My experience as a Folk Festival volunteer was good. It takes a lot of people to run this event – I heard that there were 1750 volunteers involved this year.
The volunteers are treated well. Perhaps I should say that we take care our ourselves and each other. A volunteer gets a free festival pass, meals, water/juice/coffee/tea etc, and backstage access. There are sections of the festival devoted to the care of the volunteers – a large backstage kitchen for instance to provide the beverages and meals.
Some of the jobs are unpleasant or demanding by nature or under specific conditions. I found that site security was pretty straightforward although daytime security involved a degeee of exposure to the weather, and that there are some moments of anxiety – trying to get giddy dancing teenagers to not crash into a blind woman with a guide dog or a wheelchair occupied by an elderly person.
I thought that the Festival staff, the coordinators and the returning volunteers were supportive and welcoming. There are orientation and information sessions and there are rules but the whole thing is pretty relaxed and friendly.
I didn’t have to give up much access to the music, since my shifts were generally at or near the performance venues during concert hours. I think other volunteers have to miss something. I think that the schedules are still staggered in a way that allows volunteers to see large parts of the Festival. Volunteers in the record tent saw little of the daytime stages, but all of the evening shows. The volunteer commitment is 4 shifts of 4 hours, although in some cases it becomes 3 shifts of 6 hours, and for coordinators it can be a lot more.
The tasks have been identified and assigned and many things tend to fall into very clear and simple routines. It’s all manageable, short term. There isn’t a lot of pressure, although some duties involve spurts of activity, stressful responsibilities, confronting patrons and making judgment calls.
Few of the volunteers have much regular contact with performers. Some performers did hang around back stage, although came out for their shows and then went elsewhere. I saw Dick Gaughan chatting with fans for instance. James Keelaghan, although he was not performing this year was backstage and taking pictures and hanging out.
When Rick Fenton was called to the stage on Sunday night he made a remark about the sense of ownership that the fans and volunteers have for the Festival. I think that’s right. One of the elements of the experience is that there are significant intangible rewards for participation – status, the sense of real accomplishment, the sense of being appreciated and respected, and the sense of being heard in the overall operation of the festival.
I enjoyed the gig.