No one ever started a petition against Gene Simons coming to Ottawa. Remember that a little later on.

But for now Ottawa music fans need to get over themselves.

Every year it’s the same thing; the organizers of BluesFest announce their lineup of musical acts following a week of hype and anticipation (it’s like Christmas in March for live music fans) and for the next week or so people complain and whine about the lineup on social media. There isn’t enough of this or too much of that or this isn’t good enough etc. etc. For the week or so following the official announcement of who will be gracing the multitude of BluesFest’s stages, everyone becomes an expert in music festivals and the entire music industry. And then the noise subsides, spring pries winter’s last icy fingers off the world and when July rolls around everyone is at a loss to find the words to describe how awesome BluesFest was and how great the headliners (who they were bashing just a few months previous) were, and how they can’t wait until next year. For ten days the biggest complaint is about people sitting in lawn chairs with the weather a close second. And then the following March they’re bitching all over again, recycling the same complaints over and over.

But this year there’s a fresh new twist. It’s been both hilarious and disappointing to watch so many “music lovers” in the Nation’s Capital lose their minds over Kanye West’s inclusion as one of this year’s headliners. When the announcement was leaked hours before being formally made last week, Ottawa’s musical pretension really hit the fan-at Mach speed. People weren’t just upset-they were pissed. The announcement’s vocal opponents stammered at how horrible a choice he was because not only was he a terrible musician, like the worst one ever, he had a huge ego, an unforgiveable crime in and of itself. There were people claiming they were personally insulted by the choice, others screaming that everyone should boycott the annual festival, there’s already a Facebook page devoted to hating both the man and his selection and there’s even a petition circling the internet (complete with thousands of irate signatures), demanding that Bluesfest’s organizers cancel his appearance, replacing him with someone, anyone, else.


Look, I’m not a fan of either West or his music, but not only this entire thing beyond absurd but it’s the kind of thing this city too often pulls that has earned it the name “the town fun forgot.” First of all let’s give the organizers behind Bluefest a much deserved round of applause. Most people struggle to successfully pull off small shows at small little clubs (trust me, I know) so most people can’t imagine the enormous logistical effort needed to plan such a huge event. What’s involved in booking dozens of acts, ranging from popular headliners that will attract thousands of show goers every night to finding up and coming indie acts that can take advantage of the crowds lured in by the top performers to expand their own fan base is beyond imagining. Scheduling all of that to accommodate everyone’s already extensive travel schedules, providing a wide range of content to satisfy almost everyone’s musical tastes, coordinating with sponsors and ticket sellers and stage builders and municipal bureacrats (which is about as fun as a colonoscopy from a barbed wire salesman) to beer vendors and the port-a-potty suppliers is a truly Herculean task. And once that’s all said and done and finally in place, the organizers get to spend the duration of the festival fire fighting the infinite number of problems that pop up on a minute-by-minute basis and keeping their fingers crossed that the weather co-operates and the stages don’t collapse. Everyone who considers themselves a music fan in this city shouldn’t merely applaud the movers and shakers behind Bluefest, but they should also be lining up to buy them a beer or five once it’s done. Hopefully we’ve retired the stale “but it isn’t about blues anymore” argument; Bluesfest has transcended a single musical genre and wisely embraces all of them, and judging by the festival’s attendance, the expanded range is a huge success. Last year’s festival, headlined by the likes of Lady Gaga, Queens of the Stone Age, Blake Shelton and Snoop Dogg (among many others) set a new attendance record of just over three hundred thousand people. If the festival was still just about blues, not only would it have failed to come anywhere close to that number, it would have died a quiet death years ago. Future Shop just became a memory, tossed on the same heap of failure along with Target and Jacob’s and Mexx, the entire music recording industry is perched on the edge of collapse and network broadcasters and cable companies are beginning to panic as their business models are being challenged by innovations in the marketplace-all because they refused to adapt to changing times. Bluesfest has successfully navigated the music industry’s rapidly changing waters with calculated agility and should be commended for it. Supporting local and independent music acts on top of all that is extra icing on an already awesome cake.

But back to West. I get that plenty of people don’t like him. Calling him controversial is like saying the NRA kind of likes guns, but the man sells-his albums have sold more than 21 million copies (with another staggering 66 million digital downloads) while his live performances sell out the world over. Amy Lamothe, the person behind the anti-West Facebook page, said that Bluesfest organizers would be wiser to invest the sizeable chunk of change they spent to land West in a better, more relevant act. Better for whom though, exactly? Musical tastes are perhaps the most subjective things on the planet and just because Lamothe doesn’t think he’s a good artist doesn’t mean that millions of others don’t. And don’t rap fans get to have an act or two at the city’s largest music festival every now and then? Love him or hate him, the fact remains that West has won 21 Grammy awards that say he is indeed quite relevant, you can bet a week’s pay that when his day on the Bluesfest main stage arrives, there won’t be an empty seat in the house and his numbers will likely challenge (or even surpass) last year’s record setting attendance.

What’s really comical is that all the people ripping their hair out and claiming that this is the end of both art and civilization seem to be trying to sell the idea that they’re repulsed by his ego. Really? Because KISS front man and notorious womanizer/marriage hater Gene Simmons has an ego so large that it pretty much generates its own gravitational pull, and I don’t ever recall anyone throwing a temper tantrum over any of his appearances in O-town. Like I said, I’m not a fan of West, but people need to realize that his infamous ego, along with his award show shenanigans and even his marriage to Kim Kardashian is all a part of his brand, just like Brittany Spear’s sex kitten outfits and Gene Simmons extensive list of sexual conquests and Keith Richards six drug overdoses are a part of theirs. And all this gnashing of teeth is just adding to West’s luster in the eyes of his very, very large fan base (see his sales numbers above). You don’t like him? Fine, don’t go to the show, it’s that simple, but starting a petition to can him is just petty and stupid. The truth is his ego isn’t what offends most of the offended, it’s the idea of having a rap act headlining what has traditionally been a rock show that has no shortage of under garments in a twist. Besides, this is what the Bluefest organizers do all year round, and as the numbers of fans who are drawn to the show every year ranks in the hundreds of thousands, I’d say they know what they’re doing and are a little more savvy a then their critics. So Ottawa music fans, consider this a much-needed call to grow up and get over yourselves.

Shayne Kempton


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