Well, the numbers are in, and it looks like Canada's second-oldest jazz festival isn't about to climb out of the $80,000 hole it created in 2010. As Peter Hum points out in this overview, bad weather killed attendance at a number of the pricy outdoor mainstage events. Certainly, the small turnout for Elvis Costello was understandable; I've never seen it rain that hard and long in Ottawa. Anyone considering attending that night could be excused for finding anything better to do indoors.
The big drop off in attendance for Return To Forever points to a knottier problem. When they appeared before a huge crowd three years ago the weather was also pretty threatening. I recall that it had rained heavily around 6 p.m., and by showtime it was overcast and soupy. So, did Al DiMeola make for the difference in attendance, or was it something more like the curiosity factor that drew people out in 2008, but kept them away this year? Those are the kinds of questions that will make festival programmers lose sleep.
The Ottawa festival has not fared well over the years when it comes to catching a break on the weather. Perhaps the low point was a 2004 concert by a supergroup co-fronted by Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. A huge crowd stood through a steady downpour on a cold night. If it had been anyone less than those Miles Davis alumni onstage they would have fled in droves, I'm sure.
So, what to do? It's going to be something the festival will have to wrestle with. As long as it's spending big bucks to put superstar acts on the mainstage it will be rolling the dice. And yet, without an act that can draw 11,000 or 12,000 to the park, you can't hope to subsidize name artists like Vijay Iyer, Brad Mehldau and Kurt Elling in expensive soft-seat venues.