Volunteering at festivals is your backstage pass


As a journalist, a volunteer, or participant, variously, I have personally stood on stage or behind the scenes at concerts, provided first aid to athletes at international competitions and shared cocktails with artists at after parties. And I can personally attest, there’s nothing quite like being on the inside of an event. 

But how do you get there? Simple: you don’t have to be a sponsor or a VIP, you just need to be one of the many volunteers who help Alberta and BC festivals and events happen. 

Just ask #seekersambassador and volunteer Darian Cannard. Cannard has been volunteering as security at Edmonton Folk Music Fest for over five years. She got her start in 2015, thanks to an aunt who recruited her to join.

Darian's view from the Edmonton Folk Fest main stage. / Darian Cannard photo

“Things that keep me coming back for more? My crew,” Cannard states unequivocally.

But there’s more. “The food provided for volunteers is fantastic as well. Another thing is just the general vibe of being there.

"I always feel so content and comfortable walking the grounds, watching a performance or hanging out in our meeting point. And finally, the volunteer afterparties are pretty fantastic!”

Free admission is often a perk, for sure, but it’s the priceless vibe of the event that keeps volunteers like Cannard committed year over year, and bringing their friends along to join them in the volunteer tent.

Not to mention, making friends along the way, with other volunteers, with movers and shakers in the cultural scene, and occasionally with artists, musicians and creators. 

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But above all, it’s the community experience of volunteering and being part of something much, much bigger that really generates the satisfaction that keeps volunteers coming back. 

“I love volunteering because I enjoy the feeling of being a part of something, especially something as special as EFMF,” Cannard sums up.

“It all makes me enjoy the experience that much more, knowing that I am a little piece of making it all happen along with the 2500 other volunteers.”

All that considered, it’s still work, even if it’s unpaid. And while the rewards are pretty awesome, volunteers deserve to be recognized for their dedication and hard work. Festival organizers above all, realize the value volunteers bring. 

Volunteers at Medicine Hat Jazz Fest hang out and enjoy a show together.

“We have a great group of volunteers that are key to making the athletes day a great day, whether they are a newbie or an elite athlete,” says Barb Fode, race director for the Wasa Lake Triathlon in Cranbrook, BC. 

The athletes at the event are among the most appreciative, says Fode. “One of the biggest rewards volunteers enjoy is having athletes (kids and adults) smile, give high fives and shout BIG thank you’s to them.”

Of course, there are other perks as well, she adds. “Volunteers receive a shirt, snacks, and their names go in for some draw prizing.”

Echoing Cannard’s comments, though, she says, “We have many people who volunteer for no other reason than they love to support the athletes and love being a part of the event!”

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Since 2020, attracting volunteers and filling volunteer rosters for events has become a greater challenge.

“Covid has changed a few things, especially since we had to cancel in 2020, then postpone to later summer for 2021,” Fode explains. “Of course these challenges made it tougher for some to commit to volunteer last year." 

No doubt, many other festivals are witnessing similar impacts to their volunteer base. 

Bottom line for festival goers? This summer, consider upping your experience by volunteering at your favourite festival or event. 

If it’s anything like Cannard’s experience, it could change your entire festival outlook. And it will mean the world to festival organizers and your fellow festival attendees. 

Find festival volunteering opportunities

Keen to volunteer? Check out this list of festivals and events in Alberta and BC ready to welcome you. Just hit the links below to get more details and apply.

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