Guest Blog: Experience #FolkFestHappy by Volunteering

Guest Blog: Experience #FolkFestHappy by Volunteering

By Abeth Encarnacion, Festival Campground Safety Volunteer

It was a hot summer of 2010. The clock was ticking extra slow that day but when it finally struck 3:30, it was official. I rushed out of work, bolted straight to my packed 98 Civic and raced down 59. Windows down, sun gleaming, Slurpee in my hand, wind blowing, Biggie pumping in the background and not a single cloud in the sky - a perfect day for my very first Folk Fest.

Passing by the floodway I became more anxious knowing how close I was getting. "Almost there,” I kept saying to myself…”almost there.” Should I stay down 59? Or perhaps Garven would be a better choice. I hang a right and swing by the local grocery store to find some liquid courage that would later come in handy. 

There it was: the big STOP sign. I hang a left. I could taste the Whales Tails. Finally there it was – Birds Hill Park! I entered the gates proudly wearing my lanyard and dragon fly embroidered
volunteer shirt. Folk Fest 37! I'm HERE!

It was my first Folk Fest. Where do I park? Where do I go? It’s Thursday and I only have ten minutes to get to my shift. Who are all these people in the neon vests? Why were they so kind? Why have I never been here before? They pointed me right to box office where I officially got my first bracelet (which I still have to this day).

"Campground central is that-a way, man!" A fellow folkie had smiled and pointed. His dreads arranged with coloured beads, tied back with the faint smell of patchouli and Nag Champa. I noticed he wore the same dragonfly embroidered shirt as me and already I began to feel the welcoming energy of the festival and the people.

I hopped on my bike to meet my fellow volunteers over at Campground Central, following the sounds of the radios. I hoped I would have one too!

When I arrived, I had no idea who anyone was except for my "big toe" as they called her: the person I would call my supervisor for the next few days. We then began to partner up. It felt like elementary again trying to find a partner for recess. I looked over and the same dread-locked guy from earlier with dark sunglasses approaching. He came in a few minutes late, but he seemed to already know "big toe" from before. "I'll be your partner,” he said. I breathed a sigh of relief. 

"I'm Jeff!" 
"Abeth,” I replied with a firm hand shake. We were assigned our radios and neon vests and I quickly volunteered to hold the radio and felt a sense of great responsibility!

I told Jeff I was a Folk Fest virgin, I just arrived, I had no tent set up, and that this was the most exciting thing of my entire summer. We were set up as part of the mobile team responsible for walking around ensuring everyone's safety in the Festival Campground. We walked up the bushy trailhead where all sorts of folks were walking up and down with a huge smiles on their faces and saying hello as if they knew me. The closer we got, the more drums and cheers I heard. The  woody scent of campfires and sweet grass grew stronger. What was at the end of this trailhead? PURELY AMAZING is what it was! 

We walked for hours through this enormous campground. Jeff showed me everything from Pope’s Hill to the RV campground, hearing campers play everything from guitars to sitars. It was a great sea of tents filled with all sorts of crazy! But the best part of it was that it didn't matter how crazy, bizarre, weird or colourful everyone was – EVERYONE was accepted and everyone mattered! This beautiful community respected and cared about the land that we were on. I closed my eyes and took it all in with a deep inhale and with my exhale, I knew I was home.

The next few days would make for some of the best memories of that summer. I ended up setting up home-base near Jeff and his friends and we hung out for most of the weekend. He was the best volunteer partner ever and he helped to capture and highlight the best of what Folk Fest had to offer. He welcomed me into his Folk Fest family and after our first shift. He asked me who I was here to see and what music I was excited for. I barely had time to peruse through my program book and from what I did see, it was definitely not like Biggie. 

"C'mon! Our shift is over let's return our stuff and head to the festival!" said Jeff.
"You mean to tell me this isn't it? I thought people performed here!" I replied. He laughed at my ignorance and lead the way to Main Stage.

We walked for a long time. Still awe-struck, my eyes and ears were amazed at everything I was seeing and hearing and the normalcy of it all to everyone else. We finally got to the gate and I could hear beautiful music coming from the other side of those massive trees. I had no idea what was on the other side, but when we arrived to Main Stage I was wowed, speechless and amazed! This was the culmination of 37 years as a grassroots festival that has exploded into a worldwide phenomenon! I started to realize why this had been going on for as long as it has and why people keep coming back. Thousands of people came to celebrate the organic energy of music, life and folk. 

After walking around and checking out the other stages, Jeff pointed to my lanyard and said we get backstage access. 

“All the food is straight down that way!” He said pointing me in the right direction. My stomach growled ferociously. I was so busy taking it all in that I completely forgot to eat! I headed backstage and it was perfect timing for supper. Another bonus to volunteering: THE FOOD! And wow was it ever good. I was fed like a king at breakfast, lunch and dinner!

If I wasn't ensuring the safety of my fellow campers, I was dancing, hula hooping, eating, slack lining, singing, making new friends, practicing yoga at Pope’s Hill during the morning, enjoying the moves of the fire and belly dancers at night, munching on Whale Tails (I probably ate about 10 of them - I had to try each one! Who could resist deep fried dough sprinkled with cinnamon sugar or Parmesan and marinara), or sitting at the various stages listening to the best music. My ears definitely found a new appreciation for the multitude of genres that Folk Fest has to offer. 

Folk Fest was definitely one of the highlights of my year because of the music, the food and the new friends that became a part of my Folk Fest family! I return every year as a volunteer and each festival gets better and better and the music and the community remains at the heart of it all. I can't wait for the festival this summer! It's gonna be a folkin’ good time.


festival campground, folk fest, volunteer

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