MARK MON­A­HAN:

THE MAN BE­HIND BLUES­FEST

Ottawa Business Journal - Ottawa at Home - - FRONT PAGE - Writ­ten by MARY TAGGART Pho­tog­ra­phy by MARK HOLLERON

Luck­ily for Mark Mon­a­han, he rec­og­nized that his nat­u­ral tal­ents leaned more to­wards a ca­reer in busi­ness than as a band mem­ber. Ot­tawa is lucky that he com­bined his pas­sion for mu­sic with his knack for busi­ness. As the brain­child be­hind Ot­tawa’s Blues­fest, which is about to en­ter its eigh­teenth sea­son, Mark has al­ways been in­ter­ested in mu­sic. He took lessons in his youth and dreamed of be­ing in a band, but when he re­al­ized that his artis­tic abil­i­ties were not go­ing to make him a liv­ing he en­rolled in mass com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Car­leton Univer­sity and con­cen­trated on busi­ness classes. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he got into the restau­rant and night­club in­dus­try.

Long-stand­ing Ot­tawans will re­mem­ber the Pen­guin on El­gin Street as a venue for live mu­sic. Mark owned the lounge and got his start book­ing and pro­mot­ing bands there. It was in 1994 that he had the idea of bring­ing a mu­sic fes­ti­val to Ot­tawa. He thought that cre­at­ing a pop­u­lar fes­ti­val would have a high po­ten­tial of suc­cess, and he was right!

With a $16,000 bud­get, the first Blues­fest be­gan as a fundraiser and has grown into the most pop­u­lar mu­sic fes­ti­val in the cap­i­tal. To­day, it has a bud­get of $12 mil­lion, and Blues­fest con­tin­ues to func­tion as a char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion with the aim of bring­ing a qual­ity fes­ti­val to the com­mu­nity. While the lo­ca­tion has changed and the list of per­form­ers has grown to in­clude artists of many gen­res, the con­cept is con­sis­tent. Mark is com­mit­ted to keep­ing the fes­ti­val fresh and unique with a goal to pro­mote lo­cal tal­ent in ad­di­tion to bring­ing in the big names.

The op­por­tu­nity to book A-list bands is greater here in the cap­i­tal than in a big­ger city where larger venues and mul­ti­ple fes­ti­vals com­pete for their per­for­mances. Also, as Ot­tawa can of­ten get missed on the con­cert tour, it of­fers Blues­fest the chance to put to­gether an im­pres­sive line-up of A-lis­ters. How­ever, Mark’s com­mit­ment to de­vel­op­ing and keep­ing lo­cal tal­ent in Ot­tawa is still a pri­or­ity.

“It is im­por­tant for cre­ative peo­ple to have an out­let in this city,” says the com­mu­nity minded en­tre­pre­neur. “We work hard to do this. And we are, in ef­fect, cre­at­ing an un­der­ground com­mu­nity for artists as we strive to cre­ate mean­ing­ful op­por­tu­ni­ties for lo­cals as well.”

The ded­i­ca­tion that Blues­fest shows to the mu­sic in­dus­try in Ot­tawa is re­mark­able. With a seven-mem­ber board run as a not-for-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion, the group has started a com­mu­nity pro­gram called “Be In A Band” which is named for all those kids who have ever wanted to be in one – in­clud­ing a teenaged Mark Mon­a­han.

“We put them in a band, give them equip­ment and men­tor them with lo­cal artists,” he says. “We think of it as giv­ing that miss­ing link to kids who want to be in band – they en­counter the same things as a reg­u­lar band, the same chal­lenges.”

The fa­ther of four girls, aged eight to 15, he rec­og­nizes the im­por­tance of keep­ing up on mu­sic trends by staying con­nected to youth. His own chil­dren in­spire his in­ter­ests and he shares his pas­sions with them. Re­cently, he trav­elled to the Coachella Fes­ti­val in Cal­i­for­nia with his 15-year-old daugh­ter, just one of the things he does through­out the year to stay on top of what oth­ers are do­ing and to keep Blues­fest cur­rent.

It’s im­por­tant for cre­ative peo­ple to have an out­let in this city

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