ottawa music lovers waiting on the edge of their seats. But with the 2011 festival wrapping up, some fans are left feeling underwhelmed with the event this year.

One of the biggest criticisms of this year’s festival was the prices. Full festival passes started at $260 before service fees, while youth passports, which started at $99, sold out in record time and were only available for individuals aged 10–21. Day passes were sold between $40 and $50 depending on the day and act; but again, these prices did not include taxes, which added a few extra dollars to an already pricey ticket.

Joe Reilly, director of media relations at Ottawa Bluesfest, explains that festival-goers often don’t consider the cost of a typical show featuring Bluesfest headliners.

“If you want to go see anybody like Soundgarden, show tickets would probably cost you about $80 at the Scotiabank Place. If I were a music fan buying the pass, I would say I’m getting an incredible bang for my buck. You can’t go see any of our headlining acts for less than $50–100,” says Reilly.

Although this may be true, the student population still feels the pinch of steep ticket prices. The Ottawa Bluesfest Student Rush program offered day passes for $30, but the passes were only available when the box office opened at 4 p.m. and were only available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Frequent Bluesfest attendee and fourth-year political science student Nicolas Dubois spoke about his frustrations toward this year’s the festival.

“It’s a little ridiculous that just because you’re over 21—but still attend school full time—you have to pay for the general admission ticket. Kids who are 10 years old and attend Bluesfest most likely have parents that are willing to dish out the money to pay the full price. Students are students, regardless of their age. Why not make it 14–25?”

Dubois is not the only one feeling the strain of Bluesfest’s costliness. While headlining acts may be worth the bucks, some festival-goers only want to see one or two relatively unknown bands and end up having to pay the same price as someone going to see one of the major acts.

Long lineups were another unfortunate aspect of Bluesfest this year. On the opening night of the festival, fourth-year biomedical science student at the U of O, Sara De La Salle, recalled standing in line for an hour and a half to see The Flaming Lips, ultimately giving up her ticket when someone offered her $20 for her place in line.

“The people that go to Bluesfest don’t go there to stand in line and listen to other people’s conversations. People need to start going to festivals to appreciate the music,” says Dubois.

“We are constantly reviewing and revising our services to our patrons and artists,” says Reilly in response to these complaints. “I mean, obviously we have long lines when it comes to getting tickets, and I think we’re going to take a look at that and see how we could make that better. Everything is reviewed every year.”

Despite attendee woes, Bluesfest remains a staple in Ottawa’s festival and music scene, with attendance rates constantly increasing.

“We just wrapped up,” says Reilly. “And our intentions are to be back next year with a big festival full of established acts, classic acts, and developing young acts. We just want to make sure that music is an integral part of our community.