I get to do this for free?: volunteering at the Calgary Folk Festival
I probably shouldn’t be admitting this, but I would pay to volunteer at the Calgary Folk Festival. Those four days in July are without a doubt my favourite time of the year. The fact that I get to hang around the record tent for a few hours and convince people to buy way too many CDs only adds to the fun.
The strange thing is I am actually terrible at sales. I tried selling animal feed for a year after university and was not only absolutely abysmal at it, I cried almost every day and I had a nervous twitch in my eye for eight months before I quit. But put me in a record tent at a folk festival and I am in my element. Volunteering in the record tent really is the best thing in the history of best things. Is there anything more fun and satisfying than talking to people about the incredible line-up of musicians at the festival, the amazing workshop they just came from, making CD recommendations, helping them find out who was that band they just saw anyway? You know the one, they played at that stage and they had that guy who played that instrument?
It’s times like this that I am really happy to be able to put all those years of research training to good use. I can usually help people with their musical quests and of course we have their CDs; they are right over here. I guess talking about music will always be a lot more engaging than trying to figure out how much protein your dairy cows should be eating.
I still remember the young couple who literally danced into the record tent at the end of the Weakerthans’ set one year, and headed over the middle of the CD stacks, about the G section I think it was, dancing a little hopping up and down dance the whole time they browsed the CDs. I watched them for a minute or two and then walked over to them and said “you look like you’re looking for the Weakerthans”. They paused their little hopping up and down dance to ask “how did you know?” It was obvious, my little indie couple, it was obvious.
The flip side of chatting to customers about the music they enjoy is chatting about the same thing to musicians, and one of the biggest perks of working the record tent is ample opportunity to do both. Between assisting with the autograph sessions that are staged at the entrance to the tent, chatting to musicians who wander into the record tent to do a bit of shopping for themselves, and helping musicians and their managers with the final tally at the end of the festival, the record tent is a prime location for random rock star encounters. Sometimes you can even recommend a musician’s own CDs to him.
I still recall my first rock star encounter as a newbie volunteer. I happened to be in the back area of the record tent when Hawksley Workman came in to search for a couple of his own CDs to present to a friend. As the others left to find the CDs, I found myself alone with him and told him how much I had loved all his concerts. Ever the showman, he responded by pumping his fist in the air with a “yes!” And when he later showed me the two CDs he had picked out, I even got a laugh from him when I complimented his taste in music, telling him “excellent choices, I would highly recommend both of these CDs.” And they really were the two CDs that I would have recommended first to a festival patron; good to know we were both on the same page.