Navigating Bluesfest

If you’ve been a frequent attendee of RBC Bluesfest since the “Big Man” Clarence Clemons took to the stage back in 1994, you’ve grown accustomed to change. I’m not just talking line-up fluctuations, but entire festival uprooting! What started at Majors Hill Park would move to outside City Hall and then change digs again to the current location at LeBreton Flats where site organizers are still tweaking with the layout to maximize the experience for patrons. You know, like making things nice and comfy for the killdeer population in town to see Bryan Adams!

For example, the dreaded sound bleed. Who caught that now epic moment when Glen Hansard of the hush quiet band The Swell Season told his sound engineer to crank it up so he can thunderously strum his acoustic towards the prog-rock ruckus of Rush drowning out his music?  This major issue in years passed seems to be aptly addressed with a stage removal from the direct line of musical fire and, now, a tented stage. Yup, we’re down one less stage this year but nobody should be moaning about sound bleed.

And then there are those bottlenecks on packed nights. How do you move though the sea of bodies to get to another drink, your buddies or, most importantly, the show? Got other pressing questions like how do I get to the pizza? Filling stations? The Ferris wheel?

Here’s some helpful tip to get you from point A.J. Croce to point Zeds Dead quicker than a hiccup as well as a few other choice navigational aids.

  • If you’ve taken a gander at the 2018 festival map you’ll see things have moved around again, the biggest change being the removal of that stage in the main bowl. Yup, so long River Stage, Claridge is now the tented space a few hops away from last year’s popular Ferris wheel. That means traffic should be freer flowing in the larger area with less people trying to crunch past you while you’re in line for your Potato Tornado.
  • Got only a few minutes before the show starts and looking to get to the Blacksheep stage all zippy like? Instead of walking around the War Museum try going through it. There is a security gate at the doors leading behind the museum that tend to never be crowded.
  • Though there should be less main bowl crowding this year, I still suggest using the Vimy Place strip of road in front of the Museum to get to areas like The Fort, The Big Chill and, now, the Clardige Homes stage.
  • Did you know there’s a spot to snag some beer on that strip, too? While the bevy tents closer to the stages tend to fill, the one on Vimy is usually a pretty clear past to thirst obliteration.
  • Hot day and need some shade? I know, at first glance the fest grounds can seem like a sun magnet but there are some spots to escape into. Try basking in the shadowy goodness of the main stage sound tower, find yourself an umbrella by the RBC setup in The Fort or check out a show in the Barney Danson Theatre with bonus air conditioning!
  • For those with accessibility needs, the festival has established an Accessibility volunteer team (A-Team). Look for the guy wearing gold with a mohawk that’s rambling off about “pitting the Foo Fighters. Just kidding! A-Team volunteers will be roaming the site to offer support, and they are also stationed in a tent near the Info Booth to offer guidance as needed.
  • Remember those folks wandering about with question mark signs are not minions of The Riddler but volunteers with the aforementioned Info Booth. They are trained to answer you q’s and point you in the right direction. Just, you know, don’t ask them the wingspan velocity of an unladen killdeer….err, I mean unladen swallow.
  • Be sure to snag a daily lineup grid at the gates or Info Booth to see if anything has changed up.
  • I discovered last year that should you not have access to the view from the Coors Light Party Central tower, paying a couple bucks to take a ride on the Ferris Wheel gives you a fantastic lay of the land.
  • While the main bowl has most of the grub, you will only find the Gabriel Pizza by the Claridge Homes stage. But, if looking to feed your need to the ‘za and don’t want to move from your choice spot, Gabriels often has crew roaming the site and they are happy to come to you. Just look for the big red backpacks.
  • Also of note, the War Musuem has a canteen open during the fest if you want to sit inside and chow down. Plus there’s coffee!
  • Autographs can be obtained once again in The Fort area. Check early to see who’s signing that day.
  • If the crowds are a bit too much for you, the festival’s large screens offer a great place to see the show without feeling the crunch. There’s one in the main bowl but the hidden gem is the one out on Vimy Place. Not far from the above mentioned beer tent, you got a fantastic spot to watch that is close to a drink and the exit after the show.
  • If you want to see the stage itself and avoid the crowds try snagging a spot early on the hill behind The Fort. It’s a great view above the audience.
  • My secret after festival escape plan is moving towards the exit gate as the band is coming back for the encore. You’re positioned ahead of the big rush to the street and can squeak out quickly after the final tune.
  • Those who have tried to take OC Transpo after the fest know it can be can-o-sardines like crammed. If you are able, I suggest biking and taking advantage of the fest’s free bike park on Booth Street.
  • Finally, if you do want to take the bus and can wait for the crowd to die down, check out some of the buskers up Booth. This really is like an extra show for your buck and there’s lots of talent there. Dube Brothers, anyone?

Alright, now you are set to navigate the festival grounds like a champ!