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Local Volunteers Band Together For The Fest

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Stefanie Jones has never missed a Fest.

This will be the music festival’s 14th year, and she’s been to every one, initially as a spectator then as a volunteer. This year, as she has for the past several years, Jones coordinated the local volunteers for the massive three-day punk music festival.

This year’s Fest will run from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1.

The event‘s inception came in 2002, where 60 bands performed over two days on just four stages, according to The Fest’s official website. Last year, 373 musical acts performed in more than 20 different venues across downtown Gainesville, according to the website. Of the thousands who attended in 2014, 20 percent were not from the United States and 69 percent were not from Florida, according to the website.

So what does it take to put on a music festival this big in the heart of Gainesville?

Recruiting volunteers began in August with an email inviting alumni who have worked the event before to return if interested, Jones said. After that there are three sign-up meetings for the general public.

This year's Fest volunteers gather for a mandatory meeting. At the meeting, volunteers met the stage managers they will work with at The Fest 14 and received event t-shirts. This year there are 443 volunteers, fewer than the estimated 500 from last year because so many volunteers chose to work more than the typical 1 or 2 shifts. Photo Courtesy of Sara Seixas.
This year’s Fest volunteers gather for a mandatory meeting. At the meeting, volunteers met the stage managers they will work with at The Fest 14 and received event t-shirts. This year there are 443 volunteers, fewer than the estimated 500 from last year because so many volunteers chose to work more than the typical 1 or 2 shifts. Photo Courtesy of Sara Seixas.

This year there are 443 volunteers signed up to work as stage managers, stagehands, door monitors and security for The Fest 14, about the same amount as last year. There are only about 20 Fest staff members, most of whom started as volunteers, Jones said. Staff from the performance venues are used for the festival work alongside the volunteers.

Jones went to the very first Fest because she was interested in the bands playing.

“That’s just the kind of music I was into,” she said.

But once you attend The Fest you keep coming back.

“Even if there’s no one you want to see one year, it feels like you’re missing out if you don’t go,” Jones said.

The passion for the music and atmosphere of The Fest creates a community of volunteers who wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

“Every single staff member and volunteer does it because they love it,” she said.

‘It All Starts With the Music’

Ben Pratt has been involved with The Fest for 11 years. He knew Fest founder Tony Weinbender before Pratt ever moved to Gainesville.

He started as a volunteer but is now a part of The Fest staff. A self-proclaimed man of many hats, Pratt works as a production manager and also coordinates with city officials from the Gainesville Police Department and the fire department to ensure crowd safety.

“We have a great working relationship with them,” Pratt said.

The crowd packs into Bo Diddley Plaza to see Hot Water Music perform during The Fest 13. The large shows of this year's Fest will take place on Lot 10 while Bo Diddley Plaza is under construction. Photo Courtesy of Alex Kio.
The crowd packs into Bo Diddley Plaza to see Hot Water Music perform during The Fest 13. The large shows of this year’s Fest will take place on Lot 10 while Bo Diddley Plaza is under construction. Photo Courtesy of Alex Kio.

Last year was the first year The Fest used Bo Diddley Plaza as a performance venue. This year because Bo Diddley Plaza is under construction, City Lot 10 is being used for outdoor performances instead. The lot is on Southwest First Avenue, between Southwest First and Second Street, across the street from the High Dive bar.

One of Pratt’s responsibilities this year was to talk with the nearby residents and make sure they were comfortable having loud performances on an open air stage so close to their homes.

“It’s really about letting them know what to expect,” Pratt said.

There are rarely any security incidents at The Fest, Pratt said.

Like Jones, Pratt said for him it all starts with music. After working The Fest all these years he feels a real bond with the people involved.

“It’s family through and through,” he said.

For the past eight years, Alex Kio has volunteered as a stage manager for The Fest. Pratt was the head of the venue he worked in his during his first year. Except for one year since he started, The Atlantic has been Kio’s home at The Fest. He usually has a four-person crew working with him: two door monitors and two stagehands, he said.

This year, Kio is most excited to see the bands Modern Life is War and Ex-Breathers simply because he’s a fan of them.

Kio was inspired to move to Gainesville from Tallahassee largely because of the music scene. He enjoys working with new volunteers each year and sharing what he has learned through his experience with The Fest. He also loves teaching people about Gainesville.

“It’s a real cultural exchange,” he said.

Kio said one of the greatest benefits of working The Fest is seeing foreigners from places like Japan and Norway experiencing Gainesville.

There are plenty of volunteers each year to cover the responsibilities of the festival, so working is enjoyable and not stressful, Kio said. Most volunteers work one or two 8-hour shifts each year. All volunteers receive wristbands in order to enjoy the rest of the event in exchange for their effort and time, Kio said.

Even though The Fest has grown so much over the years, it still feels authentic and true to Gainesville, Kio said.

“The fact that it’s in Gainesville is very important to the people who run The Fest,” he said. “It wouldn’t be the same anywhere else.”

About Bryan J. Faux

Bryan is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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