For a little over a week last month, I was a volunteer with Celtic Colours International Festival. I had my little green hospital-like wristband and daily instructions regarding who to take where and when. I was responsible for getting performers to and from their shows on time, to soundchecks and to other shows they may want to see on nights they have off.
So how can a busy guy like me take time off from work to spend a week driving around the island? Actually, I can’t afford not to. As managing editor of Cape Breton’s arts & entertainment magazine, it’s an ideal way to get an overview of the festival, an experience I can use to direct and manage the magazine’s coverage, it’s an excellent opportunity to spread word among the performers, especially those first-timers from away, that we exist and will possibly be featuring them in upcoming issues and it’s a fine way to meet new, interesting people. People like Vida Elisson from Reykjavik, Iceland, who has already become a fixture at the festival, Gaelic singer Margaret Bennett, who happens to be a writer as well and American fiddler Laura Risk whose interest in Cape Breton fiddle music overflowed into a nearly academic discussion and debate as we drove toward Glendale. And the driving was nice, in brand new vehicles rented from Budget Rent A Car. One afternoon was spent along the Cabot Trail, just to show off the Fall colours to some visitors. Other times the drive was from Baddeck to Louisbourg and Glace Bay and back. On these days, the weather and scenery combined with my discovery of how settlement on this island is laid out and my passengers’ observations. “This is just like America” someone from John Whelan Band noticed on the way back from the Savoy as we hit Welton Street at night, with its fast food depots and car dealerships. Sometimes it’s just the karma of being in the right place at the right time, like on a Tim Horton’s run with Corrina Hewat in Glace Bay when Captain Kirk suddenly cuts through the radio static singing “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. And occasionally, as with Eleanor Shanley, John McLoughlin and ‘John’s wife’, the events of the day collide with an emerging sense of humour to diffuse the miles between where we are and where we’re going; a phenomena which can also happen catching up with an old friend, like Laoise Kelly, on the long road from Louisbourg to Baddeck in the dark.
Volunteering is enjoyable, but volunteers play an important role in getting something like this festival going by eliminating the expense of additional staff. Without volunteers some ventures would never get off the ground. Most of the people working on this magazine (the writers and photographers anyway) are volunteering their time, effort and expertise as we figure out the economics of job creation. They are what’s keeping it going. I spoke to Carsden from Tønder Festival in Denmark late one night at the Lakeside Cafe. He told me about his festival which has been on the go for over twenty years, with one employee and thousands of volunteers. Celtic Colours is tapping into the volunteer spirit as well and it’s working for them. But they are also creating jobs and that’s important too. Creating the jobs needed to get the work done is essential to becoming self-sustaining, cause you can’t rely on the goodwill of others or the government for assistance forever.