Good ReadsGlenna’s Drive: 21 Years on the Road for Bluesfest Volunteer

Glenna’s Drive: 21 Years on the Road for Bluesfest Volunteer

Glenna’s Drive: 21 Years on the Road for Bluesfest Volunteer

Photos supplied by Glenna Gosewich.

Ray Charles steps into the car and, eyeing him in the rearview mirror, she realizes she has no idea what to say. Flash forward and Sting has just removed his shirt in the back seat and, understandably distracted, she makes a wrong turn. Then there was the time she cruised the streets of Ottawa with Snoop, music blasting, nobody quite realizing who they were.

These are just three of the 21 years worth of stories for RBC Bluesfest’s Transportation Area Leader, Glenna Gosewich.  A Conference and Events Manager for the rest of the year, a chance suggestion two decades ago would change the course of her summers and put her face to face with some of the music industry’s elite. She hasn’t looked back since…well, maybe once that time Sting was changing shirts in the back seat.

“I’m so grateful that I’ve been a part of Bluesfest, a part of its evolution and a part of its ups and downs over the years,” Gosewhich tells Ottawa Life as she gears up today for another festival.

Though her role has shifted some over the years, Gosewhich has always welcomed the challenges the two weeks brings and, of course, the stories she gets to tell. If only her radio would stay quiet long enough so she could see a full show every once in a while.

Snoop cropped
Glenna and Snoop Dogg.

Ottawa Life: Can you tell me a bit about your background outside of Bluesfest?

Glenna Gosewhich: I’ve done everything from sponsorship to communications to events to marketing and everything in between. I also work on a TV show about the Ottawa Senators. Between hockey in the winter, Blues in the summer, and work, I stay pretty busy! I also work out five to seven days a week and love reading.

How did you get involved with the festival?

 It’s a long story involving an ex-boyfriend who volunteered one year to stay busy. He lasted one year and I’m still here 21 years later! I really can’t believe it’s been so long! Three of those years I worked as the Director of Sponsorship for the festival as well.

Can you explain what exactly you do at the festival?

 Aside from the first year when I volunteered as a driver in Transportation and I also worked in the Merch tent, I have always been the Area Leader for Transportation. I connect with the performers and their management starting a couple of months before the festival to gather as much information as possible regarding their ground transportation requirements while they’ll be in Ottawa. For the most part we transfer them between the airport, hotels and festival grounds, but now and then we do things like run them to the U.S. border or to Montreal, or take them shopping, or to play golf, or even to a recording studio. Most of the time I deal with the requests and dispatch my crew to do the actually driving. I don’t get to drive as much as I’d like these days but I still use my “power” when it comes to driving a particular person I’d like to meet.

Glenna and Kevin Costner.

What have been some of your most memorable experiences working the festival?

Two come to mind: I’ve always been a huge Field of Dreams fan so when I got to drive Ray Kinsella (aka Kevin Costner) multiple times, it was a pretty big thrill. I remember looking at him in the passenger seat thinking how surreal it was to have him there chatting with me like a regular guy (with a killer grin); driving Sting while he changed in the backseat of the van was also pretty amazing. Unfortunately, his bare chest and conversation were a little distracting and I made a bad turn that then lead to a crazy U-turn to get back on track.

So, you’ve met a few celebs. Any other stories?

Richie Havens was a wonderful gentleman and I am so lucky I got to spend some time with him when he played here in the ‘90’s. Hanging out with Fergie, talking about her (then) boyfriend, Josh Duhamel, as we waited for the guys to change for the Black Eyed Peas after party was pretty cool… just regular girl talk. Dr. John is one more legend I was lucky enough to meet and having him call me child with his beautiful New Orleans accent every time we spoke was sweet. Driving Ray Charles and being too young and nervous to say much to him was still cool. Having Snoop Dogg in the back seat of the vehicle, blaring his own music with the windows down as we drove through downtown Ottawa and having no on one the streets even recognize him. Oh, another Sting story! On the way in from the airport, Sting sat behind me with his head bowed the entire ride in. It wasn’t until we got to the site that I could look behind and saw that he and his band mate had been playing a magnetic game of chess the whole time.

100_3489What about some of your favourite shows?

 Unfortunately, I really don’t get to see too many shows. My radio tends to go off in the middle of them and I end up missing the songs I want to hear. But over the years, I have been lucky enough to see at least parts of some great show. Blue Rodeo has and will always be a favourite of mine. The Black Crowes were incredible! Having David Gray perform at the festival was wonderful. Huey Lewis, my first concert ever when I was a teenager, put on a great show. Having Marc Cohn play a song I had personally requested was a thrill. Of course my radio went off and I missed it.

Can you take me through a typical shift for you on site?

 If it’s a weekend, I leave a list with the pre-assigned rides for my drivers when I leave the site the night before so that they can just arrive on-site, pick up their keys and vehicles, and also any additional instructions and then head out on their rides. If it’s a weekday, I take over from my assistant at about 5:00 pm and he briefs me on the day’s events and the new requests he’s received while he’s be on. Over the course of the shift I receive new requests from the performers of the day along with requests from the performers heading for Ottawa in the days to follow. I assign rides to my drivers as needed. Some requests come in at the last minute and some have been pre-scheduled. Some requests are for as few as one person and some can be for as many as 24! It just depends on the group. Some rides take place on time and sometimes we can wait more than an hour for a performer or group to show up for their ride. What makes things really interesting are the road closures that take place every night to allow the crowd to get off site in a quick and safe manner. The shift usually ends at about 1:00 or 1:30 am when everyone is off site and back at their hotels.

100_6396What has you coming back each year?

 It’s hard to point at just one thing and say “that’s it!” It’s great being part of one of Ottawa’s biggest annual events. My transportation crew. The Bluesfest family. The stories we have at the end of each festival. Some of the performers I get to meet and still hope to meet and sometimes even the music.


What has your festival experience meant to you?

After 20 years, Bluesfest is simply a part of my life and a part of me. Some of my most interesting stories and some of my most challenging situations have been the result of my time with the festival. I’ve made some great friends through this festival and I know that like Bluesfest, I’ve grown and evolved along with it over the years.

IMG_0502If you were to describe Bluesfest to somebody who has never heard of it what would you say?

Bluesfest started off as a modest little weekend festival and has grown into the event of the summer in Ottawa. We’ve had everyone from Ray Charles to The Black Crowes to Rhianna to Bonnie Raitt to Sting to BB King to Keith Urban to hundreds of bands you’ve never heard of perform over the years. It’s truly got something for everyone. Whether you’re into EDM or country or classic rock or blues, you’ll be able to come see and enjoy shows every year. And if you give it a chance, Bluesfest will help you discover a new band or performer so that you can’t wait to come back again the next year. It’s a wonderful event that enhances our city and continues to do good things by helping keep the arts alive in our community.

How have you felt your festival volunteer experience has come into play during your everyday life?

It’s given me some of my most entertaining stories. How many people can say they drove Sting while he changed in the back seat of your vehicle? It’s helped train me to deal with challenging situations when I’ve had to really think on my feet. It’s also helped train me to manage a team and treat them with respect so that they keep coming back year after year. It’s taught me that the performers are just regular people. Some are kind, considerate and genuine, and some are full of themselves and can’t even give others the time of day. I can’t think of anyone I know who hasn’t been to Bluesfest at some time, so it tends to come up in conversation pretty frequently and I’m proud to say that I’m a part of it.

With over 20 years of festival experience, do you think it has changed much over the years?

There’s no question that it’s changed. Aside from the fact that it’s still a July music festival and still run by Mark Monahan, nothing else about it is the same. The size, length, number of performers, stages, fans, sponsors, types of music, price of tickets and the location have all changed. It’s grown and evolved over the years from a modest little festival to a huge event. Festivals in general have changed and if Bluesfest was to remain relevant, of course it needed to change as well.


Ottawa Life’s Festival City Series will provide a unique look at some of your favourite summer events.We’ll go beyond the music with artist interviews, volunteer profiles, concert reviews and spotlights on the tastes, sights and sounds of the festival season. Your city! Your festivals! Your summer! Like a good sunscreen, Ottawa Life has you covered.

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