The recent announcement of the lineup for Ottawa’s 30th Bluesfest has some wondering why this year’s headliners are almost all men including Neil Young, Maroon 5, 50 Cent, Mötley Crüe and Nickelback.

The only female act on the largest stage at the festival after 6 p.m. will be singer Noah Cyrus.

“As someone who once coordinated the Bluesfest School of Music and Art, I think it’s a shame the girls who took music lessons under your name won’t see themselves reflected in these headliners,” Katie Manners, programming manager at the Ottawa-based music and arts organization Debaser, commented on Instagram.

Manners suggests that Bluesfest could use some fresh thinking.

I think it’s a shame the girls who took music lessons under your name won’t see themselves reflected in these headliners

Katie Manners, programming manager at Ottawa music and arts organization Debaser

“Bluesfest has been around for 30 years and it’s founded by somebody who’s still directing it,” said Manners. “I feel like a lot of the headliners that they’ve booked, you know, you could have booked them 20 or 30 years ago.”

“I don’t really know what that says about the progressiveness of the programming in general,” she added.

Similar complaints were posted on the festival’s Instagram announcing the lineup.

“Not a single female headliner? @bookmorewomen,” wrote @morganhotsotn. “Not a single female headliner?” asked @morganhotston.

As programming manager for Debaser, Manners is responsible for helping book artists, create line-ups for events and festivals.

Debaser’s festival series PIQUE features several female and non-binary artists as does the city’s other summertime musical event The Ottawa Jazz Festival.

The annual PIQUE festival organized by Debaser makes a point of showcasing women and non-binary performers. [Photo @ Katie Manners]

Jazzfest features five female headliners this June, including Norah Jones, Laufey and Veronica Swift.

“We always try to build our line-up with diversity in mind,” said Petr Cancura, interim executive director and artistic director of the festival. “Diversity and authenticity are our driving forces in looking for talent to bring to the city.”

Top Five Largest Bluesfests Shows

The following artists had the largest crowds and biggest turnouts in Bluesfest’s history. While festival organizers can’t exactly track the number of attendees the majority of these performances gathered around 20,000-40,000 concert goers.

  1. Red Hot Chili Peppers
  2. This 2016 headliner drew in nearly 40,000 fans.
  3. Shania Twain
  4. Last year’s biggest draw, Shania brought in approximately 30,000 attendees.
  5. The Backstreet Boys
  6. The fan favourite boy band brought in roughly 30,000 people in 2019.
  7. Lady Gaga
  8. In 2014 Lady Gaga had a large crowd with roughly 27,000 in attendance.
  9. Kanye West
  10. Despite being 20 minutes late to the stage, Kanye West drew in about 25,000 fans in 2015.

There are several local female vocalists performing at Bluesfest, including Mia Kelly, Empress Nyiringago and Kaya Fraser, they will not grace the main stage.

When asked by Capital Current, a spokesperson for Bluesfest said: “We always strive for an equal mix of female and male artists at the festival, and some years it is more feasible than others.”

Last year the festival was headlined by Canadian country-pop icon Shania Twain who drew one of the festival’s biggest crowds ever, with about 30,000 people attending.

While many are pointing out the disparities on social media and expressing their frustrations with the festival, many are also excited to see the bands in this year’s lineup.

Manners remains convinced however, that the male-centric festival this year could alienate many potential audience members.

“Traditionally within the music industry men have benefited more than women, despite the fact that women are some of the biggest, most popular artists,” Manners said.

“The other piece is that, teenage girls have driven music sales,” Manners added. “To ignore your audience and you’re ignoring some of the biggest musicians in the world by saying ‘all we could get was men’, I think it’s lame.”