Ottawa-Gatineau is host to dozens of music festivals and conferences, the majority of which of course happen in between June and September. Get your applications in in the winter and spring and hope for the best, because with fests every weekend, and vast stretches of natural getaways beckoning just beyond Ottawa’s doorstep, it takes a strong draw to get people out to a dark club on a hot August evening. For those who like POP Montreal, I recommend checking out Ottawa Explosion, House of PainT, Arboretum Festival, and MEGAPHONO.
Ottawa is located in a prime location geographically, nestled in between Toronto, Montreal and New York City. Any bands in the region knows you can do a viable two-week tour in Ontario and Western Quebec alone without having to worry about driving through moose country for several hours. Vieux Hull, Quebec is right across the Ottawa river (a 10 minute bike ride from downtown Ottawa), and can provide an additional, yet tricky, market to book. If you can draw a few dozen people from Gatineau you’re in good shape, but shows with Anglophone bands in Hull often rely on drawing a crowd across the Ottawa river, which can be tough to do if it’s not biking season. Don’t try to book an Ottawa and Hull show back-to-back; you might end up with two so-so shows rather than one great one.
There are loads of venue options in the 100-person capacity or less range for an emerging band booking their own tour. Pressed is quaint sandwich shop turned venue, well-located in Ottawa’s Centretown neighbourhood, and with booking, promotion, and production handled in-house, provides an almost turn-key experience for local and touring artists. Be warned: it books up a few months in advance. Bar Robo is a newer bar and venue that filled a gap left by the closure of Raw Sugar last year. Bar Robo is also well-located, provides in-house booking and promotion, and offers a more nighttime lounge-y vibe than Pressed, though be prepared for DIY production and tech. Some other fun places to see a show, like the Black Squirrel book store, or art-garage House of Common, are considerably more DIY, and so best booked with the help of a local promoter or band to help coordinate things on the ground. If you’re maxing out the 70-100 capacity rooms and have a promoter working with you, Zaphods and Babylon are both well-located 200-300 capacity rooms, with great club sound systems and good technicians. Hit up promoters like Ottawa Explosion, Babely Shades, Casual Hex, Arboretum and Debaser. Send your event listings and press releases to Ottawa Showbox, Ottawa Beat, Apt613, Eventful Capital, and the local radio stations CHUO and CKCU.
Check out some of the jewels of the region while you’re in town. For you diggers, the Record Centre in Hintonburg offers new and used vinyl with a local-focus and friendly service, while Birdman in the Glebe is where you’ll find an unparalleled psych, stoner, and kraut rock collection. At Spaceman Music, an independent gear shop in Centretown, get great deals on used gear, or get in touch with Fairfield Circuitry to visit their shop and purchase boutique pedals direct from the makers.