Volunteers Make Music Fests Possible

May Erlwine performs at the Buttermilk Jamboree. Photo courtesy of Circle Pines Center.

While music is what draws people to music festivals, it’s the hundreds of dedicated volunteers that make the events happen.

Buttermilk Jamboree volunteers, for example, start working as early as November of the previous year to secure equipment rentals, musical acts, and grants and sponsorships.

Festivals like Buttermilk and Leilapalooza can cost up to $100,000 to put on, but a good chunk of that cost is pared away by volunteers who donate their time and efforts to make the events sustainable.

Brett Meyers, director of the Leila Arboretum, estimates that between $35,000 and $40,000 in volunteer hours go into planning and executing Leilapalooza. Meyers bases his estimate on the going rate for volunteer time at nearly $25 an hour, as established by The Independent Sector, a nonprofit organization.

“So when you calculate all these meetings and planning and the 150 or so volunteers that are there over a 16- to 18-hour window, all the bands that donate their time … if we had to pay everybody at that rate, that’s what it would cost,” he says.

Volunteers donate their time because they want to see the communities that host the festivals thrive and enjoy themselves, says Leilapalooza Manager J.J. Ramone.

As another way to keep costs down, Leilapalooza doesn’t pay musicians for their performances; instead these bands trade pay for the opportunity to be heard by a wider audience and to support the community, says Meyers.

“All of us like music and like going to festivals,” Ramone says, “so that’s kind of what we’re trying to do: keep this thing going so that people don’t have to leave town and don’t have to spend a lot of money.”