Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Bluesfest announces Neil Young, 50 Cent, Nickleback and more for 2024

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Full-festival passes will be available during a presale running from 10 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. on Friday. Single-day tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. on Saturday.

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Ottawa Bluesfest will host an epic 30th-anniversary party this summer, with a slate of headliners that includes rock legend Neil Young, hip hop heavyweight 50 Cent, Can-rockers Nickelback, Moves Like Jagger entertainers Maroon 5 and more.

The multi-stage concert extravaganza runs from July 4 to 14 in its usual home on the grounds of the Canadian War Museum at LeBreton Flats Park. Like last year, there will be nine days of programming divided between four stages (three outdoors and one inside the museum) over two extended weekends: from Thursday to Sunday, July 4-7, and from Wednesday to Sunday, July 10-14.

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As for the lineup, the biggest fish to be reeled in this year is Young, who’s embarking on the first North American tour in a decade with his classic band, Crazy Horse. The last time they were in Ottawa was for an arena show in 2012.

“Any time you get the chance to do Neil Young, you gotta take it,” said Mark Monahan, executive and artistic director of Bluesfest. He had booked Young once before — to play CityFolk, Bluesfest’s sister festival, in 2013 — but that date was among the shows cancelled after one of the musicians was injured.

This time, Monahan said an inquiry came from Young’s long-time booking agent, Marsha Vlasic, who also works with Iggy Pop. She had visited Ottawa last year to see Iggy tear up the CityFolk stage and offered Bluesfest the chance to book Young, although it took time to make it all happen.

“There are so many pieces some of these headliners have to put together to get a tour going,” Monahan said. “This has taken a few months, but we’re very excited.”

Young, 78, recently announced the first leg of his Love Earth tour, including a Canadian stop at Toronto’s Budweiser Stage on May 20. A new album, Fu##in’Up, is due for release April 20 on vinyl and April 26 on all other formats.

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The Toronto-born Young will make his Bluesfest debut on July 11.

Other headliners confirmed for their first time at the festival include Maroon 5, the pop-rock outfit fronted by Adam Levine, and American rapper Nas, considered one of the most influential hip hop artists of all time. Previously announced acts Mötley Crüe and Tyler Childers are making their Bluesfest debuts.

For the acts returning to Bluesfest, it’s been a while. Nickelback pounded the main stage in 2012, while country-rockers Zac Brown Band played in 2013 and 50 Cent was the ringleader of a good time in 2017.

The festival starts July 4 with a show that elevates Canadian pop-rockers Mother Mother to main-stage status, and also includes sets by festival favourites Orville Peck and Tokyo Police Club, among others.

Nickelback
Nickelback will be the headliner for Bluesfest on July 5. Photo by Handout

July 5 is Nickelback’s day to shine, topping a bill that also features Noah Cyrus, Ziggy Alberts and Warren Zeiders, among others. July 6 finds 50 Cent in the spotlight along with Mt. Joy, Shred Kelly, Dwayne Dopsie and the Zydeco Hellraisers, and more.

Maroon 5 is confirmed for July 7, with Future Islands, Pokey LaFarge, Chelsea Cutler, Carly Rae Jepsen, Tyler Shaw and more, before the festival takes a two-day break. It roars back to life on July 10, when the  Zac Brown Band will chicken-fry your world, sharing space with Charley Crockett, Matthew Good, the Blackburn Brothers, Yonatan Gat and more.

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Young’s banner night on July 11 will also involve performances by Corb Lund, Josh Ross, Steph Strings and others, followed by country balladeer Childers on July 12. Filling out that day’s schedule are Bahamas, TALK, Bombino and more.

Hard-rockers Mötley Crüe will host a Saturday-night blowout on July 13, part of a bill also including The Tea Party, J.J. Wilde, Sean Pinchin, T.J. Wheeler, Tony D. and more.

50 cent
Hip hop artist 50 Cent, seen here the NBA All-Star Game in Indianapolis on Feb. 17, is scheduled to perform at Bluesfest on July 6. He previously played the Ottawa event in 2017. Photo by Stacy Revere /Getty Images

Finally, it’s up to Nas to close out the festival on July 14, heading another diverse day of programming, with Ben Howard, Genevieve Racette, Le Winston Band, J.W. Jones and more.

On site, the most visible difference in the setup will be a gap in the western skyline where the Ferris wheel used to be. Since 2017, it has framed sunsets over the Ottawa River, served as a high-profile meeting point and taken  festivalgoers on rides offering birds-eye views of the crowds.

This year, the big wheel won’t be turning. In its place will be another bar, a Western-themed saloon that’s the result of a new sponsorship deal with Kanata’s country-music hotspot, Crazy Horse. Expect to find a broader array of beverages than the Molson products offered elsewhere on site.

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Also new this year is an improved VIP area and an ultra-VIP “platinum” section.

The VIP area was reconfigured as a result of crowd surveys showing that people thought it was too crowded, Monahan said. Numbers will be reduced, sightlines will be improved, more washrooms will be available and there will be a dedicated fast-lane entrance at the front gate. The cost of a full-festival VIP-club pass is $1392.00, including taxes and fees. They are sold out, but VIP passes for individual days are still available, as are a limited number of higher-priced reserved seats in the VIP section.

In the platinum section, a steeper price will get you the same perks, but even closer to the RBC Main Stage. This exclusive area will be added to the corporate suites and will include access to a restricted pit area in front of the stage. A full platinum pass costs $3358.20, including taxes and fees, for the entire nine days, making it Bluesfest’s most expensive pass ever. 

The changes will not cut into the space available to general-admission concertgoers in front of the stage, Monahan said, nor will it impede the view of wheelchair users in the elevated section designated for them.

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While blues purists have long complained about the lack of blues in the lineup, Monahan says this year’s edition includes a daily dose of blues, usually on the tented Sirius XM stage. One highlight is expected to be the Blues Harp Blow-off featuring Ottawa’s Steve Marriner facing off against American masters such as Jerry Portnoy, who used to play with Muddy Waters, and Annie Raines, one of the instrument’s top female players.

The festival is also an important showcase of Ottawa-area talent. Out of 600 regional acts vying for Bluesfest spots, about 40 were chosen, including LH Express, OK Naledi, Mia Kelly, Lynne Hanson, Murray Kinsley and Wicked Grin, Raphael Weinroth-Browne and Jessica Pearson and the East Wind.

Last year, thanks to a stretch of good weather and a lineup featuring three sold-out-in-advance shows — take a bow Shania Twain, Foo Fighters and Pitbull — Bluesfest regained its pre-pandemic attendance numbers. Monahan said the event drew about 300,000 visitors.

“I think it was the first year we put the COVID years behind us,” Monahan said.

CityFolk, the sister festival run by the same team as Bluesfest, also had a good year in 2023, with attendance close to 40,000 attendees. Plans are already underway for this year’s CityFolk, set for Sept. 11-15 at Lansdowne Park.

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The success of last year’s festivals reflects a general upswing across the concert industry, Monahan added. Although costs are up, people are snapping up tickets to see their favourite artists.

Live Nation Entertainment, the world’s leading live-entertainment company, last week reported a record year in 2023, with revenue up 36 per cent to $22.7 billion U.S., and all-time highs in attendance, ticket sales and sponsorship activity.

That level of action translates to a competitive booking environment, Monahan said. “If you have a wish list, those names are in demand, so you have to plan as early as possible and hope you get the date.”

To purchase passes or day tickets for this year’s event, go to the frontgatetickets.com website.

Complete programming details are available at the ottawabluesfest.ca website.

lsaxberg@postmedia.com

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