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This article was published 7/7/2018 (1293 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It takes a lot of people to create the temporary village known as the Winnipeg Folk Festival.
The hands that shape the event belong to more than 2,800 volunteers who contribute more than 60,000 hours of work every year. Whether they’re wrangling artists, serving food, hauling gear, marshalling the parking lot, keeping the site clean and safe or painting faces, volunteers make up the 61 crews that run every part of the four-day festival, which is in its 45th year.
The volunteers also contribute to the community spirit that folk fest is known for.
"Every year, we create a ‘Volunteer Wall of Love’ located just inside the main gate on the way to Shady Grove, as a tribute to the hard work and incredible dedication of our 2,850 volunteers," says Karla Ferguson, the festival’s volunteer co-ordinator. "It’s usually an interactive mural where people can sign their names or leave a note of thanks, but we wanted to do something special for our 45th festival.
"So, we went through our photo archives and asked for submissions from our volunteers to create this beautiful photo mosaic using over 700 images of our volunteers in action. The photo overlay is a panoramic shot of our main stage area and, for me, it represents the amazing forces that it takes to put on this festival, and keep it going for 45 years."
We ask five longtime volunteers to share their folk fest memories.
Years volunteered: 30
Current position: Family Area
"I am a face-painting lead," Dorbolo says.
• Why do you continue to volunteer: "I just love it. I’ve been in the family area all this time. It’s just spectacular. The kids alone — and there’s multi-generations of families who come, so it’s really neat. Sometimes, I’ll face-paint somebody who has been coming since they were in their mom’s stomach. It’s magical. The kids, when we face-paint them, are so gracious. They’re so kind."
• Favourite memories: "It’s all a favourite memory. My favourite memories are when you’re sitting at the mainstage and the northern lights have come out. Hanging out with friends and family. Dancing. The crew is fantastic, so the memories of all the years I’ve spent with everyone on the crew — you see everybody every year.
"I’ve had kids who have come every year specifically to me, not because I’m an artist but because I’ve done a design on them and they wanted the same design. These two girls I’ve face painted — basically, every year they came together, they were friends only for the festival, and they’d get the exact same thing painted on their faces, every year for five or six years. It’s neat how the folk fest connects us to people we don’t see all year round."
Years volunteered: 20
Current position: Site safety
"I started out selling raffle tickets for the first four years and then moved to site safety," Thorleifson says. "I think it should be called site oversight, because we just kind of set things up for the mainstage in the morning and make sure everybody is happy, we find children and parents that got separated, we find people that are dehydrated and need first aid, we’re sort of the first point of contact around the stages."
• Why do you continue to volunteer: "I love attending folk fest because I love the music. It’s really been an education becoming part of the folk festival organization because it’s fun to be involved in making it work and I don’t have to pack any food because they feed me all weekend long. I like managing people, I like getting together with a team and making it work, and it’s all for a great cause. I support everything the folk festival does."
• Favourite memories: "Well, one of the treats of being a volunteer is, like I said, you get to eat backstage all the time, and not only volunteers eat back there but performers eat there as well. A few years ago I sat down and had dinner with David Lindley and Richard Thompson, two of my all-time idols in the folk music world. And they just wanted to talk about this and that and life in their backyard in California and life in my backyard in Manitoba. That was the most outstanding moment. Other than that, I was on morning crew for 10 or 12 years, and I really enjoyed getting out here in the morning and seeing the place with nobody here and then seeing it fill up with people... and not usually sticking around to see it empty out again."
Years volunteered: 20
Current role: INFOasis
"INFOasis was a merging of backstage hospitality and the volunteer space," Mills says. "So we are there to help everybody — volunteers and performers — with whatever issues they may have. We meet the buses, so first-time volunteers who get off the bus and go, ‘I’m camping, where do I go?’ "
• Why do you continue to volunteer: So many friends, like people either that I met here or met at Kidsfest and now we’re all on the same crews and we become good friends and friends I only see once a year here, that is awesome. But also the little moments like lunch with Buffy Sainte-Marie, stuff like that. It’s just meeting those kinds of people that you wouldn’t ever otherwise meet.
• Favourite memories: "Definitely lunch with Buffy Sainte-Marie, that and falling asleep in my van in the handmade village. That was before I volunteered, I came here with a friend who makes handmade clothes. I wasn’t supposed to stay there overnight but we got into the locked part and we couldn’t get out. So I fell asleep in my van listening to Loreena McKennitt on the mainstage and dragonflies in the air and this is what it still does to me and it was more than 20 years ago. It was the greatest thing ever, hearing soundwaves coming across the park — because I was way out there, but it was like she was right beside me. Another one is about four years ago, two of my really good friends and I were sitting up on the hill at the end of Sunday night, sitting in the back of one of our vehicles and we sat up top of the parking hill and watched all the cars go away until two or three in the morning, just hanging out and chatting. That is a favourite one for sure."
Years volunteered: 36-37
Current role: Photo crew
"I’ve always been on the photo crew," Tinker says.
• Why do you continue to volunteer: "I’d be here anyhow if I wasn’t volunteering; I love music and l love taking pictures, so I just keep on going."
• Favourite memories: "One of my favourite moments was from seeing a picture; when the volunteers and the performers all hung out backstage together, it was very much no separation of church and state, and I was wandering around and I took a picture of Bonnie Raitt and her band, she did this thing it was just all engaging and had a good feel to it. And also seeing all the folks I’ve met over the years is wonderful. I also have a recollection of Ruthie Foster sitting between Bruce Cockburn and Richard Thompson and saying, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here between these two guitar gods,’ and her voice was just as amazing as the guitar playing."
Years volunteered: 30 years
Current role: Retired. Started off at La Cuisine but has worked on five different crews, including audience services last year.
• What kept you volunteering at folk fest for 30 years? "I think just the vibe. Bob introduced me to the folk festival, I had never been before but I started coming with him, and immediately as soon as you walk onto the site you feel this vibe of a different atmosphere, it feels like you’re in a little village, it feels like everybody knows each other."
• Favourite memories: "My first year working in La Cuisine, just to show you how many people we serve food to, this volunteer was stirring a pot of chili in a huge vat with a canoe paddle. That will stick in my head forever. And just the happiness of the crews you work on, everybody seems to be happy to be here to do whatever they can for the festival. One of my favourite music moments was walking out on Sunday night and hearing Loreena McKinnett singing, her voice just filled the whole place, it was many years ago. Also when Michael Franti leapt off stage and gave a lot of people hugs. I was backstage and got a big sweaty hug from him."
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Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.