Stormy Sunday

Bluesfest is undoubtedly one of the highlights of summer in Ottawa.  In my opinion there’s nothing better than bobbing (or in the case of watching Skrillex last week, thrashing) around to some live music, beer in hand, pals by your side. From recent posts you can see that all the nutshellers (even our MTL correspondent!) made their way to LeBreton Flats to take in a show or two..

But last night things turned ugly, and I had a front row seat for it.

The restaurant I used to work for had its annual staff party last night and invited me to tag along since our “break-up” was amicable. Thrilled, I joined them for a night of beers and blues and we made our way to the festival, all the way complaining about the 40-degree weather we were experiencing and the amount we were all sweating (sexy, I know).

CBG staff ready for gorgeous weather, and a great night at Bluesfest... right!?

Jess (who, it must be mentioned, has been covering Bluesfest in its entirety for Ottawa Life Magazine, woop!) was also at the fest and we had been bbming to meet up eventually.

After bouncing around from act to act our crew could hear Cheap Trick’s hit “I Want You to Want Me” wafting through the air from the main stage. Instantly reliving my teeny-bopper years, watching 10 Things I Hate About You on repeat and blasting Letters To Cleo’s version (hairbrush in hand, teddy-bear audience receptive), we danced our way over. As we climbed the hill to the stage we couldn’t help notice the incredibly dark clouds that were forming at an alarming rate.

Picture taken by Jess who took refuge in the War Museum during the storm

Finding our own grassy spot to take in the show, I took off with a friend for the washrooms since I was now on my fifth beer of the night. As I was doing up my (adorable Aritzia, brown-leather) belt I could hear screams outside. The storm must have hit, I thought and that must be people reacting to the downpour. Contemplating staying in the porta-potty to stay dry didn’t last long because it started to violently shake and if there’s one thing I knew it was that I didn’t want to go down with it. I emerged to instantly hear my bathroom buddy yell my name. People were running in all directions. It had started raining but it was the wind that was most troubling. Being almost blown over with every step we made our way back to where we thought the group had been but everyone had already dissipated. Barely being able to see with the amount of dirt and dust blowing into our eyes from the ground we headed for the nearest tent to get out of the rain. We made it just in time for the real downpour to hit, and as we watched from the back of the pack the main stage at Bluesfest folded like a house of cards and hit the ground. Shocked, since literally Cheap Trick (not to mention dozens of volunteers) had been on stage a moment earlier, we were ushered by Bluesfest volunteers to advance closer to the front of the tent incase our own dry spot collapsed.

Beginning to feel uneasy we grabbed our phones to see where the others went and make sure everyone was okay. When the rain let up about five minutes later we were told to leave the grounds immediately. No more acts including Deathcab for Cutie would be playing that night. Show’s over folks.

We were met with warm hugs from our group who had taken shelter near the washrooms. They were pretty worried about us since they thought we might have been separated and alone during the brunt of the storm. The boys went into “friend-mode” making sure everyone was okay.

I managed to snap this photo quickly before being told to keep moving. Bluesfest's main stage collapsed with luckily no one being seriously injured.

Many times I’ve watched items on the news where onlookers provided pictures and I always wonder how they have their wits about them enough to turn to their phones and actually snap a photo. But, as we were hurried out of the grounds my reporter instincts took over and I began taking pictures and tweeting the news. As we walked up Booth St away from the festival, sirens were loud and ambulances were coming from every direction. I’ve never in real-life seen so many emergency vehicles in one place. From reports this morning no one was seriously hurt which truly is a miracle because it would have been very easy for a volunteer or musician to have been crushed under the collapsing stage.

Happy to be reunited and safe and sound we splashed through puddles up to Little Italy where we settled for a few drinks before moving back to our own restaurant and letting the party continue on through the night. I continued to check twitter and answered the many texts and calls asking if I was okay. The gravity of the situation and what we experienced didn’t hit me until this morning though reading about it in the news and taking a second to say, “Hey, I was THERE for that!”

The experience was mildly frightening since it really did feel as though a tornado was going to touch down from the sky, and winds were said to have been blowing at over 90 km an hour. Trees and poles were knocked down all over Ottawa and people are STILL without power in some parts. But, we were just happy to get out of there and on with our night, glad that no one was life-threateningly injured and that we managed to find each other through the chaos.

After situations like the one we were in last night you walk away thankful everyone was okay, excited to share your story, and most of all happy to know that you’ve got a few special people out there who care enough to make sure you’re okay… In a nutshell.

If you were there we want to hear about it! Leave a comment about your own #stagecollapse experience.


  1. Retro Robert says:

    Hi Catherine,

    My friends and I were in the front row while the stage collapsed! Rick Neilsen was 30 feet away from us. We were literally in shock as we watched it collapse, and we did not know the extent of the injuries. It appeared as though several people were crushed from our vantage point. We gathered together (4 of us) and calmly exited the field making sure to avoid other tall structures.

    Here’s some video that I documented 60 seconds after it came down.

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