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Tulip Fest Sucks


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Tulip Fest sucks hard this year – it’s a stupid international flea market in giant ugly tents, with cash grabs everywhere. Want to try authentic Hungarian meatballs? Seven bucks. What a horrible horrible waste of money – bring back the bands! Bring back some semblance of a festival in an national capital! Embarrassing to Ottawa.

Looks like Lynn Saxberg agrees.

Waiting for the real music festival season

Lynn Saxberg, The Ottawa Citizen

Published: Tuesday, May 15, 2007

I miss the Tulip Festival. To me, it's not a festival without a big stage, headlining bands and a family area. For years, the Canadian Tulip Festival's Get Out concert series marked the opening of festival season, giving Ottawa residents and visitors the first chance to stand in the warm air for a collective cultural experience.

Even if the air was cold and damp, at least we were outside.

Under the artistic direction of Joe Reilly and then Tom O'Connor, it used to be a 10-day extravaganza that featured top Canadian bands such as Billy Talent, the Guess Who, David Usher and the Tea Party, a few Canrock classics such as April Wine and Trooper, and the cream of the Ontario scene. Kathleen Edwards, Hilotrons, Fiftymen and the Sadies all played memorable concerts in Major's Hill Park at tulip time. It also had the best setup for music-loving families -- there was a happening family zone just down the hill.

So what music have we got to mark the opening of the 2007 festival season? Not much until next month, I'm afraid. Tulipfest president David Luxton did the fiscally responsible thing and cut the concert series when he took over the troubled festival last year.

Inspired by Chicago's Humanities Festival, lectures were organized, and the festival is now described as a celebration of ideas. How lofty. Increasing the snob appeal was the fact that the first one, featuring the Governor General at Rideau Hall, was not open to the public. Instead of participating in the power of music, musical types will be discussing it at another lecture this weekend. Yawn.

At least I could count on the family zone, I thought when I took my little guys to Major's Hill Park on the so-called first weekend of the Tulip Festival. But no. We watched a busker hustle the crowd for $5 each, then headed toward the giant tents in the park.

Another dead end. I found out later that the tents of the International Pavilion hadn't opened yet. We weren't the only ones circling the perimetre in a futile search for an opening in the tent. On a sunny Saturday, more than a few people went home frustrated at the lack of activity in the park.

I considered mounting a protest with Ottawa's Festival Network, the umbrella organization representing Ottawa festivals, as it held its annual reception last week to toast the official launch of festival season. The City Hall shindig featured politicians' speeches and the opportunity to mingle with the executive directors of the festivals. (Bluesfest's Mark Monahan was conspicuous by his absence.)

But my bring-back-the-rock campaign seemed trivial in the big picture. As the speakers noted, there is much to celebrate this year in terms of new government money from the city and the province.

More than $600,000 in funding has come from the city's budget, partly to encourage festival sustainability and set up an emergency fund, while Celebrate Ontario awarded hefty grants to eight Ottawa festivals. Jazz, Tulip and Blues were among the festivals that received some $90,000 each, a chunk of coin aimed at encouraging "destination" marketing -- in other words, the festivals will be able to expand their marketing campaigns in order to woo patrons from outside the city.

If they aren't turned off by Tulip Fest, I predict they will be flocking to the music festivals. Just look at the terrific programming: Kathleen Edwards headlines Westfest on June 9, while the Neville Brothers and Branford Marsalis are among those coming to the jazz festival later in the month. Bob Dylan, Kanye West and the White Stripes are featured at Bluesfest in July, Finger 11 and Matt Mays headline HOPE on July 14 and Kris Kristofferson will be at the Ottawa Folk Festival in August.

Back at Major's Hill Park, the International Pavilion is finally open, the sun has been shining and record crowds are enjoying the site. But I still miss the old tulip festival, and the camaraderie that sprang up between music fans, volunteers, stage crew, artists, crafters, tourists and everyone else on site during the 10-day event, even when the weather was iffy. We learned to dress for it in funky, colourful rain gear and weren't shy about bringing out parkas and mittens if necessary.

I urge organizers to revisit the idea of a concert series for next year, and bringing back the family zone. If they want some insurance against the weather, look into the feasibility of mounting concerts in a tent.

Sure, people will come to Ottawa just for the tulips, but from what I've seen so far, there's little sense of celebration. A festival should have live music outdoors, and to be taken seriously as a destination, it needs a big stage, appropriately equipped with sound and light gear, and a bunch of bands of varying styles.

The failure of Tulipfest to deliver the full festival experience means we have to wait another month for the real start of festival season.

Let the countdown begin. I'm counting the days until Westfest.

Hear hear!

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Definately not the most entertaining festival this year. Is it just me or did anyone find the tulips really lacking in life aswell? Past years I remember so much more vibrance and lush colours. Walking around Dowe's lake this weekend there seemed to be so many more empty patches then there should be. I guess we can blame the weather on this one.

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I'm seriously missing the bands this year. Tulip Festival used to be the big summer kick off...

I miss the stages at Major's Hill Park. Maybe they will be able to afford the concerts again next year. Maybe this was a protest year to show how boring tulip fest is without live music with hopes a funding injection or justified pass price increases. I'm pretty sure tulip festival always has ugly tents and 7 dollar meatballs though!

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