Winnipeg Folk Festival Behind The Scenes

Winnipeg Folk Festival Behind The Scenes

Guest Blogger, Donna Warenko

It was 2012 when Ray and I rediscovered the Winnipeg Folk Festival. We’d spent many years there in our youth and a few years with the kids when they were little.

Our retired life preparation includes many things, and bartering is one of them. That’s exactly how we looked at volunteering for the Folk Fest – we work a few hours and in return we get free admission. We underestimated the experience.

Ever since coming back, we have noticed these people who walk around with cool matching T-shirts and a very official looking pass around their necks. They all seemed to be having a good time, plus they were able to go up past the stage, to some mystical off-limits place back there. They were a privileged group and we decided to see what it would take to give it a go, become one of them.

It all starts quite innocently with an online application. What would you like to do at the Folk Fest? La Cuisine sounds rather exotic, environment is right up my alley. With Ray’s background, and because we wanted to do the same thing, we chose Site Safety as our first choice. It sounded like something we might be good at. After the application, nothing really happens and you can almost forget that you did it, until spring.

Ray got the call in April, just before we were leaving for holidays. They interviewed and accepted him after a rather detailed telephone call. Ray recommended me and then I got the call too. We were both accepted into Site Safety. At this point we actually thought we were done, that we might show up in July and be put to work, but that’s not how its done.

There were three meetings in Winnipeg we had to attend. We only made it to two of them due to holidays but that was okay. Folk Fest volunteers do not show up unprepared. We had to learn about volunteering for the Folk Fest in general and then we had a three-hour training session titled Site Safety 101, offered especially for our position. I can’t actually recall how many hours Site Security undergoes for training, but it basically takes all year. If you attend the festival and wonder how it gets its beautiful vibe, and seems (seems) to run so smoothly, its in the volunteers and the training provided.

Our particular group was a dozen strong plus our supervisor, Jen. We all met Wednesday night at headquarters to get those coveted T-shirts and backstage passes, meet each other and get ready for our first shift the next day. Our job was basically ambassadors for the Folk Fest. We carried radios and handled “emergencies” like missing kids, missing parents and missing lunches. We held slow signs at the tarp run – so much fun. We made sure people didn’t cut through the bush and damage the forest. On Sunday night we cleared the site in the middle of a beautiful, dramatic Manitoba thunderstorm. It was so much fun, I’d have done it without the perks.

So what are the perks? We became a part of the festival. No longer just spectators, we were a part of it. We made really great friends within our group. The backstage pass is pretty amazing too.

We got three wonderful meals a day. No losing weight this weekend! We had access to the tavern in the back. Yes, the drinks are the same price but it’s quieter and we could go sit on the grass with our meal and wine. There’s an after party with half-priced drinks and free pizza. We worked closing so missed most of that, but when we did show up, wet and tired, the wine tasted extra good. Did I mention? I got a selfie with Arlo Guthrie!

It took us more than 40 years to discover this little Folk Fest secret, and we’ll never just be spectators again. Interested? Click here


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