Security a Concern for Bluesfest Attendees

Photos by Andre Gagne / Feature photo: Gatecrashers stopped by Ottawa Police at RBC Bluesfest, 2017

You would think that, given the country of origin, larger beer selection might top the list of wants for the thousands of music-loving Canucks that descend upon RBC Bluesfest each July. However, when over a hundred of them gathered last night with festival organizers to discuss how to improve the popular summer event one word kept popping up and it wasn’t beer. It was security.

For those that came together for the two-hour Community Open House inside Tom Brown Arena last night, it was evident early on that July 13, 2017 was still fresh in everybody’s minds. That night, Atlanta rappers Migos attracted a rowdier crowd that usual to LeBreton Flats which saw slower access to the grounds due to longer lines at security checkups. When alcohol and adrenaline were added to the mix, festival guards and staff quickly had to stop things from getting out of control as bottles were thrown, people were increasingly crushed at the barricades and others attempted to hop fences or, in one case, tear one down to get into the concert.

As one person last night put it, the Migos show became "drunken fest".

By night’s ends, 10 people found themselves in the hospital and 200 others were assessed for injuries and intoxication.   

“Certain types of music attract a certain type of atmosphere that requires more security,” one person near the front of the meeting said with many echoing the statement.  

Fans awaiting Migos to take the stage at RBC Bluesfest 2017.

Festival executive director Mark Monahan opened the night by addressing the fact that the public meeting, a first for Bluesfest, was happening because of the concerns that arose after the 2017 event. While members of the festival board of directors were present to help facilitate, the bulk of the night was turned over to those in attendance who were asked to come up with lists of problems and solutions that would then be analyzed by staff in the coming months.

Though it was suggested to outline different issues not already addressed by other groups, when it came time to read out primary concerns, each table would touch upon the security issue in one form or another.

“Security are not well trained,” said one.

“They just don’t care,” quipped another.

While TOERSA Security took a beating in the court of public opinion online after last year’s festival, some were not so quick to jump on them for how one particular night in the 24-years of Bluesfest was handled.

“Things are being blown out of proportion. With mass crowds, made up of thousands of youths there is bound to be problems here and there. I think it's an age thing, no relevance to the genre of music what so ever,” Naomi Hientz posted after returning from the Migos show.

Others, like Kim Fournier, pointed out that one style of music shouldn’t be blamed for what transpired. Other hip-hop shows or concerts geared towards the younger set finished without incident.

“People weren't fighting and causing problems at the 'ghetto rap' show. People were hurt because of the size of the crowd. There are those who drink and do drugs before or at any type of concert who will cause trouble. And assuming that the show got rowdy because it's hip-hop is prejudice!” Fournier posted.

Though six months removed, last night's discussion continued to focus on types of music and the crowds they attract. One participant received applause when he said that certain genres (read: rap) belong on certain nights and not alongside those that attract different crowds (read: country). While the festival has strived to be diverse in the shows that are offered, many felt the growing youthful crowds were bringing more negative vibes to a usually enjoyable summer experience. Drug use, drinking by minors and public urination were all subjects raised at a meeting that remained heavily focused on this one issue.

Monahan silently listened to solutions offered such as increasing police presence and even having drones monitor the crowd but would later tell the Ottawa Citizen that he was not looking to run a type of festival that would be akin to a “police-state”. Other suggestions included having more entrances, backpack size limitations, easily viewed crowd markers and help buttons on site.

“It’s always difficult to come up with a format for these types of events,” said Monahan at the end of the meeting. “The job now is what we do with the comments. We are committed to trying to make the festival better.”

One act, The Dave Matthews Band, has already been announced for the festival’s 2018 edition with a bigger lineup reveal to come next month. Organizers have also put up an online comment form for those not in attendance at the Open House to be heard.