Putting on the Richmond Folk Festival is no small feat.
Virginia’s largest festival costs approximately $1.5 million to produce, and considering it’s completely free to the public, it simply wouldn’t be possible without the generous financial support of corporate sponsors, individual donors and volunteer manpower.
Planning for the 3-day extravaganza starts a year in advance, just weeks after the tents are disassembled from the most recent fest. Each year, a team of 1,500 volunteers gather, often starting months beforehand, to help with site set up, breakdown, transportation, donation collection, music logging, soda sales, recycling, artist hosting, and so much more. Click here to find the volunteer job that’s right for you!
Some have been with the festival from the beginning. Others just signed on last year. In almost all cases, they come back again each fall to be part of it.
This year, we reached out to organizers to learn more about some of the volunteers whose contributions to the Richmond Folk Festival have made them legendary.
Site Setup and Lights
If you ask other volunteers who they would pick as the MVP Folk Festival volunteer, you’ll hear Dave Jones come up - a lot.
“If I was ever to be stranded on a desert island, I would hope that Dave Jones would wash ashore with me,” said Volunteer Coordinator Jamie Thomas. “In no time at all we would have running water, electricity, and a kick-ass sound system - all seemingly out of thin air!”
Dave starts working on setting up tents and lights two weeks before the festival starts and then spends the entire week after the festival breaking everything back down.
“In my 14 years with him, he has made volunteering in hard, dirty conditions a ‘must do’ activity for several hundred volunteers who all return for multiple shifts year after year,” said Jamie.
It was Dave’s idea to bring a craft beer education tent to the festival and then later to work with local brewers to create a beer specifically for the Folk Festival. Past beers include the Folk Festivale and Folktoberfest.
Dave is constantly recruiting volunteers for the Folk Festival. He has a deep love for the event and all the people who make it possible every year.
“I’ve developed some incredibly fast friends, and we stay in touch all year round now,” said Dave. “I get teared up talking about it because it’s such a rare thing to hold that energy and to have it in your hands when you walk up on a hill during the festival and look out and go ‘Wow, I helped do this.’”
Yvette & Bernadette Goudelock
Everyone knows Yvette and Bernadette - partly due to the fact that they’ve been volunteering for the Folk Festival since the very beginning, and partly because they’re identical twins.
“They have developed a unique collaborative style, knowing how best to get the job done, and how to make it fun in the process,” said Jamie. “They are quick-witted and kind ladies, a blessing to work with every year.”
Bernadette has always loved music and signed up to volunteer for the first year of the National Folk Festival in Richmond in 2005.
She’d just recovered from minor surgery, so Yvette decided to join her sister to keep an eye on her.
“I’d never heard of the Folk Festival before, but when Bernadette signed up she’d just had an operation, and I was like ‘Is this a good idea for you to be volunteering for this?’” said Yvette. “So I said ok, I guess I’ll volunteer with you in case you pass out.”
They haven’t missed a year of volunteering at the Folk Fest since.
“As cheesy as it sounds, it’s actually a great way to meet people,” said Bernadette. “We’ve met people that we’ve been friends with for years now.”
Though they volunteer every year without fail, Bernadette and Yvette haven’t actually been able to attend the festival itself for several years now. During the 41st week of every year, they take a trip to the beach together, and it always happens to fall on the exact same weekend as the festival.
“It’s a longstanding joke with the volunteers and the staff that they see us and say ‘Oh I know you’re not going to be here, you’re going on vacation instead,’” said Bernadette.
Even so, Bernadette and Yvette still dedicate their time and energy to making sure their community can enjoy the festival without them.
“I like what the Folk Festival represents,” said Yvette. “Richmond has a lot of great festivals, and I think the Folk Festival is just about the best one.”
Mike Murphy started volunteering for the National Folk Festival during its stint in his home of Bangor, Maine. He got an invitation to the media kickoff because of his blues-focused radio show and knew right away that he wanted to be a part of it.
“I signed up to volunteer, and we put a lot of information on the forms we filled out, so it had my background in radio and a pretty good indication of my interest in music in general,” said Mike. “Then they called me and described the artist host position, and I said ‘That sounds great! Sign me up.’”
Artist hosts have one of the most fascinating jobs at the festival.
“We hear from so many performers after all's said and done who report they're treated better at the Richmond Folk Fest than anywhere they've ever played,” said Tim Timberlake, leader of the Artist Host team. “Keeping the stars of our show happy is job one for the incredible Artist Host team, and they've done an amazing job since the beginning.”
When Mike learned that the festival was moving on to Richmond after Bangor, he decided to stay with his father, who lives in Midlothian, and help Richmond get their artist host program up and running.
He’s been back every year since.
“The artist host job is the best volunteer job in the festival,” said Mike. “Coming back with the other artist hosts who have been doing this a long time, it’s reached the point where it’s almost like a family reunion.”
Even though he doesn’t live in Richmond, Mike is still a huge supporter of the festival and what it brings to our city.
“Normally I’m not an attention seeker, but to recruit volunteers and tell them how much fun it is, I’ll step up.”
Virginia Folklife Team Leader
When Diane Muska moved back to her hometown of Richmond, Virginia, after living in Florida for most of her adult life, she wasn’t sure how to go about rebuilding a life for herself here.
“I’d been gone for a long time, and I knew people when I was 18, but I don’t know anybody here now, so I thought it would be a good way to meet some new people and make some connections,” said Diane.
That turned out to be very true.
“I’ve made such great friends, and we’ve all become like a family,” said Diane. “I’ve gotten really close to a lot of them.”
Over the years, Diane has become one of the most vital members of the volunteer squad.
“Diane Muska is one of the most dedicated and goal oriented people I have ever had the privilege to work with,” said Jamie. “She is unstoppable.”
Ever since her third year of volunteering, Diane has been the Team Leader for Virginia Folklife, the section of the festival that celebrates traditional Virginia music and culture.
“Keeping our traditions alive and not losing what’s come before is really important,” said Diane. “We have traditional crafts demonstrators and cooking demonstrations, and a couple years ago we even had a banjo competition for kids to win scholarship money.”
During the infamous year when Tropical Storm Matthew swept through Richmond on Folk Festival weekend, Diane even stepped up to fill in on bucket brigade.
“I’ve never been so wet and cold in my life, but it’s a rain or shine event,” said Diane. “The die hards will go no matter what it’s doing. It could be a monsoon and they would still go. It’s that great of an event.”
What is it about the Richmond Folk Festival that inspires people to show up ready to work in all kinds of weather year after year? It’s one of those things you have to experience yourself to understand.
Go ahead, sign up to volunteer, and be a part of something legendary.
The Richmond Folk Festival is calling for volunteers for the 2018 festival now! Read our full list of jobs and if you’re interested, sign up for an unforgettable experience.