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Concerted Effort Handling Stars, Rowdy Crowds Challenges The Volunteers Who Keep Festival At Sandpoint Running


Bill Peterson stood between 4,000 screaming fans and reggae band Inner Circle. Women pinched the volunteer security man’s behind, wrapped their legs around him and even tried to tug off his pants.

Sally Transue delivered rockers Jan and Dean from Spokane to their dressing room at Memorial Field. On the way, the group wanted to stop for a bite - at McDonald’s. The order included a Happy Meal.

Head usher Bill Love was trying to get his crew ready for the Lyle Lovett concert when the singer’s road manager appeared. He ordered Love and his charges off the field and into a building. No one gets to watch Lovett warm up.

It’s all part of being a volunteer at the Festival at Sandpoint, which opens Thursday.

It takes 800 unpaid laborers to make the city’s three-week music fest happen.

Volunteers chauffeur stars, operate spotlights, cook meals for band members and clean up trash.

“The secret to the whole festival is volunteerism,” said Executive Director Connie Berghan. “We couldn’t do the festival if we had to pay for all these services.”

In return, volunteers get a thank-you, maybe a free night of music while working or an autograph.

They also get to see what goes on behind the scenes.

“I kind of had a feeling of what it was going to be like, but what I got was a total surprise,” said Peterson, who worked as a security guard for many of last year’s shows.

His most memorable concert was the raucous reggae band.

Peterson was in front of the stage trying to keep dancing fans behind a rope.

“Girls were rubbing all over me and trying to pants me,” he laughed. “Trying to keep them behind the rope was a joke.”

The only scary part for Peterson was when the crowd massed around the outdoor stage.

“When you get that many people jammed in so close, they start sucking up all the oxygen. I could literally feel it. But all in all it was pretty fun.”

One of the most coveted volunteer

posts is community host to the guest stars. Each performer is assigned a local resident to show them around town, run errands and make sure they get to the concert site.

“It’s like a 12-hour job and sometimes it’s a lot of fun and sometimes no fun at all,” admitted Berghan. “Most of the stars are just delightful, but every now and then you find one that is just burned out and plain crabby.”

Bank of America Manager Tom Harvil got lucky. He hosted his cowboy idols Riders In the Sky: Too Slim, Ranger Doug and Woody Paul.

“They always go by their cowboy names,” Harvil said. “They were the most congenial guys in the whole world. I didn’t have to do anything weird for them. The only thing they wanted was a specific kind of pen so they could sign autographs.”

Harvil did remember having to find Woody Paul before rehearsal. The harmony singer had slipped on a swimsuit at Memorial Field and gone for an impromptu dip in the Pend Oreille River.

For three years Transue and Carolyn Gleason have cooked meals for band members and their crews in a makeshift kitchen at Memorial Field.

“A lot of people think we get to hobnob with the stars but it’s just the opposite. Sometimes we don’t even see them,” Transue said.

Just as the ushers were sent into a building when Lyle Lovett warmed up, the cooks were ordered into the kitchen during his rehearsal.

“No one was allowed to see him until the show. He was a little strange,” Transue said. “The ladies always seem a little more laid back.”

County singer Kathy Mattea ate with her crew and talked with volunteers. Maureen McGovern walked the field humming songs and chatted with workers. Jazz musician Wynton Marsalis donned shorts to play basketball with some teenagers on a nearby court before his concert.

This week Transue is preparing three meals for 60 members of the Beach Boys crew. It’s the largest entourage she’s had to serve.

“Some performers just say we would like a hot meal, but others have six pages of specially requested meals,” she said.

Transue was still trying to find the non-alcoholic chocolate beverage, Yoo-hoo, a special request by one of Natalie Cole’s entourage.

Other volunteers stay busy doing the grunt work of setting up chairs and food booths, installing electrical equipment, guarding the chain-link fence to keep out freeloaders and picking up after shows.

“It’s an unglamorous job and kind of a motley crew that is willing to do cleanup,” said volunteer Eileen Keller, speaking from experience.

She said the cleanest crowd is symphony fans, while the sloppiest was a tossup between country and reggae patrons.

“It’s amazing some of the things you find left over after the shows,” Keller said. “We find full bottles of expensive wine, blankets and even prescription eyeglasses.”

The festival also enlists help from teachers to run the children’s concert and uses teenagers to carry in coolers, blankets and chairs for patrons.

The teens are called courtesy kids and although they often are offered tips for their service, they aren’t allowed to accept any money. Instead, they request the cash be donated to the festival.

“You get a different perspective working at the show than just being an audience member,” said Berghan, who started as a volunteer 10 years ago tying balloons.

“I like to say that part of the magic of the festival is to be part of the magic of the festival. And with 800 volunteers we try to spread out the fun as much as possible.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo


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