Folkin’ Wonderful: My First Time Volunteering At the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival


August 2019

“Oh, for the love of God and all that is holy, please stop raining before my volunteer shift starts,” I groan, looking out the window. A rainstorm going into the second week of August is not what I was expecting (but hey, it is Newfoundland, and I should not be surprised). I mean, I won’t let a bit of rain stop me from going to the 43rd annual Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival, but it will be much more comfortable doing rounds around Bannerman Park without being wet as a dog. Time passes, and I continue to watch both the clock and the weather; around 5:45pm, the sun is out at its fullest again. “Thank God!” Not only has the rain stopped, but my roommate offers me a ride.

Dropped off at the Bannerman Road entrance, I mosey into the park. “The volunteer gate is in the main gazebo,” I say to myself, as my eyes locate the structure. “How do I get in?” After walking around in circles for a few minutes, I find the gate, clock in, put on my volunteer shirt, and make my way to the inclusion tent (the yelow and blue striped tent where people go to access disability supports). “I’ve arrived!” I announce, and the team lead gets us to go around and introduce ourselves. I already met most of the inclusion crew volunteers at the rally a couple of weeks ago, but there are some new faces. Despite not knowing any of these folks personally before now, it doesn’t feel like I am in the company of strangers, but of long-lost friends.

“Want me to give you a quick tour of the Festival?” one of the returning volunteers (who introduced herself as Mandy) asks me.

“Yeah sure, I haven’t volunteered here before, I don’t know where everything is.”  I walk with Mandy around the park, taking in my surroundings as she explains where is what and what is where. It blows my mind how much Folk Festival weekend transforms Bannerman Park; the colourful tents and various stage setups cloak the park in a different atmosphere. By the time we finish our loop, I know that my responsibilities include telling ticket holders about the available accessibility services, monitoring the priority seating sections at the main stage, and overall doing by best to help provide the best festival experience possible for people with disabilities. As the main stage event of the night starts, I take my post at one of the priority seating sessions (mobility aid accessible seating at each side of the main stage) and watch the opening acts. I am both surprised and not at the amount of people who came out for tonight’s performances, undeterred by the poor weather earlier. When my shift at priority seating ends, I go back to the inclusion tent to help out there.

The display and ambiance of Bannerman Park changes again as the sun goes down. The beer garden gets busier, lights marking the walkway come on, and the lights on the main stage appear much more vibrant and dominant. I hear The Jerry Cans come on for their set, and I head back for a shift at priority seating. One of my fellow folklore students told me about The Jerry Cans (a band from Iqaluit who sing in Inuktitut and English) and that they are her favourite band. As they play their set, I decide that I agree with her, and they are now one of my favourite bands too, along with being fabulous live performers. At around 11pm (just before Tim Baker takes the stage) I clock out and go home, as I’m volunteering tomorrow afternoon too.

When I arrived at Bannerman Park the next day at 1pm, it is scorching hot. I clock in and spend the majority of the afternoon making water bottle refill runs and offering people Equinor water bottles as they come through the gate. The volume of Festival goers keep the inclusion crew busy, and at the end of my shift, all the water bottles have been passed out.

“Are you going to volunteer with us next year?” Kathy, the team leader, asks me as I do my last loop before clocking out.

“Absolutely!” I smiled.

“Fantastic!” she smiled back.

I wave goodbye and head toward the main parking lot. I curse myself for not getting involved with the Folk Festival two years before, when volunteering first crossed my mind. I decide then and there this will be an annual thing for me, given that it makes my folklore nerd heart swell in the best possible ways, and the other volunteers are wonderful people who I want to work with again. Volunteering at the Folk Festival is an experience that I personally recommend to anyone.

Claire Edwards (she/her, they/them) is the web editor assistant at the Newfoundland Quarterly. She is entering her fourth year at Memorial University, studying folklore and geography. Their hobbies include podcasting, blogging, playing guitar, sailing, and talking about all things folkore to anyone who will listen.