Volunteers Of Sled Island: A Festival’s Backbone

Wednesday 04th, June 2014 / 11:58
By Brandon McNeil

There are few events that happen in Calgary that are as cherished as Sled Island. The acclaimed arts and entertainment festival has been running since 2007, continually gaining steam and reputation for being one of Western Canada’s premiere artist showcases.

What usually doesn’t get recognition, though, are the hordes of hard-working volunteers that flock to Sled Island’s aid year after year to help make it all happen. From door volunteers, to venue managers, to stage managers, to security and transportation, Sled Island generally has 400-450 people at its beck and call that put in anywhere from 16-40 hours over the course of the festival.

The volunteers are a split mix of loyalists that come back every year to the young kids that turn over the year after, but they all serve a very valuable purpose. Below, we spoke to a few faces among this group that Sled Island would not survive without.

sivol-RachelleQuinnRachelle Quinn, Transport Crew:

Role: I pick up musicians, promoters, and producers from the airport and drop at hotels. I pick up bands from hotels/billets and drive them to gigs.

Volunteering since: 2010

Biggest Job Challenge: Most people that you pick up are excited about the festival and eager to chat, but there are a few awkward rides from time to time.

Most Exciting Experience: Trying to get bands into downtown when the floodwaters were rising and the bridges were closing was probably the most exciting (and frightening). The most rewarding was hosting a band from San Francisco called Sugar and Gold. They were the perfect houseguests and they left me a really lovely note about how great of a time they had in Calgary, and how good hosts are essential to the success of a touring band. It left a lasting impression on me. I’ve since hosted couchsurfers from around the world as well as more bands.

sivol-DalePidlisnyDale Pidlisny, General Volunteer:

Role: I’m available for whatever role they’re looking to fill.

Volunteering since: 2010

Biggest Job Challenge: I tend to lean towards the easy stuff. Most volunteer roles are fairly stress-free but the show wouldn’t happen without people to fill them.

Most Exciting Experience: I’ve worked the artist’s lounge and welcome desk, which was fun, but the weirdest day was babysitting for Japanese metal trio Boris. I watched their set the night before then saw the two of them as parents the next day. We chatted at the hotel for an hour before their sound check then I basically played video games with their daughter until they came back at 4 a.m.


Dani Ossa, Volunteer Assistant:

Role: To assist the volunteer coordinator in different tasks at the Sled quarters, such as answering phone calls, filling up venue and artists’ packages, and assist people that come into the office.

Volunteering since: 2013

Biggest Job Challenge: The biggest challenge I encountered while volunteering at the Sled quarters was when the volunteer coordinator had to leave me in charge of the volunteer coordination at the office for a few hours due to her help being needed at a different venue. I had little knowledge about her job and that was the most challenging part because for the most part, I didn’t know what I was doing. However, even though other people at the Sled office had their own jobs to work on, they were extremely nice and welcoming. They guided me and helped me complete all my tasks with no problem.

Most Exciting Experience: I think the most rewarding part about the festival is when people randomly come up to you and thank you for supporting the festival and for investing your time into making Sled Island a better experience for everyone.

sivol-TDSmithTrevor D. Smith, General Volunteer:

Role: The last three years I’ve done the artist lounge. So, artist lounge bartender.

Volunteering since: 2010

Biggest Job Challenge: Well, last year, the big challenge would have been dealing with the flood. The artist lounge is located at the top of the Calgary Tower, so, we got the call around four o’ clock last year with regards to the fact the basement offices at Sled Island were being evacuated. Everybody was moving to the Palliser Hotel, which was prior to shutting down all of downtown the next day and the subsequent cancellation of the balance of Sled Island. We all had to pull the same rope and all hands on deck to get the office moved from Fourth Street to Palliser.

Most Exciting Experience: The Thursday before the cancellation. It was a very memorable because we were at the top of the tower, there with two other volunteers who were fairly new to Calgary – I’m a third generation Calgarian – but it was quite an interesting place to be while you were watching the Calgary apocalypse go down.

sivol-LindsaySLindsay Schonfelder, Venue/Stage Manager:

Role: I started out as a general volunteer, but since then I’ve been a venue manager and stage manager a bunch of times. As a venue manager, you just manage however many volunteers you have at the venue and try to make sure everything is getting done, that the volunteers are happy, the line-ups are OK, the bands are happy and everyone gets their money.

Volunteering since: 2009

Biggest Job Challenge: Well, you just want to make sure that everyone is having a good time. Sometimes you can’t fit as many people into the venue that want to get in, and that’s awful because you know that they just want to get in and see their show, right? But you have to make sure that everyone is going to stay safe.

Most Exciting Experience: Just as a spectator, not as a volunteer at the show, but Andrew W.K two years ago. That was just such a fun and crazy show.

sivol-MattHamelMatthew Hamel, Venue Manager:

Role: I’ve done comedy for the last four years.

Volunteering since: 2010

Biggest Job Challenge: The first year I did it, somebody from the audience punched a comedian in the face so that was a huge challenge. It wasn’t like a fan; she was offended and punched him, and actually broke a glass as well. I had to separate them and then try to get the show to continue after.

Most Exciting Experience: [The above answer] is the one.

sivol-GregYuGreg Yu, Transport Coordinator:

Role: Basically my crew has come to call me “the phone guy.”  I’m the guy on the phone that dispatches drivers, coordinates schedules and makes sure we get everyone out to pickup and dropoff artists. I work in the office.

Volunteering since: 2007

Biggest Job Challenge: It’s definitely having the resources to…have one car, have one driver and be in four places at once. Somehow we pull it off. A couple of years ago, we had a deal with the Toyota Scions, and you could fit two guys and a guitar in there, but somehow we managed to fit full bands and all their gear in it.

sivol-MariellaVillalobosMariella Villalobos, Olympic Plaza Volunteer:

Role: Mariella “Will do whatever she is put to, no, REALLY” Villalobos, but seriously, no title.

Volunteering since: 2010

Biggest Job Challenge: All three previous years where Main Stage actually happened (fuck you, flood). I’ve been an Olympic Plaza backstage/hospitality volunteer; the challenge there is being flexible and creative since you never know what you’ll need to make happen ASAP so that everything keeps rolling with no one the wiser. From trying to figure out where close by will let you wash out a dozen wine glasses to finding ways to make signs labeling artist green room tents, to figuring out how to preserve said signs when it starts to rain and refuses to stop, sweeping out the worst of the deep water so that bands and crew can quickly get gear to and from the stage in the middle of a downpour, while being accommodating in whatever way the backstage managers/artists themselves may require. All this without consciously letting yourself acknowledge that some of the artists you admire most in the world are RIGHT OVER THERE. Professionalism is number one.

Most Exciting Experience: That’s a tough one. I always feel a huge sense of gratitude getting to be a part of such an incredible thing happen in the city I love EVERY year… Probably watching The Hold Steady’s amazing set in freezing/wet sneakers, knowing how hard we’d worked to make sure it all happened despite it pissing rain all day. Top personal squee moment would be Gar Wood of Hot Snakes hand me a beer from the stage in the middle of their Dickens set (luckily I was off-shift at that point). Having the guys from Shabazz Palaces ask to take a picture with me is probably a close second.

One of the questions that the volunteers were asked to answer for this was “why do they keep coming back?” To the outside observer, one might find the gig stressful and hard to balance, but no one on this list said anything of the sort.

Sled Island, while having its perks, has become a beacon for a meeting of the minds;a place where those of a common interest get together every year and develop a strong sense of camaraderie and kinship while expressing themselves and their interests within the realm of arts and entertainment.

Sure, you’ll meet and hang out with your favourite bands, but the experiences and friendships that volunteers come away from are the foundation of what keeps them coming back.

They’ll always have Sled Island.


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