‘He’s the glue of the festival’

Lumsden’s calm presence, problem-solving skills highly valued at Stanfest

By Helen Murphy    

CANSO – Some people aren’t easily rattled. And that disposition comes in pretty handy when you’re inviting a few thousand people to spend the weekend in a field.

The unexpected can — and does — sometimes happen at a major outdoor music event like the Stan Rogers Folk Festival in Canso. And when it does, having someone like Chris Lumsden around is a real asset.

Troy and Jennie Greencorn, artistic director and artist relations manager of the festival respectively, told The Journal that Lumsden is “the glue of the festival.” He just seems to keep everything together.

That’s high praise for a volunteer without an official title. But a title might not work for the long-time teacher and school administrator, because Lumsden could be anywhere doing almost anything during the four-day songwriters’ festival.

As he tells it, Lumsden’s role is really about supporting others and helping the talented volunteer crew heads and their teams do what they are really good at.

“You look at the person’s skill set and you make sure they have the tools to do what they do best,” he says. “I’m not a carpenter, I’m not a stage expert, but I can help those people do what they do best.”

There’s a sense of community among the hundreds of volunteers, and Lumsden notes that good ideas can come from anywhere.

“They own it too, and they come with ideas.” Many of those ideas are reflected in the annual tweaking of elements of the music festival that helped it keep going and getting better over 22 years.

Changes this year include a more condensed performance area, with fewer stage tents located closer to the main stage. The largest performance tent serves the dual purpose of allowing the audience to watch the main stage performance while protected from any rain. Thankfully, that role was not really needed this year.

Some crew heads have been perfecting their role since year one, Lumsden says. “We have people who have become experts at portions of festival-building.”

Lumsden also works closely with site security and the RCMP to make sure guests have a safe and fun experience. “We need to work together to ensure we’re making good decisions.”

The schedule change this year to late July, from the first weekend of the month, made it possible for Lumsden to play a bigger role in site preparation. He helps organize high school graduation in Antigonish, so the early July dates had made for a quick turnaround to get on site before opening night. This year he’s had more time to help set up tents and other facilities.

My hands are pretty bruised,” he says of the experience.

When The Journal sat down to talk with Lumsden on Sunday afternoon, he was going on only six hours sleep since Friday morning. He’s among the last to leave in the wee hours, and is back on site around 7 a.m. each day.

Stanfest has always been a family affair for Lumsden’s Canso family — including sister Jennie, Eric running the Pourhouse music and beer garden site in the arena, where Chris’s wife Janie also volunteers, and 75-year-old father Buzz helping to keep the campground running smoothly. And in recent years the family connection has grown, with his children Peter and Monica taking on volunteer roles.

“It’s important now to develop the next generation,” he says.

Attendance numbers look pretty good this year, he says, with the weather and line-up attracting folks from near and far.

Each year Stanfest creates its own unique mood and flavour, and the 2018 version has been very positive, he adds.

“It helps when people aren’t waking up wet.”