If you’re looking for great music acts in the great outdoors, look no further than Ottawa in the summer! When the weather heats up, Canada’s scenic capital, which is nestled on the banks of the majestic Ottawa River, becomes home to several world-class music festivals. From Jazz stars, to Pop and Country headliners, to Indie and Folk, there’s a music scene that is sure to suit you. And the best part? Most of these exciting festivals are within a 20-minute walk from any downtown-area hotel. Get into the downtown core by car or by taxi (approximately $30 CDN from the airport) and explore the music scene on foot!
Though great activities are available in the city year-round, Ottawa’s summer music festival season kicks off in June and goes until mid-September. If live music is what you’re after, find out about some of Ottawa’s larger music festivals here:
Westfest (June 3-5, 2016):
Each year, more than 100,000 people attend this music festival in Ottawa’s Westboro neighbourhood that highlights Canadian art and culture. Spanning across 14 city blocks, Westfest offers live music on a main stage as well as contemporary dance performances, visual art, media art, spoken word poetry, fiction readings and Aboriginal art, to name a few. Established in 2004, this free admission festival seeks to celebrate emerging and well-known contemporary artists. One of the things that makes Westfest unique is its Aboriginal content!
TD Ottawa Jazz Festival (June 22-July 3, 2016):
From June 22 on, you can catch performances under the stars at Confederation Park from acts such as Sarah McLachlan, Buffy Sainte-Marie, the Chick Corea Trio, Stacey Kent, Kamasi Washington, Sharon Jones & the DAP-Kings and Brian Wilson, to name a few. This festival hosts about 300 Canadian performers each year and attracts nearly 180,000 fans. And as the Jazz Festival takes place on July 1, admission on this day is free!
Canada Day is THE day to be in Ottawa, as the city is home to the country’s biggest birthday celebration. On this day, you can stroll around and take in many free concerts that take place on Parliament Hill and throughout Ottawa’s downtown core. And don’t miss an impressive fireworks display at 10:00 p.m. sharp!
Tim Hortons Ottawa Dragon Boat Festival (June 23-26, 2016):
This annual celebration of the historic dragon boat tradition takes place at Mooney’s Bay, along the Rideau River. This is North America’s largest dragon boat event, in which more than 200 teams compete! In addition to the colourful boats and exciting races, this free-admission festival offers world-class entertainment each evening with acts such as July Talk, Mother Mother, Alvvays and A Tribe Called Red. At this festival, you’ll also find a variety of exhibitors and artisans, food and drinks as well as a Children’s Area with fun activities. This festival is sure to entertain all ages!
Heineken Escapade Music Festival (June 25-26, 2016):
Taking place the weekend before Canada Day, “Escapade” as it’s known locally, is Ottawa’s electronic dance music festival. Head to Rideau Carleton Raceway & Entertainment Centre, located at about a 20-minute drive south of Ottawa’s downtown core, to see headliners such as Ben Gold, Diplo, Hunter Siegel, Mark Knight and many more. Attracting a typically younger crowd, this is one of Ottawa’s wilder summer music festivals!
Music & Beyond (July 4-17, 2016):
Kicking off the July music festival list is Music & Beyond, a classical music and multi-disciplinary arts festival. Over 14 days, this festival hosts about 80 concerts that feature orchestras, wind ensembles, instrumental and vocal recitals as well as smaller ensembles. It also draws attention to connections existing between classical music and other art forms such as dance, visual art, poetry, yoga and architecture, among others. This festival, which is attended by about 36,000 fans each year, aims to make classical music affordable for all audiences, including students, seniors and families.
RBC Bluesfest (July 7-17, 2016):
This is one of Ottawa’s biggest and most anticipated annual music festivals! And don’t let its name fool you: “Bluesfest” offers much more than Blues. Taking place just steps from Ottawa’s downtown core at LeBreton Flats (beside the Canadian War Museum), this festival offers major headliners from the Country, Jazz, Pop, Rock and House music genres –to name a few. Get together with 300,000 Bluesfest fans over 11 days to enjoy 2016 acts such as Brad Paisley, The Lumineers, Sam Hunt, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Decemberists and Nelly, among many others. Past performers have included Sting, Van Morrison, The White Stripes and The Black Eyed Peas. This is one of the top music festivals in North America!
HOPE Volleyball SummerFest (July 16, 2016):
This annual day-long festival is known to be one of Ottawa’s favourite summer events, attracting a crowd of about 20,000 each year! Taking place at the scenic Mooney’s Bay Park along the Rideau River, this beach volleyball tournament benefits several local charities and offers an outdoor concert line-up for players and spectators alike. Bands perform throughout the day from 11:00 a.m. to about 3:00 p.m. Then in the early evening, headliners take the stage from 4:00 p.m. on. This is a day of fun in the sun for a good cause!
Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival (July 21-Aug. 4, 2016):
Known locally as “Chamberfest,” this festival is the largest of its kind in the world! If classical music is what you’re after, you’ll find it here as Chamberfest offers an array of about 100 performances from approximately 450 artists from around the world. Many of these performances take place in some of Ottawa’s most beautiful churches. This is a great way to spend a summer evening and get out of the heat!
Chamberfest was first established in 1994 and has steadily grown over time to now welcome more than 60,000 fans each year. From quartets, to pianists, to unique contemporary and theatrical events, this festival has a little something for everyone. Chamberfest headliners for this year include Marie-Josée Lord, Te Amo, Argentina, Constantinople and Gryphon Trio and Friends, among others. For the full festival line-up, visit the Chamberfest website.
CityFolk (Sept. 15-18, 2016):
CityFolk is the new name of the Ottawa Folk Festival, which was first established in 1994! This festival is a four-day celebration of music, dance and visual art, offering various musical performances, music workshops, family-friendly activities, artisan and craft vendors, and much more. This festival aims to celebrate artistic creativity as well as community. Each year, CityFolk attracts about 50,000 fans. The 2016 CityFolk festival will take place at the newly renovated Lansdowne Park, located just south of Ottawa’s downtown core along the scenic banks of the Rideau Canal. Past CityFolk performers include Van Morrison, Walk Off The Earth, Passenger and Elle King. You can catch more than 25 performances over the festival’s four days!
These are Ottawa’s larger music festivals, but you can still find live music acts at smaller outdoor festival venues such as the Festival franco-ontarien in June, and the Gatineau Hot Air Balloon Festival from Sept. 1-5, 2016. To learn more about Ottawa’s festivals, visit Ottawa Tourism’s website.
Now, you have your festival ticket or you know which one you’re attending. But are you wondering what else you might need? Here are a few suggestions to make sure you have a great time:
- Wear proper shoes: As most of these music festivals take place outside, plan for rough and uneven terrain. You don’t want your heels getting caught in the ground. Opt for something relatively flat, which will also prevent you from rolling your ankle on uneven ground. You’ll be comfortable and ready to dance the night away!
- Bring a folding chair: Though most fans stand or walk around at these outdoor festivals, a folding chair is a good idea if you anticipate needing a rest. A folding chair is also a great thing to have if you plan on relaxing and watching a specific act for most of the evening.
- Water bottle: As these festivals take place in the summer heat – which can be quite humid in Ottawa – a water bottle will help to keep you hydrated and keep you cool. Also, there are often bottle refilling stations at these festivals. Be sure to drink plenty of water on a hot day. You won’t be able to enjoy the festival if you have heat stroke.
- Bring sunscreen: Sunscreen or sunblock will prevent your skin from getting burned in Ottawa’s hot summer sun. Keep in mind that the sun’s strongest hours are between 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. So be sure to re-apply your product or to seek shelter in the shade during this time. Again, make sure to drink some water!
- Bring a jacket or a sweater: Though Ottawa’s summer days can be extremely hot, its summer nights usually bring in a cool breeze –especially if you are in an open space like LeBreton Flats. Bring a sweater or a light jacket to help keep you cozy once the sun has gone down.