When the 25th annual Winnipeg International Jazz Festival kicks off Thursday, Shirley Genik will be working behind the scenes, making sure the musicians are well-fed.
Genik is the hospitality-crew co-ordinator, a position she has held since 1991. Genik and the 14 volunteers on her team feed the musicians home-cooked meals and run errands with them.
"We try to do as much as possible to make them happy while they're in Winnipeg," Genik said.
Genik's husband, Greg, was one of the founding board members when the first festival was held in 1990. The organizers did not have a large budget, so feeding the musicians was often an afterthought. Genik decided that needed to change and took charge the following year.
"The poor musicians were driving all night or taking the cheapest flights," she said. "They'd get to the venue and there'd be no food for them. We decided to cook for these people."
Genik's work begins weeks in advance of the festival, when she receives each musician's rider -- a document outlining food-and-drink requirements -- and plans the meals.
Some of the requests are simple: When he performed at the festival three years ago, Steve Martin just wanted a tuna sandwich. But some of the requests are more detailed: Geni recalls blues guitarist Johnny Winter requesting a tuna sandwich with green relish on Wonder Bread.
Steaks and curried foods are popular items, and sometimes the crew introduces the musicians to something they have never tried before -- like the time they served trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and his band perogies. They were amused at the sight of the perogies and began throwing them at each other.
"It was just a fun food fight, but let me tell ya, they were tossing around perogies," Genik said.
She added her crew has also bought shoes with Holly Cole after she lost hers in transit and went shopping at a thrift store with another jazz singer. They also bought boxers for a hip-hop artist who was performing at the festival.
"If there's something they need to have, we help them go out and buy it."
Executive producer Paul Nolin said the festival couldn't operate without its 300 volunteers every year.
"Shirley is just one example of people who contribute countless hours to making sure... that the festival continues to prosper," he said. "She takes pride in her work, she works hard and she cares very deeply about the artist's experience. She wants to make sure they're well taken care of."
Genik said the festival combines two things she loves: cooking and music.
She also volunteers because it is fun and she enjoys working with her crew, some of whom have been volunteering with her for more than 20 years.
"Without them, I couldn't do what I do. We're like a family," Genik said. "The friendship is amazing."
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