Why volunteer? Music festivals think they have the answer.

Copenhell festival

writer icon Anton Georgiev     Morten Skovgaard   |   Culture     🕐 04. May. 2018

From events like Woodstock, to the giant music festivals such as the ones held in Roskilde and Coachella, volunteers are an integral part of festival culture. Danish hard rock festival CopenHell is no different. Volunteers are the backbone of the entire event.

What is Copenhell
Copenhell started in 2010. It is a three-day music event attended by thirty thousand listeners every year. Over the past eight years, it has become a yearly tradition for many fans, both local and international. Many attendees are not only there for the music, as there are a variety of fixtures, such as art shows and tattoo parlours. Others attend for the friendship and sense of community. One distinguished quality about the festival is that it could not exist without its main workforce, the volunteers. 

The volunteers are the driving workforce behind the festival. Every year they work before, during and after the festival at a variety of jobs such as stage building, cleaning or guarding. The overall goal is to work towards an amazing festival experience for all of the attendees. Different jobs require volunteers to work different hours, and can start or end at all times of the day or the night. 

Being a volunteer brings some benefits. Every volunteer receives a free ticket for the festival. Food is provided, as well as the unique experience of creating and enjoying such an event with like-minded people.

Volunteer considerations
As well as the perks, working as a volunteer has some strict rules that are to be followed. Things that have to be considered include the working hours for the participants. Shifts can stretch up to eleven hours long. Volunteers are asked to arrive on the festival grounds before the paying attendees.  When not working, they are free to go to the same areas of the festival as the paying attendees. 

The different variety of jobs offer varied experiences. The cleaning crew goes around the festival site and collects empty beer bottles, in all types of weather. The wardrobe crew take care of attendees clothes and possessions while they enjoy the festival. There are some jobs, such as security, where proficiency of the Danish language is required. If a volunteer has experience with first aid or stewarding, they might be asked to take a role with more responsibility, such as managing different teams. The general rule is that no experience is necessary, but for some positions, a short training course will be provided. 

The main form of accommodation at the festival is camping. There is a designated spot for the volunteers. Alternatively, some may choose to stay in a nearby hotel. Locals can choose to reside at home during the festival. 

Working for a ticket to see your favourite band, instead of paying for a festival ticket, might seem like a good idea for many. Yet, a valid concern for some volunteers is the fact that they might be scheduled to work during the time that their favourite act is performing. If they are lucky, they might be able to find a fellow volunteer to swap shifts with, but working as a volunteer is not a guarantee that they will see their preferred performers.

There are some festivals, such as Roskilde Festival or Tinderbox, that require a small deposit from Volunteers. This is in case the volunteer does not show for a shift. Many other festivals do not have such a requirement. Nevertheless, if a volunteer receives an entry wristband and subsequently fails to show up for their shift, or appears in no condition to work, then they are charged the full ticket price and prohibited from ever volunteering again.

The festival spirit
Festivals can bring mud, rain, and sometimes sunshine. Combined with thunderous music, pyrotechnics at the main stage, and lots of happy people, the festival spirit is all around. You see complete strangers, in a few short minutes, sharing a drink or a bite, laughing, and enjoying each other’s company like old friends. This is an atmosphere that has to be experienced in order to fully comprehend the festival spirit.

For many people, the volunteers are the heart and soul of a festival experience. Sometimes even more so than the bands themselves. Volunteers tend to be fans, who love and enjoy the music so much that they want to be as close to the whole experience as possible.  They can make strong connections with one another, and hear war stories from older volunteers with past experience. Sometimes with a little luck, they can access the backstage areas of the festival. 

Other businesses
Alongside festivals, one of the most spread out uses of volunteers is seen in charity organisations. They depend on the goodwill of their volunteers. People are active in many branches, volunteering in developing countries, teaching in schools, helping after a natural disaster, and so on. Environmental volunteering is extremely popular. This is especially true today when there is an emphasis on preserving nature in order to save the planet. In these cases, volunteers are not working for direct benefits, such as tickets to an event. Rather, this sort of volunteering is done for a bigger picture, to leave a better world behind and to try to help those who may need it. That is not to say that volunteers at music festivals are selfish, far from it. Rather, they might believe in the importance of music and culture, and the right for people to gather in large numbers and enjoy one of humanity's greatest expressions.

Volunteering is not always easy, especially at a place like Copenhell where rain and mud can often become a challenge, especially for the crews working outside. Despite hardships, volunteering gives free entry to the event, and over the course of a single shift, there are plenty of friends to be made. Most of those who volunteer find that the pros easily outweigh any cons.

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