Ottawa Jazz looking forward to fundraiser and better weather in June

The Montreal Guitar Trio will perform at the Ottawa Jazz Festival's spring fundraiser Swing into Spring at the Library and Archives on Wellington Street.

The TD Ottawa Jazz Festival is getting ready for a party and a fundraiser as a way to turn the page on the soggy summer of 2017.

The event at Library and Archives Canada on Wellington Street Thursday evening will feature the Montreal Guitar Trio, an auction for prizes and lots of good food as the festival prepares to release the lineup for this summer’s festival from June 21 to July 1 on Friday afternoon.

The 2017 version of Jazzfest was battered by rain virtually every day of the event which, in turn, dampened enthusiasm for the major outdoor shows that were held in Confederation Park and across the street in Marion Dewar Plaza at Ottawa City Hall, said Petr Cancura, the festival’s programming director.

“In all honesty, we have been hit hard with weather and the (low Canadian dollar) over the past few years. And an event like this (fundraiser) is just crucial to us,” Cancura said. “It rained 11 days last year. That’s the only part we can’t control and it had a detrimental impact on our ticket sales, of course.”

“One of the reasons we pushing it harder is because this event used to be in the fall. Now it’s in the spring. It does well, but some people may not know about the change. This is the second year for the fundraiser in the spring,” Cancura said.

Last year’s festival saw a shortfall of more than $200,000 in ticket sales, said executive producer Catherine O’Grady in an interview. That was mostly made up by funding and sponsorships available last year because of Canada 150 celebrations. But that source has dried up in 2018.

“If we had caught a break on the weather, 2017 would have been a year in which we would have made money because we have lost money for a couple of years in a row,” she added. “There’s not much left in the woodpile now.”

She said she believes the weather last summer was the worst in the festival’s history, going back more than 35 years.

She said the goal for this year’s fundraiser is to clear in the $40,000 range up from $30,000 raised in 2017. She says there was a good response to a fall fundraising campaign and the Winter Jazz concert weekend also did well.

But still lower revenues in 2017 means more difficulties in bidding for main stage talent, she says.

And a new logistical hurdle is emerging with a construction project that will shut down the main stage in Confederation Park.

“We have been working on this scenario for about three years now,” Cancura said. The city is working on a Combined Sewage Storage Tunnel, which is designed to cut sewage overflows into the Ottawa River after heavy rains. The 6.2 km-long tunnel runs under northern half of Confederation Park, parallel to the Mackenzie King Bridge. Construction will continue until late 2019.

Even though the work is well underground, Jazzfest has moved its main stage across Laurier Avenue where three headliners have been announced: Trumpeter Chris Botti plays June 21, DeeDee Bridgewater on June 24 and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones are on June 28.

Another complication is venues in the NAC are not available this summer because of upgrades in all but the Fourth Stage, which the festival will use.

This is why the festival is using the First Baptist Church near Laurier and Elgin. It sits 300-400 people. They have also created a new outdoor stage in a part of Confederation Park near Elgin Street, which is out of the way of the construction, which will continue throughout the festival, Cancura says. This new stage will be called the Ontario stage and will feature local talent on that stage and there will be a lot of daytime shows there, he says, calling it a “community stage.” Nearby will be a beer garden and food on offer.

To help offset some of that the annual fund-raiser has been buffed up with the presence of hors d’œuvres provided by three Ottawa chefs: Joe Thottungal (Coconut Lagoon), Tim Stock (Play Food & Wine) and Patrick Garland (Absinthe Café), along with Thyme & Again. There will be a cash bar featuring wines from Vineland Estates, cider from Flying Canoe, and Beau’s All Natural beer. Top Shelf Distillers will offer custom cocktails.

“We’ve tried to take advantage of the growing ‘creative scene’ in Ottawa. So we have included a trio of chefs, which we have never done before. They will be in the front hall of the Archives. That’s the big addition this year.

“(As well), the lots for the auction are the most exciting they have ever been.”

Bidding begins at 7 p.m. for trips, dining and entertainment packages such as a trip to Whitehorse, Dawson and Inuvik; a Lumberjack brunch for 30 from the Red Apron; and a house concert and party featuring Cancura and a band with Whalesbone providing oysters. There is more information in the auction catalogue.

Tickets are $50 (includes a $30 tax receipt) and available online or by phone at 613-241-2633.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.