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Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival: Students, Greeks an army of volunteers

Josh Babcock Moscow-Pullman Daily News

Every year it takes about 400 volunteers to put on the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, but even with all of those hands, organizing one of the world’s largest and oldest jazz festivals presents some difficulties.

Lydia Stucki, who is in her second year as a volunteer coordinator for the festival, said recruiting volunteers is one of the greatest challenges she has dealt with. Stucki said there are well over 75 different shifts for volunteers to work, some ranging from two to six hours.

With many of the students serving as part of the volunteer force behind the festival, she said finding students who have free time on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday can be difficult.

“It’s hard to count on the students because they are going to classes,” Stucki said.

Stucki said she started recruiting for volunteers in August, but as the festival kicked off Wednesday night, some volunteer slots were still unfilled.

She said site volunteers positions are the most difficult to fill. These volunteers sell buttons and assist in keeping artists comfortable at the 17 different performance locations throughout Moscow.

Sarah Solomon, a business and psychology major and assistant volunteer coordinator for the festival, said she has been working with student groups, businesses and other civic organizations to recruit volunteers as site managers and to try to get them to adopt performance sites.

Solomon said in many cases it’s easier for an organized group to manage a performance site. Stucki said that can backfire in some cases, and entire groups can forget about their obligation to the festival and performance site, back out at the last minute or lose a portion of their volunteers.

Despite the challenge for some groups, the University of Idaho’s Greek Community is putting the festival on its back this year.

Solomon said 11 of this year’s performance sites will be managed by the UI Greek community.

Major volunteer contributors this year include fraternities and sororities like Alpha Kappa Lambda, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Pi Kappa Alpha, Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Sigma Chi. The UI Honors Program also adopted a site.

Stucki said she would like to see more involvement from businesses and other groups.

Solomon said last year was her first time volunteering at the festival, and she said her favorite part of the event was watching younger children experience the jazz festival.

“It’s really cool to be part of something,” Solomon said. “It’s the first time for some of these kids to play music. It’s an empowering experience for them.”

Solomon, a full-time student, said this week she will devote more than 40 hours of her time to the festival.

Lauren McKinney, a business and finance major, was volunteering for the first time at the festival, and said she realized she wanted to get involved last year after watching singer Dianne Reeves perform.

McKinney said her grandfather, Dave McKinney, a former vice president of finance and development at the UI, was instrumental in bringing Lionel Hampton to Moscow for the festival in 1984.

“He was a big part of making the Jazz Fest what it is today,” McKinney said.

McKinney said she wanted to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and see the behind the scenes happenings of the festival.

Stucki said planning for next year’s festival, which will be its 50th anniversary, is already underway.

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