Tonight, I attended a community open house hosted by RBC Bluesfest. Apparently, this consultation event has been held in previous years to gather input on what they’re doing well, and what should be changed a bit. Last year’s community consultation resulted in changes such as adding more porta potties, closing the bike path behind the museum, and increasing security measures, like removing in/out privileges, reducing bag sizes, and adding metal detectors. In case you weren’t aware, Bluesfest this year is extra special, since it’s the 25th anniversary of this iconic music festival in Ottawa. This is the first time I’ve attended this community open house, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got there, despite having been involved with Bluesfest in one way or another for the last 12 years. The open house was held at the Tom Brown Arena in the large meeting room on the second floor. There were tables set up all around the room with plenty of writing tools and different sizes of paper ready to be populated with brilliant ideas from the attendees. Although I recognized several people there, both employees of the festival and volunteers with various levels of experience, the non-management attendees were split fairly evenly between volunteers and patrons. It was great to see such a diverse representation in the room. In his opening remarks, Mark Monahan stated that 75% of attendees of the festival are repeat customers, and they’re looking to keep it that way. So that set the stage for the end goal of the night, to define what the festival needs to do better to retain their dedicated following.
After opening remarks, we got to work. Each table was assigned a topic, and we were asked to write down suggestions for improvement or feedback on existing processes related to that specific topic. Throughout the night, I got to work on each of the topics, and they included: Safety/Security, Website/App usability, charitable activities, social media, diversity and inclusion, VIP experience, Merchandise, volunteer experience, transportation, environment, bluesville stage, non-music activities, and gates. Just a side note, when discussing the charitable activities, we discussed how people don’t often realize that Bluesfest is a registered charity. There are three main Bluesfest charities, and they are worth mentioning: “She’s The One”, “Be in the Band”, and “Blues in the Schools.” All of these are incredible initiatives that Bluesfest supports, so I figured that they deserve a shout out here as well!
After discussing each topic, and writing down our ingenious ideas, we were asked to move to a different table, randomly, to address the next topic. As each move was coordinated every seven minutes, the ideas on the papers became more plentiful, with many fantastic suggestions, along with some less feasible ones (helicopters to be provided to patrons to get to the festival). I’m by no means an expert on such things, but I don’t imagine that a helicopter landing pad (let alone the helicopter) is within the festival’s budget. Keep your eyes open though, I could be wrong!! After moving through six or seven different tables, it was obvious to me that the people in the room were not simply attending this event for something to do; the passion for the festival was evident in each and every person. People were there to help support this cornerstone music festival and try to make positive changes for everyone to enjoy.
Now that the notes and comments have been submitted, festival staff and management will consider all of these great ideas, and incorporate the best and most feasible to improve the festival. Once the review of the chicken scratches is complete, Bluesfest will be publishing a document on their website communicating the results of this event. I’m really excited to see which of these ideas gets implemented, as I’m sure most of the attendees of this event are; it’s great to see your ideas put into practice to make improvements to an event that you are passionate about!
Community involvement in festivals such as this is incredibly important. Up to 50,000 people a night attend Bluesfest, and while that number is impressive, what I find to be equally impressive are the often overlooked individuals behind the scenes: the thousands of volunteers, the hardworking office staff, and all of the contracted workers that are required for this festival (audio/video, catering, security, construction) to ensure that it is successful. This is not, by any means, specific to Bluesfest, all of these hardworking individuals are found at every major festival, which goes to show you: it takes an entire city to host a festival as successful as Bluesfest. I think it’s amazing that they hold consultations like this, to allow those who love the festival to help to make positive changes each year, and I hope they continue to do so in the future!
Now, we just wait for the line up to be announced. ?