Volunteers make the festival go round

By Lois Ann Dort    

CANSO – This year sees the 20th anniversary of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Canso; a milestone few believed possible when the idea for a music festival first sprouted in this small fishing community. And it would have been an impossible feat if volunteers were not willing to get the event off the ground with what could be calculated as thousands of work hours volunteered on a yearly basis. The saying, it takes a village to raise a child, can be extended to the festival where a majority of the population of Canso have had a hand in the success of Stanfest year upon year.

When Stanfest began 20 years ago, approximately 500 to 600 volunteers got the first event off the ground and founded an internationally recognized musical event. Over the years, though the population of Canso has decreased, the number of volunteers have remained steady according to Bill MacMillan, chair of Chedabucto Bay Folk Society, the organizing body in charge of operating the folk festival.

“In the beginning,” said MacMillan, “It was the Lions Club who helped drive the project...In our first year we did not have too much difficulty in encouraging people to come out and volunteer. I think Mary Alice Taylor was in the office and she was good at encouraging people to volunteer their time and help out with the project.”

Organizing a music festival is not just about organizing music; there’s food, shelter, bathroom facilities and numerous other considerations when you invite the world to a small, rural Nova Scotia community. In order to effectively organize volunteers, the crew method of organization was suggested by Ariel Rogers and endorsed by veteran music festival organizer Mitch Podolak, founder of the Winnipeg Folk Music Festival and former producer of Stan Rogers.

There was never any plan put in place to sustain volunteer numbers, said MacMillan, people just kept coming back. As the festival grew in popularity more and more people from away became interested in the prospect of volunteering for the event. “When you volunteer you totally immerse yourself in the event...It is a very easy proposition to encourage people to volunteer.”

Volunteers, both local and imported, are rewarded with a weekend pass in exchange for an expectation of a minimum of 12 hours volunteer work. People are assigned to work crews where they can have an impact and some positive effect. “For our local volunteers it is gratifying to have new people come on board.”

The rewards for volunteering at Stanfest are many but MacMillan quoted John Allan Cameron who reportedly said volunteering was ‘a transcendental experience’.

“It is such a wonderful group event. It is a great way to get to know people in the community and know the spirit of this place; it is great fellowship and great fun,” added MacMillan.

“Whatever challenges we have to face, there is a common experience that happens here. At 20 years into the event you look back and think, ‘My God, it’s been 20 years’ and it is incredible that we have gotten here so quickly. Some of the people around you have been at it that long too; but we’re all just a little bit older now,” chuckled MacMillan.

The 20th anniversary of the Stan Rogers Folk Festival runs from July 1 to 3. And a week or two after tear down, planning begins for 2017. Those interested in volunteering should contact the main office via the Stanfest webpage at http://www.stanfest.com.