Roadtrip With Reason: folk festival as worthy cause

Becky Conlon spent the summer of 2011 traveling across Canada for a project she called the Roadtrip with Reason. Along the way, Becky volunteered at various non-profits across the country: food banks, literacy and youth-at-risk organizations, environmental alliances — and one folk festival. Here’s her experience.

Ah, the Ottawa Folk Festival. What an experience!

I spent four full days volunteering, participating, engaging and soaking up the amazing energy that was flowing within the festival gates.

Let’s set the scene.

Hog’s Back Park in Ottawa.
August. Sunshine. Blue skies.

Teens, boomers, little kids, seniors, twenty-somethings, friends, families,  musicians, volunteers, artists, activists, foodies and everyone else in between.

Smiling faces – thousands of them.

Beer lines. Taco trucks. Lemonade stands.
Jewellery vendors. Community groups.
Bicycles. Water stations. Re-usable plates.
Musical playground for kids.
Jamming station for adults.

City and Colour, Matt Costa, Basia Bulat, Vance Gilbert, Madison Violet, Sean McCann, The Little Stevies, Colin Hay, Steve Earle, Rural Alberta Advantage, The Wooden Sky, Kim Mitchell & many other amazing talents.

Music, everywhere.

Volunteers in their blue shirts, everywhere…running every aspect of the show!

Emily Addison, the Community Engagement and Volunteer Manager, put me on the ‘Photo Crew’ which meant that I had the freedom to roam the Festival and capture everything on video. This also gave me the opportunity to offer my helping hands at different stations along the way.

I got my shirt dirty with the EnviroDish crew (cleaning re-usable meal dishes), prepped and served fresh food with the Festival Kitchen crew, roamed with the Green Team while we collected and sorted recycables, sat at the Info Booth and answered questions, sold tickets to support the festival with the Raffle crew, checked-in bicycles at their lock-up station, and even attempted to get some decent shots on Photo Crew.

600+ volunteers worked non-stop throughout the festival weekend (and the months beforehand) ensuring that every detail was covered. In addition to the tasks that I was involved in, there were also crews dedicated to Production, the KidZone, Hospitality, Parking, Instrument Care, Safety & Gates, Surveying, Social Media, Floaters & manning Volunteer HQ. From my observations, the entire festival was extremely organized and ran like clockwork.

It was an absolute success in my eyes.

The Ottawa Folk Festival is a “non-profit volunteer-based community organization which celebrates the creativity of musician, dancers, artisans and storytellers through an annual festival“, and volunteering with them was a very unique experience.

Before I arrived to the festival site, I questioned my decision to include OFF as part of the Roadtrip with Reason – I wasn’t sure how to deal with comments like “They put on a festival. Who cares? Do they do anything worthy?”.

By the end of Day 1, I wasn’t questioning anything.So the Ottawa Folk Festival isn’t saving lives.Who cares?! Their focus is bringing communities of people together — the community of Ottawa, musicians, artisans, children, seniors, activists, music lovers and everyone else that takes part in the festivities. I spoke to hundreds of volunteers and participants throughout the weekend and heard over and over that “the festival is important“, “it supports the arts community“, “it supports community development“, “it brings my family together“, “it’s just an amazing event” and “it’s absolutely worthy“.

You can’t argue with the crowd!

I often pose the question to people (while interviewing), “What 3 words would you use to describe (insert here)?” — I asked myself that same question for the Ottawa Folk Festival.


Now that I know what it’s like being a part of the music festival experience, I look forward to being a volunteer for life. Many thanks to the Ottawa Folk Festival for introducing me to the festival world and for being such a memorable part of the Roadtrip with Reason journey.

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  1. Beverlie Robertson 19 January, 2012 at 19:06

    Becky Conlon is a truly fabulous young woman. She was our co-ordinator for the Arts Council of Muskoka for a little over a year & we were all sorry when it was time for her to leave. She made a huge difference to our organization & to the varied artistic community of Muskoka. She would have been an excellent person to review the OFF as a volunteer….she herself is a “star” & in the know about the arts.

  2. Denise Sheedy 19 January, 2012 at 20:53

    Becky, tell all your friends about your wonderful experience at the Ottawa Folk Festival. All Canadian folk festivals have amazing energy and need to be discovered by the younger generation!

  3. Becky Conlon 19 January, 2012 at 22:32

    Thanks for the re-post, RMC! It was an awesome experience and I can’t wait to hop on board as a volunteer with another great folk festival this summer. Such a beautiful community of people 🙂

    P.S. Awe, Beverlie. What a pleasant surprise finding your lovely comment on here. I miss you all!

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