Getting Backstage: What It's Like to Volunteer for a Music Festival

Sunset at Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2016.

Sunset at Telluride Bluegrass Festival 2016.

Aside from performing, my favorite way to experience live music is behind the scenes. You’ve seen those people: slapping wristbands down the cattle lines at the Fox and Boulder theatres, standing cross-armed at festival gates, running cables across the stage. More often than not, those individuals aren’t being paid to be there, especially in festival settings. So what’s the glory in all of this? Much more than meets the eye. Despite many of the volunteer jobs being menial labor and requiring long periods of standing in one place (or, worse yet, running gear through throngs of leisurely festival-goers), there are definite perks to the job.

Emmylou Harris.

Emmylou Harris.

Admittedly, my initial interest in volunteering at festivals was fairly self-serving: I’m broke, and I get to see really incredible music for free. However, my experiences as a volunteer have offered me so much more than just a free pass.

Lil' Smokies.

Lil' Smokies.

Last weekend was the second year I volunteered for the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. The festival is internationally recognized as a staple bluegrass festival, and yet part of what I love about it is that it’s not exclusively bluegrass. As a volunteer for the Nightgrass staff, I got into the festival for free (and early) and free camping (collectively a $340 value). Aside from that, I got a staff wristband giving me access to backstage and a meal card to get one free meal backstage per day. Altogether, this is approximately a $500 value to volunteer for five hours each night, which is a pretty sweet deal.

Punch Brothers.

Punch Brothers.

The five-hour shifts can be pretty lighthearted (generally really good people are drawn to volunteer positions), but they can also be brutal. You might have to deal with a belligerent drunk guy claiming he ordered a ticket in advance with no record of it; meanwhile his girlfriend has already slipped past security (a theoretical situation, of course… ). Or you might have to be the responsible adult telling people old enough to be your parents that, no, they can’t bring in their own alcohol (yeah, it’s awkward). Or worse yet, you might have to supervise a backstage door, in a dark hallway where nobody walks and you have to resist falling asleep at 2 AM after having been in the sun all day festivaling. As a volunteer, your position still requires the integrity to show up on time and do your job (and sometimes deal with people who bring out the worst parts of your humanity). With all this, you’re probably questioning if it’s really worth it. For me, absolutely.

Houndmouth.

Houndmouth.

The best part of volunteering is being part of this team, this community that puts on such an immense ordeal. Backstage, I walked past some of my musical idols (making an effort to be casual and contain the inner fangirl, ecstatic to be walking right behind Chris Thile). I ate in the same tent as the Stringdusters as if we were colleagues. I stepped out of a Porta Potti and told the fiddler from Mandolin Orange that I really liked their set as she was stepping in the one next to me. I sat in the VIP section for nearly every show on the main stage, including the front row for Ryan Adams and Emmylou Harris, and I sat alongside the artists’ friends and family members (and sometimes the artists themselves), watching country legends like John Prine and emerging pop stars like Houndmouth and The Oh Hellos. I was part of it all.

Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange.

Emily Frantz of Mandolin Orange.

If you’re interested in volunteering, do it, but only if it’s because you want to be part of the team. It’s gratifying to be a part of something so immense; something far more valuable than merely a free ticket. A lot of venues and festivals depend on volunteers and unpaid interns for success, so look into the events that interest you, research what volunteer positions are available, and figure out how to apply. It’s an incredible experience for those with their heart in it, and it will always be the second best way to experience live music for me.

Sara Watkins singing with John Prine.

Sara Watkins singing with John Prine.

Learn more about the Telluride Bluegrass Festival here.

-Riley

Find out more about me on my blog.

All photos per the author. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

I Went to Telluride Bluegrass Festival & It Felt Like I Was In Narnia

By: Sierra Voss

Once upon a time there was a magical mountain town. This town was tucked way, way back into the San Juan Mountain range, surrounded on all sides by a box canyon, and scattered throughout it were cascading waterfalls. One day, the town decided to host a four day Bluegrass Festival. The festival would be made up of mouthwatering food stands, casual mountain-town vibes, and epic music lineups.

Telluride Bluegrass Festival: Magic Vibes.

Telluride Bluegrass Festival: Magic Vibes.

This town is Telluride, CO, and for the past 43 years, the magical story that is the Telluride Bluegrass Festival has been happening every summer in the land that often leaves festival-goers wondering whether they’re at a four-day music event, or whether they’ve been transported to the wonderful world C.S. Lewis’ Narnia.

Walking on Main Street. 

Walking on Main Street. 

One of the best parts about this festival is the diverse range of activities you can take part in throughout the day and night. Festival goers can break up the day by taking a dip in the beautiful river that runs near the fest, or start the morning off with a two mile hike to the famous Bridal Veil Falls. Not the outdoors type? No problem. You can still feel the magic of the place by taking a walk down Main Street and popping into all the fun mountain stores, bars, and restaurants.

Sun hats were key at TBF.

Sun hats were key at TBF.

Strolling through the festival grounds you’ll see people of all ages smiling, basking in the sun, and toe tappin’ to twangy guitar pickin’ tunes. And everyone has some sort of costume, whether it’s a group of girls adorned in badass sun hats or an eclectic gathering of people in Hawaiian shirts, overalls, or American flag everythang. Kids run around spraying people down with squirt guns, while adults head to purchase wine in sippy cups. All of these are part of the magical vibes that you will find at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival.

Emmylou Harris.

Emmylou Harris.

And then there’s the music. Whoever locked down the lineup for this year’s fest was born to crush. Bluegrass legends like John Prine and Dave Rawlings Machine shared the stage with amazing newcomers like Houndmouth and The Oh Hellos. Every band involved in the fest brought a new energy to the stage as the lineup throughout the four days flowed flawlessly from traditional bluegrass, to folk rock, to Americana and indie rock.

Narnia. 

Narnia. 

Eighty-degree bluebird days quickly turned into fifty-degree moonlit nights. The first evening of the fest, David Rowling Machine kept it somewhat mellow with haunting traditional bluegrass melodies. The following night, Greensky Bluegrass ripped up the stage, mixing controlled bluegrass roots with new chaotic punk rock sounds. The third night was a straight jam sesh, brought by Leftover Salmon. And finally, to close out the fest, we watched an incredible collaboration of artists sharing the stage, including Sam Bush, Béla Fleck, Jerry Douglas, Edgar Meyer, Bryan Sutton, and Stuart Duncan. Other special performances of note include when Ryan Adams was backed by The Infamous Stringdusters, and when Sara Watkins of Nickel Creek joined John Prine for a beautiful duet.

Views on views. 

Views on views. 

All in all, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival was a mystical amalgamation of nature, amazing music, and good times spent with friends. So was it Narnia? They might just be one in the same…

-Sierra

All photos per Sam Skinner. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.

The Weekend Six: Six Shows to See 05/17, 05/18, & 05/19

By: Hannah Oreskovich

It’s been a bit since we’ve dropped a six! Hope you missed us Colorado- here are our weekend picks:

Today (Friday 06/17):

Dechen Hawk’s Jus’ Sayin’ CD Release Show at The Laughing Goat in Boulder 8PM-Close

Dechen Hawk.

Dechen Hawk.

Dechen Hawk’s project Jus’ Sayin’ is droppin’ new music tonight at the LG. Just yesterday, we brought you a sweet feature on Jus’ Sayin’s new self-titled release, which you should definitely peep before you roll over to this show. Performances by Colin Robison, Andrew Sturtz, Jarrad S.Menard, Katie Farmer, Mirco Altenbach, and Ben Rubin await your ears. Bonus: Tonight is Hawk’s birthday, so come celebrate with him and get rowdy! See you there.

Listen to Jus’ Sayin’s new single, “Drug of Choice”:

Evergreen and Boulder Sound Lab at Owsley’s Golden Road in Boulder 8PM-Close

Evergreen has landed Colorado.

Evergreen has landed Colorado.

Wisconsin’s fusion/jam rock outfit Evergreen will be making their way through Boulder as part of their summer tour tonight at Owsley’s. The four-piece describe themselves as “blending psychedelic rock, jazz, funk, country, and folk into a soulful and unpredictable groove”. Boulder Sound Lab will be sharing the stage with their “transcendental brain massage therapy” sounds. It’s gonna be a wild time, so come get down!

Listen to Evergreen’s High Noon Saloon album:

Tomorrow (Saturday 06/18):

The Pamlico Sound’s Funkstravaganza at Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom in Denver 8PM-Close

The Pamlico Sound. Hamhock. Envy Alo. Gumbo le Funque. And Low Down Brass Band. All of these glorious funk forces are joining hands tomorrow in the name of danceability at Denver’s Cervantes’.  Earlier this week, we brought you an in-depth interview with Envy Alo, a band that’s reached notable success in less than a year. Lend an eye to that, and your ears to this show! Pastor Will B will make yah dance all night.

Listen to The Pamlico Sound’s “Let’s Funk” live performance:

Jaden Carlson Band at The Pub on Pearl in Denver 930PM-Close

Jaden Carlson.

Jaden Carlson.

It’s been five years since The Pub on Pearl featured music, but tonight, they’re bringing it back! And they’re making their music comeback with one of Colorado’s fastest-rising stars, Jaden Carlson. We first featured 15-year-old Carlson back in February when she headlined Boulder’s Lazy Dog for her very own birthday bash with friends from some of Colorado’s most well-known bands. Since then, the guitar-playing prodigy’s journey has only continued, so catch her while you can! Best part? It’s free!

Listen to Jaden Carlson’s original “Essium”:

All Weekend:

Denver Pridefest at Civic Center Park in Denver 10AM-6PM

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Musicians, artists, friends: Last Sunday’s tragedy in Orlando is still rippling through our brains. And that’s why we can’t think of a better way to spend our weekend than with our LGBTQ community at Denver’s Pridefest. There will be 250 vendors, several music stages, food trucks, and more. It’s your chance to stand up, be heard, be you, and cast fear aside for pride. Let’s do it crew.

Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Telluride, CO - Various Stages & Times

Bluegrass & Views.

Bluegrass & Views.

We sure love festival season! This weekend is the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, and some tickets and camping are still available for purchase. Though the fest started last night with a few performances, today is when the gates and camping actually open. Acts on the bill of note include Ryan Adams, The Oh Hellos, Greensky Bluegrass, Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon, Infamous Stringdusters, Emmylou Harris, and the Telluride House Band. We will have some coverage for you from the fest next week, so stay tuned!

Thanks for reading CO.

-Hannah

Follow Hannah on twitter and instagram.

All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured.