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V is for Volunteer

April 27, 2015

If you’re tired of hearing me regale my adventures at Merlefest this past week, check out someone else’s blog.  I promise, this is the last for now.

I’ve been attending the Merle Watson Memorial Festival (Merlefest) in Wilkesboro, NC, for several years now–along with several thousand other music fans.  Unlike so many festivals, this is not nasty liquored-up mudfest; contrary to some misgivings, it’s not simply “just another bluegrass festival” either. In fact, it’s one of the best-run, most eclectic festivals anywhere.

For the first time this year, I attended as a volunteer, working three days at the front of the main stage at the photo platform, trying to make sure only photographers with the right credentials (silver arm band, the right press photograph bade, and a green armband that looked like a drink coozie) climbed up onto the platform closest to the stage.  I got to wear a lovely chartreuse vest with a name tag, under which I added more and more layers of clothes as the day grew cooler–then colder.

Of course, when I was off duty, I could roam to any stage on the campus, so I saw lots of different acts at the Hillside Stage, the Creekside Stage, in Walker Auditorium, and at the Dance Tent, but when I was on duty, I got to see the headlining acts right up front–Scythian, Bela Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Sam Bush Band, Marshall Tucker Band, Jim Lauderdale and the North Mississippi All-Stars, Robert Earl Keen, and Dwight Yoakum (to name a few).

I saw someone wearing a tee shirt that read “Volunteers are not unpaid because they’re worthless but because they’re priceless.”  The sentiment may be corny, but it adds up.  The festival runs so smoothly because of the number of volunteers, starting with the bus drivers shuttling people back and forth to and from the parking lots, the “restroom attendants” who made sure the nicest port-a-johns in the world stayed clean, cooks, garbage can emptiers, table wipers, and countless others who remained almost invisible while making everything go well.

Looking back on the experience, I realize that almost everything is more fun if you have some buy-in and some involvement.  I’d rather work a conference than just show up.  When I go to a party, I’d rather help the host in the kitchen than to sit as if I thought food appeared and cleaned itself  up by magic.

I also met the best group of people, and they came from everywhere. Many of the volunteers come from out of state, some from Canada, and the come back year after year.  I sure hope I get to!

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