Volunteers get in the groove at Root and Blues

Event volunteer Cherylee McKeennen sells raffle tickets, the proceeds of which help to fund future festivals.  - James Murray/Observer
Event volunteer Cherylee McKeennen sells raffle tickets, the proceeds of which help to fund future festivals.
— image credit: James Murray/Observer

After some initial worry about the number of volunteers being down significantly this year, a host of people stepped up at the last to help fill in some of the gaps.

Sky Stevens, who has the massive job of coordinating all the volunteers, believes the final number of volunteers went over 1,000 people, “although I lost track after 907.”

“There are volunteers who have been here for years and years, it’s really like a family and we all pulled together. And many of those people went out and recruited others in to help. It’s amazing.”

Stevens acknowledged that the volunteers were spread more thinly than previous festivals, mostly due to the expansion of the festival — for example, the addition of the Vine Bar and the Survival Store also required volunteer contingents.

But Stevens says many volunteers have stepped up and offered to take on extra shifts or additional duties.

“I’m just so proud of them,” she says.

Volunteers generally commit to 16 hours of work including time before, during or after the event, but after shifts are done, they are free to partake in all the festival delights.

This drew Emily McFadden, 16, and Lilli Rakose, 14, to help out in the Family Fun Zone.

“It’s the best. We get to play with the kids for a few hours, paint faces, run around in rainbow capes and then we get to be here enjoying the festival,” says Rakose. For teen volunteers, there is also the extra bonus of earning school credit or credit from other organizations like Guides.

While the teens think the Family Fun Zone is the best place to volunteer, longtime helper Jean Frolek insists she has the best job – and it is one of the most visible. Frolek is the woman who carries the autographed guitar, which is a prize in the raffle, around the crowds to encourage people to buy tickets.

“It’s not an expensive raffle, $2 each and three for $5, if each adult that comes through just bought one ticket, it would be great. That’s my goal, because all the money goes back to support the festival.”

Also known as the Raffle Queen, Frolek’s enjoyed putting the guitars on display for eight years, although she’s not as keen about getting her photo taken with it.

“I try to get them to just take a picture of the guitar, so I think there’s a bunch of pictures out there with just my arm in it,” she jokes.

But Frolek is serious about her duties.

“If anyone tried to steal this guitar, they’d be down in six steps,” says the smiling silver-haired lady. “There’s no way they’d be getting off the grounds with it. Not on my watch.”

While it might not be the most plum assignment, on a hot Sunday afternoon Joe Rivard and Emma Hind Robson were among the most popular arrivals, as they brought deliveries of water and ice to various areas.

“Everyone loves to see us, so that’s great,” says Robson, who logged four-and-a-half miles on her fitness tracker the day before. “I won’t need to go the gym now.”

The pair passed out hundred of bags of ice and large bottles of water which were designed to be refilled, rather than great quantities of individual plastic bottles.

“It’s more green to do it this way,” says Robson, who notes there were still some individual bottles for performers, but everyone had been encouraged to carry a reusable water bottle. “It’s part of the environmental commitment that the festival is making.”

One might think one of the more stressful volunteer jobs would be in the first aid station, but volunteers at that site said the festival was very calm, with no major incidents to report, mostly concerns about blisters or sunburn.

“I think this is the safest festival in B.C.,” said Sandy Burgess, one of the supervisors. “People can feel confident that  anyone from the youngest to the oldest can come with their family, and their health and safety will be covered.”


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