It all started for Annie Williams 15 years ago.
She was walking near the community centre in Salmon Arm when she heard the enticing sounds of great music. Then she saw Gerry Thomas outside wearing a volunteer T-shirt. She asked about the music.
He explained, and suggested she sign up the following year to volunteer. So she did.
Next year will be Annie’s 15th year volunteering with the Salmon Arm Roots and Blues Festival.
She isn’t the only longtime volunteer in her family. Her mom Lucy and her sister Donna have also been with the festival for about the same length of time. Lucy has spent almost all her years at the information booth, while Annie and Donna have helped out in several areas. They have a photo of all their mom’s volunteer T-shirts.
For the past few years the sisters have joined Lucy at the info booth. This year their mom was a performer, leading the Thursday opening with a prayer in her Secwepemc language.
Donna and Annie’s sister Dorry is also volunteering at the info booth, along with their cousin Brendon.
Interviewed separately, Donna and Annie share the same view on what they love about the job.
“This is our favourite spot,” Annie says. “We get to help people and we get to interact with a lot of people.”
The most common question they answer is, where are the stages, says Donna. Then bathrooms and bank machines. The strangest question Donna has heard? What’s the dress code, coming from a young woman whose clothes were wet and wanted to tour the grounds in her underwear.
Their booth is also the lost and found, so they’ve helped reunite many distraught owners with their possessions. Performers also stop by, some making lasting connections with the sisters. Ultimately, they love to volunteer and they love music.
Over at the first aid station, supervisor Colleen Westerberg, who is in her fifth year, says more than a dozen of her family members are volunteering.
“We love it, we come every year.”
This year is good in terms of first aid, she says, with few problems like overheating or bee stings that she’s seen in the past.
At the entrance gate, Donna Mason with ‘festival support,’ formerly called ‘security,’ likes the new title.
“Really we’re liaisons of goodness,” she smiles. “We’re dealing with people who are intoxicated or have no bracelets… We keep it light and humorous, and you pick your battles, so it’s safe and fair for everybody.”
She feels lucky to be at the festival – and has been coming for 23 years.
“Here we are, so many people, and not a fight.”
Eighty-one-year-old Margaret Brandt from Enderby, who’s in her fifth year, agrees.
“People enjoying themselves, being themselves, and there’s no prestige, no power, everybody’s working together.”
Also with festival support, Darin Ready, in his fifth year too, shares an anecdote from the mini doughnut lineup the night before.
The woman ahead of him asked him if was single. He said no. She told him if he’d said yes, her next question would have been, do you have a job. Then, if he answered yes, she said, “That’s when the kiss would have come in.”
He said both he and his wife got a kick out of the quirky interaction. And he, too, loves the festival.
“So many good things, so many good acts.”
Lynn Ehrman from Vernon is busy selling raffle tickets. The mingling is good, she says, but she’s not wild about the selling. However, she would definitely volunteer again.
“It’s a great festival. There are so many perks of being a volunteer – we’re very well treated.”
Busily picking up garbage from the grounds Sunday night are the Environmental Dream Team, Jeannie York and Ellie McGillivray of the Blind Bay Dragon Boat Society.
They’re moving quickly and bubbling with enthusiasm.
“We’re the one group of volunteers that everybody loves,” says McGillivray. “We get lots of hugs, lots of accolades,” adds York.
Their theory, which appears to be working, is that if they keep garbage off the ground, no one will add to it.
“We’re so covered with alcohol at the end of the days, we throw away our clothes,” laughs McGillivray. “Or wash them twice,” York grins.
Serving drinks at the Backstage Lounge is Val Lynch, in her second year. Like all the other volunteers interviewed, she loves the festival.
“Lots of friendly people and the performers are fabulous. They’re open and inviting. And I’m really impressed with the organizers of the event.”