You are using an outdated browser. Please upgrade your browser to improve your experience and security.

Skip to main content
Text Size:

Nestled on a hillside overlooking the city, festivalgoers sit shoulder to shoulder, taking in the sounds from a stage that has hosted the likes of Joni Mitchell, k.d. lang, and the Barenaked Ladies. A sense of community hangs in the air, as families, friends, and new acquaintances find common ground through their shared love for music.

This scene is one Edmontonians are familiar with. On its 44th year, the Edmonton Folk Festival is a staple in the summer calendar for many Albertans, welcoming tens of thousands of visitors annually.

The magic is everywhere

But behind the scenes is another tight-knit community. The festival is almost entirely volunteer run. With designated crews including administration, food services, hospitality, and production, the 2,700 volunteers ensure that the festival goes off without a hitch.  

“It’s a cool, well-oiled system of all these passionate people who just want to help,” describes Kelly Lessard, who is volunteering with the festival for her second summer this year.

“Growing up and going to the Folk Festival, it’s magical. How often do you get to sit on a hill and listen to music with that many other people?” adds Lessard. “That magic I grew up seeing, and now being behind the scenes and seeing the intricate back-network system, is magical in another way.”

The Edmonton Folk Festival was started in 1980, with only one staff member and 300 volunteers. It operates as a charitable, not-for-profit organization, with the goal of making live music accessible. A key aspect of this accessibility is the volunteer force, which allows ticket costs to stay low.

Belonging to a family

“It’s like one big family when people volunteer,” says Debbie Krall, who has been volunteering since 1987 and now coordinates the festival bar. “If we don’t see each other all year, then you see them on your first shift, it’s a hug and ‘how have you been.’”

Over the last 30 years, the Folk Festival has grown to be one of the leading folk festivals in the world. There are now nine year-round staff members, but the volunteer force continues to grow exponentially year after year. It is not uncommon for some volunteers to be on their tenth or fifteenth festival.


Many of the volunteers are returning. I have a very small turnover. We are like a family. When we see each other at Festival, it’s like a day hasn’t passed.

Debbie Krall, volunteer for the Bar Crew

Krall keeps in touch with her team throughout the year by sending personalized holiday cards and end-of-festival thank-you notes. Last year, she was able to share her love of the Folk Festival by volunteering alongside her daughter and granddaughter.

“The festival projects wholeness, family, and the opportunity that regardless of your background, everyone can join in,” Krall says.

“There's definitely some great connections that have been made at the Festival,” adds Muffy McKay, communications manager for the Folk Fest. “Some of my favorite stories are people who met at the festival as volunteers and then wound up getting married and having families.”

Creating a safe and respectful atmosphere

Beyond the music, a key aspect of why the volunteers continue to donate their time year after year is how well they are treated.

“The volunteers are very well respected, and well looked after,” says Krall. Volunteers are provided with “top notch” meals, concert viewing areas, and private performances.


Our volunteers are one giant team working together to make everyone's festival experience enjoyable. All of that energy spills over into all facets of the festival and really brings people together.

Jaime Pruden, interim manager of volunteers.

As the volunteers get ready for the first festival since Canada fully reopened its borders to international travellers, they are excited to welcome back folk artists and fans from around the world to Edmonton. On the roster this year is Fiest (Canada), Dervish (Ireland), Gregory Alan Isakov (USA), Steph Strings (Australia) and Sona Jobarteh (UK) to name a few.

“Being from Edmonton, it is great because the artists will ask ‘Where is a good spot I can go for lunch?’” says Lessard. “It’s fun to help them figure that out and welcome them to my city.”

“It’s really special being a part of something so big and celebrated in the heart of our city,” adds Pruden.

You may also be interested in