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Westfest bows out after 16 years of music in nation’s capital

Westfest organizers have elected to end the free festival after 16 years due to financial strain. Facebook / Westfest

After more than a decade-and-a-half of hosting musical acts for free at Tom Brown Arena, Westfest is bowing out of the Ottawa music scene.

According to founder Elaina Martin, the festival’s main focus has been to allow marginalized and racialized artists perform. In doing so, it has dissolved as many barriers as possible.

The festival has always been free, she said, which opens it up for everybody.

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“We were a leader in the music industry in helping marginalized artists,” said Martin. “I’m surprised and grateful we’ve been able to keep it going for 16 years.”

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The first Westfest opened in June 2004 with Canadian performer Jane Siberry headlining. The first festival was one day long and featured four artists.

Since then, the festival has grown to include hundreds of performers, all of whom were exclusively Canadian and came from all over the country.

The most recent Westfest took place June 7-9 and featured Charlie Major as a headliner.

Recently, donations and sponsorships have dropped which, according to Martin, was the largest contributor to the cancellation of the festival.

“We really felt the decrease in giving over the last few years,” said Martin.

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Regardless of the funding, Martin is somewhat relieved they got to end the festival now, on their own terms.

“It truthfully feels great,” said Martin. “We’re all excited to put this to bed after a great year.”

Martin says the festival is in the right place financially to end. While the funding has dried up, they have no debt and all the work of the festival is volunteer-based.

As for now, Martin is anticipating the eight extra months a year she gets to plan other events to help marginalized artists.

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While this is the definite end of the festival, Martin says there is always a chance of a reunion festival somewhere down the road.

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