The Atlin Arts and Music Festival was propped up this year by its largest-ever volunteer contingent.
The main headliner at the festival was Canadian rocker Gord Downie, known most widely for being the frontman of the Tragically Hip. Downie, who was there performing with The Sadies, has traversed the continent extensively over a career now pushing into its fourth decade.
His visit to Atlin granted him the rare experience of stepping foot on a piece of Canadian soil that he hadn’t previously touched. The driver who brought him there was a volunteer, as were the bartenders, security guards, artist handlers, recycling crew and more.
Each year, with up to 2,500 guests descending on the town of 500 residents, the festival is made possible by the work of volunteers. Close to 300 volunteers took part this year, each of them donating 12 hours of their time in order to get a weekend pass.
Whitehorse resident Kasey Rae Anderson was the festival volunteer coordinator.
Anderson began to get involved at the local Whitehorse music scene at 17 -“I just fell in love with it and the artists” – and eventually headed to Vancouver to study music and film production.
Her first musical gig was volunteering as a driver for Frostbite, taking Danny Michel around town.
“I knew then that being on the inside of a festival is where I wanted to be,” she said, speaking midday Saturday as volunteers and fans pulsed through the festival grounds.
It was a far different scene than the months leading up to the festival, when Anderson spent much time hunched over a computer screen, filling in a giant spreadsheet with all the duties, hours and locations for volunteers and team leaders.
Many of the team leaders are local Atlin residents, most of whom have been involved with the festival since its inception.
“The Atlin teams are really strong and welcoming,” said Anderson. “Everyone is just down to make the festival happen.”
Anderson said that the hours spent pouring over the schedule can eventually be lost in the ether as the festival churns on and volunteers sometimes don’t show, or show at the wrong times, or at the wrong place and sudden substitutes have to be swapped in, patching up the missing holes.
Joslyn Kilborn was one of the festival’s volunteers, working security around the main tent on Saturday afternoon, the first of her six hour shifts.
A few hours into it, everything was going smoothly. “Everyone just wants to be good and nice,” she said.
She tugged at her Atlin-issued orange safety vest and said, “Plus, once you get the orange vest you’re in the orange vest club and that comes with a secret handshake.”
Anderson echoed the team-spirit sentiment of the festival.
“Everyone just wants things to go smoothly and works together to make it happen,” she said.
On Sunday evening, Anderson and Kilborn worked together, tearing down the remnants of the festival, packing them up alongside 30 other volunteers.
As the tents fell, one year of planning fell alongside them, but the rest won’t last long; the Atlin board have already started on next year’s event.
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