THE MAN BEHIND BLUESFEST
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