Ottawa

Festivals still waiting to see if the show can go on

Vaccinations for COVID-19 might be picking up speed, but festival organizers say it's still too early to say what kind of show they'll be putting on this summer.

Ottawa Children's Festival to go virtual this May, but later events still hopeful

Ottawa's Jazz Festival isn't planning for crowds of thousands this year, as it has in the past. (CBC)

Vaccinations for COVID-19 might be picking up speed, but festival organizers say it's still too early to say what kind of show they'll be putting on this summer.

The Ottawa International Jazz Festival has four possible versions in the works, but even the best case would look nothing like a pre-COVID event, according to executive producer Catherine O'Grady.

The hope, O'Grady said, is to hold a shorter seven-day outdoor festival in June with in-person concerts, featuring only Canadian artists who don't have to cross borders to get to Ottawa.

"Given the space that's available in Confederation Park, we've done the math," she said. "And to keep distancing, we think we can get 500 people in the park, as opposed to our usual many, many, many thousands."

All the scenarios include a virtual component, a model the festival has been refining ever since last year, O'Grady said, when it was "thrust into the lion's den and [had] to concoct something".

It just wrapped up a winter jazz festival held only online.

O'Grady had to decide Thursday about the other festival the organization runs — the Ottawa Children's Festival — and concluded it would only take place online this spring.

"Because it's May, and who knows how far we'll have rolled out in the vaccine world, I don't think families are going to want to risk coming to an in-person event," she said.

City wants to be flexible

The fate of special event permits for festivals will likely depend on what COVID-19 restrictions the city finds itself under, as well as whether people are fully vaccinated, said Anthony Di Monte, the general manager responsible for the City of Ottawa's vaccine rollout.

Di Monte said the city wants to help make events happen if possible, and help residents get back to a sense of normal life.

Everybody's in the same boat, whether it's the stage company or the artist or the food vendor. They're all waiting to see what they can do.- Ali Shafaee, director of DNA Live

"We're going to be very, very flexible [and] lean toward having events, as long as they can be done safely and within the public health rules," he said.

O'Grady said the jazz festival can be flexible, but only to a point, and due to stage and infrastructure costs will need to decide on the festival's format by early April.

Festivals pivoting

Organizers of the Escapade Music Festival, scheduled for mid-June, also have a lineup of artists booked.

"Everybody's in the same boat, whether it's the stage company or the artist or the food vendor. They're all waiting to see what they can do," said Ali Shafaee, director of DNA Live, which runs the festival.

Despite the pandemic, his company has managed to hold dozens of events, from drive-in concerts and movies at Wesley Clover Park to light shows on Halloween and other holidays.

DNA Live also received about $450,000 in grants from the Ontario government as part of a program aimed at helping event organizers adapt to public health measures.

"It's allowed us to be able to pivot and do some of these events we wouldn't normally do," said Shafaee.

The popular drive-in events will resume when the snow melts, he added, and he anticipates people will flood back to support live events whenever it's finally safe..

As for the city's largest festival, the Ottawa Bluesfest website still lists a lineup of acts slated for LeBreton Flats this summer. Its organizers, who also run CityFolk in September, were unavailable to comment.

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