In-person Lansdowne concert moves ahead as city teeters on red zone

Plans to host a live outdoor concert at Lansdowne Park for 100 people in two weeks are forging ahead, amid concerns Ottawa may be going into the red zone.

Rapid COVID-19 tests, masks, assigned seating part of plan for outdoor concert

The concert is set to take place outside the Aberdeen Pavilion at Ottawa's Lansdowne Park on March 27, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

Plans to host a live outdoor concert at Lansdowne Park for 100 people in two weeks are forging ahead, amid concerns Ottawa may be going into the red zone again.

After a year in which festivals and concert performers have largely been sidelined by the pandemic, organizers of "The Long Road Back" event say they are ready to put lessons learned in place for the concert at the park. The concert is a collaboration with the National Arts Centre and Ontario Festival Industry Taskforce (OFIT), a team of music presenters working with health authorities to establish safety protocols for live concerts.

If all goes according to plan, 100 fans will enjoy local soul ensemble The Commotions on March 27 at the Casino Lac-Leamy Plaza. 

Concertgoers must take a rapid COVID-19 antigen test at participating Shoppers Drug Mart stores 48 hours before the event — from 3:30 p.m. on March 25 to 3:30 p.m. March 27. Before they take seats the day of the event, they will be screened at the door for symptoms and must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test.

"Following the guidelines of physical distancing, it will be a masked event," said Mark Monahan, OFIT chair and founder of Ottawa's Bluesfest and CityFolk.

Masked audience members will be seated at tables spaced throughout the plaza. Monahan said the safety precautions will make attending the concert a safer bet than having dinner at a restaurant patio.

    "People now can go to an outdoor patio, but most don't have to do a rapid test," said Monahan. "We're trying to minimize the risk as much as possible. We cannot eliminate it, but we're trying to make it so low that people will feel comfortable going and look forward to enjoying the show."

    WATCH | Epidemiologist says safety measures should keep attendees safe:

    ‘Why are we doing this now?’: Epidemiologist says holding concert at Lansdowne Park isn’t ‘the best timing’

    2 years ago
    Duration 1:15
    Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor at the University of Ottawa, says a planned outdoor concert at Lansdowne Park for 100 masked fans is unnecessary but the safety measures in place should work to keep attendees safe.

    Organizers are planning the concert with the guidance of Rapid Test & Trace Canada, and its team of epidemiological experts from Simon Fraser, McGill and Harvard universities, and are in co-operation with the City of Ottawa and the provincial government's health authorities, states an OFIT news release Tuesday. 

    Not worried about superspreader event: expert

    "My gut reaction was why are we doing this now," said Raywat Deonandan, associate professor and epidemiologist at University of Ottawa.

    Deonandan pointed out that the transmission of COVID-19 is still very high in the region, especially with variants in the equation. 

    It's starting to feel like there's a little bit of hope on the horizon.- Heather Gibson, NAC

    However, he isn't worried about the concert at Lansdowne becoming a superspreader event.

    "I think everything is pretty safe, especially being outside and distanced," said Deonandan. "It's kind of like going for walks with a friend in the park and keeping your distance. It's probably fine, so long as the concert doesn't go on for hours."

    A file photo of an outdoor concert in P.E.I. Concert organizers say they can blend safety and musical enjoyment in an outdoor venue in Ottawa this March. (Sara Fraser/CBC)

    Ottawa Public Health (OPH) confirmed it helped advise safety protocols for the upcoming event. 

    Heather Gibson, executive producer of popular music and variety at the NAC, said the performing arts centre has facilitated numerous physically distanced, masked events in front of modest sized audiences during the pandemic. Now organizers are ready to bring the lessons they've learned about blending safety with musical enjoyment, outdoors.

    "It's starting to feel like there's a little bit of hope on the horizon," said Gibson. "If we can do these things and show various levels of government that we can very easily follow protocols, like other industries have, that's there is no reason we can't get back to work."

    Concert would be cancelled in red: city

    If the city moves to red-zone rules, which would not allow the concert in its current form, organizers say it would be postponed and ticket-holders would get refunds.

    During a virtual news conference Tuesday, Ottawa's Medical Officer of Health Dr. Vera Etches said OPH warned organizers that rapid testing isn't sufficient for the event — and physical distancing is what makes a difference against COVID-19 transmission. 

    If the province supports Ottawa's move into the red zone, the concert would be cancelled, she said.

    "It's not ideal at this time," added board of health chair Keith Egli. "If we do shift into the red zone, that would have an impact on whether that goes ahead." 


    Sandra Abma


    Sandra Abma is a veteran CBC arts journalist. If you have an event or idea you want to share, please do at

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