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Save your money and enjoy the ride during Ottawa’s biggest summer music festival

KayCie Gravelle | Fulcrum Staff

If you live in Ottawa and have ever said, “I always want to go to Bluesfest but I just can’t afford it,” I’m judging you.

It’s not because I don’t take your financial issues seriously—trust me, I get it—but because there’s a way to go to at least six days of the festival, meet tons of new people, score some delicious food, and get yourself a nice massage for the low price of absolutely nothing. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

For those of you who have never looked into what being a festival volunteer means, allow me to break it down for you.

  • In your first year you can’t attend a free show until you’ve completed your first shift.
  • Once you’re a returning volunteer, you can go to shows as soon as the festival starts.
  • A minimum of six shifts per year are required in order to keep yourself in good standing.
  • If you miss a shift without calling in advance, you can lose your show privileges. In extreme cases, you can lose your volunteer privileges altogether so make sure you’re up to the task.
  • Each shift comes with free access to the festival, and free food from volunteer village, and the aforementioned free massages. These perks are provided by students from Algonquin College’s massage therapy program and culinary arts programs.
  • You also receive two volunteer t-shirts , and a $5 coupon for Bluesfest branded merchandise.

That’s a lot of free swag right there.

This year was my second as a member of the photo team, and I had the most amazing shift schedule ever. I booked myself double shifts (1:30 p.m. -to 9 p.m.) on the first Saturday and final Sunday of the festival and single shifts (5-9 p.m.) on the remaining weekend days. This meant I had no commitments to the festival throughout the week, and as a second-year volunteer I could go to any show I wanted. Believe me when I tell you, I wanted to go to all of them. However, the human body can only take so much festival living, so I made myself a show schedule, and the festival and I started our week-long romance.

Bluesfest runs for 10 days, with one day without programming. Nine days of concerts starting at 1:30 p.m. and running until around 10:30 p.m. means the possibilities are vast. I attended seven days and saw artists I’d loved forever but had never gotten the chance to see (The Dixie Chicks, Tegan and Sara, Matt Good, Weezer, The Tragically Hip), artists I like but would most likely never pay to see (Adventure Club, Dog Blood, Los Lonely Boys), and discovered new artists that I plan to spend some time with on my iPod (Austra, Stars, DVVBS). All those shows cost me nothing but 26 hours of my life that I spent taking photographs of festival-goers and volunteers that will be used to promote the festival in the years to come.

As a volunteer, not only do I get to attend Bluesfest, but I get the chance to live and breathe the festival to any degree I want. I can show up for shifts, watch shows while I’m there and still get home at a reasonable hour, or I can go all out and spent 10 hours a day meeting all sorts of interesting people, chowing down on delicious food, perusing merch, snapping photos, and exploring the grounds. I’ve started to recognize people from year to year and look forward to spending 10 days of summer with my Bluesfest family.

The biggest payoff, for me is the practical things; when I’m volunteering I’m working in my field, learning new things, and saving serious cash. The $67 that I did spend includes poutine from my favourite festival food truck, a lemonade the size of a kiddie pool, a deliciously cold slushie and a  Tegan and Sara record from the Vinyl Shack (my personal favourite addition to the festival this year). Considering I would have otherwise paid anywhere between $249 (for a full festival pass, which sold out by the first day) and $385 (the price for seven individual day tickets), I’d say the 26 hours I spent working is a fair price for the amazing opportunities I took advantage of. So the next time you’re waxing poetic about how you can never afford to do anything fun in this city, remember that your time is just as valuable to the big events as your money is. Take advantage of the opportunities volunteering presents and remember: Jazz Fest and Folk Fest need volunteers too.

A few things to note

  • Volunteers have to be over the age of 15 and anyone under 18 needs parental permission—if you’ve got a younger sibling and are looking to be the coolest brother or sister ever, you should point them to the volunteer section of the Bluesfest website when it comes time to complete those pesky 40 hours of community service.
  •  The application process is simple: check the volunteer section of the website and peruse the job descriptions, choose a few that you would like and apply. If you’re qualified, you’re in and then it’s all fun stuff from there.



*All photos are property of KayCie Gravelle