Three days. 20 hours of sleep.Triple-digit temps. Over 50 people guided and consoled. By the end of this massive event, I was done- physically, and emotionally. If you ever thought about volunteering at a music festival, realize doing so will probably change your life. It certainly did mine.
The Back Story
There is a lot that goes on behind the scenes at music festivals. So many unsung heroes. Among these heroes? Harm reduction personnel. With the drug crisis that is consuming North America, some of the biggest festivals are deploying harm reduction teams to educate and provide safe spaces for those who’ve had a little too much fun. Most of these teams consist of volunteers, festival goers like you and I. While some do this to get a free ticket and literally run away from duty, many more sign up to care for their fellow ravers. These people are some of the purest souls you’ll ever meet. The embodiment of peace, love, unity, respect- PLUR.
I’m not pure by any means. I was raised in a religious family and once I hit adulthood, I quickly fell off the righteous path my parents had set me on. Five months ago, I asked myself “what am I doing with my life?”. I was working a job where I did the same exact thing every day. Free time (weekends) were spent going to MANY dance music events, solo road trips, binge-watching the latest Netflix must-sees, and more. Work Monday through Friday. Play hard on weekends. Rinse. Repeat. During my moment of clarity, I realized I wanted to do something that made an impact on other people’s lives. I want my life to be meaningful, and there was no way that was happening at work.
Moment of Clarity
That night, while randomly browsing this very site, I came across an article written by one of my fellow staff writers. In it, he discusses what you need to know about working at a festival, as a volunteer. Having been to so many festivals, I’ve come to appreciate volunteers like the Conscious Crew here in Washington. I could not picture myself doing what they do though. Back then, my mentality was if I go to a festival, I want to have fun! I want to enjoy music with friends old and new- not work for free, deal with overdoses, and miss out on some of my favorite artists. My friends claimed I’d be the perfect fit. When we’d go out, I’d often be the DD and put the well-being of my social circle before my own. “Try it at least once!” they told me after floating the idea of volunteering at a festival.
As I read the article, I decided to heed their advice. I told myself that doing this would help me make a difference in people’s lives; to achieve my goal. Plus, dance music and its community had done so much for me, this could be my way of giving back- help “ravers” in need by being their safe space. If I didn’t like the experience, at least I’d know that this type of work wasn’t for me.
When it comes to volunteering at a festival there are many positions that require helping hands. In addition to the harm reduction teams, there are often needs for ticket scanners, ADA assistance personnel, water station attendants, body painters, and more! Yes, you’ll get into the festival for free but you will be put to work early, and often. Checking out a set, or two, might not be an option. To start, check social media for opportunities or the festival’s website directly. I found my opportunity on Facebook.
The post directed me to an online application, one that’s as in-depth as the one you probably had to fill out while applying for your current job; resume, references- everything! With some festivals, you’ll receive a decision within days. Others, weeks, or months! Personally, it took two weeks before I heard anything. After the wait, I received an e-mail inviting me to a Skype interview. Several days and a 45-minute Skype interview later, I got the position I wanted: harm reduction festival team member. In addition, I found out the position was paid. I had no idea- nowhere was it listed “volunteer” positions were compensated; I was ready to work for free! I viewed the wages I’d receive as a travel reimbursement since food and shelter had to be paid from out of pocket.
Fast forward to July. That’s where the fun began.