by Rachel Levy-McLaughlin and Amy Burlock
The grounds are quiet the morning the Atlin Arts and Music Festival kicks off. There’s a handful of volunteers and directors milling about the grounds, conversations for the setup muted by the cold and rain. The vendors will start arriving soon, and the guests later in the day. Despite the thousands of people who are about to descend on the small town of Atlin, B.C., the directors of the festival seem calm - more or less.
They bustle around making sure everything is taken care of. Here’s what some of them were doing Friday morning before the festival began.
As Angela Drainville hurries from one task to the next, she’s fielded with questions from staff.
“Do we have more radios?”
“Can you drive us to the hotel?”
“Has Rose arrived yet?”
Drainville answers their questions over her shoulder without stopping. As producer of the festival, she is responsible for almost every aspect of it. She coordinates communication with the artists, staff and volunteers, which in a town without cellphone service, means making sure there are enough radios.
If the other directors have any problems, they go to her for help. Any small position that needs to be filled, she fills it, everything from driving performers to their hotel to making new name tags for artists.
Drainville oversees the other 19 core staff members, who direct different facets of the festival from transportation to garbage disposal to volunteers. The festival has 250 volunteers, who do everything from driving performers around Atlin to cleaning up the kitchens.
Even though she has several responsibilities and flocks of volunteers, Drainville recognizes the significance of the help that comes from the local residents.
“It’s the community of Atlin that does it,” she says. “They do way more than any volunteer should have to do in their life and they do it for a whole weekend and then they come back again next year.”
Ciara Stick, vendors coordinator, is just as busy as her boss. She rushes across the grass of the festival grounds, barefoot, from one booth to another. “How are you?” one vendor shouts at her.
“Rollin’ with the punches!” she shouts back, but doesn’t stop to chat. She’s got a lot to do in the next hour.
Stick is in charge of the vendors, which this year racked up to 30, a combination of arts, crafts and food trucks. “This is our biggest year yet,” Stick says. “We’re putting our little stamp on the festival world.”
It’s now 1 p.m. and the vendors need to be fully set up - wares out, food ready, vehicles off the grounds - by 2 p.m.. Some of the vendors still haven’t arrived. Stick’s right-hand woman Megan Firth - who Stick refers to as her “muscle” - is biking around, expediting her checklist of things to do before the festival starts. She’s giving the vendors their wristbands, sorting out wifi for them and making sure they’ve all paid for their tickets and helpers.
Most of the vendors have been to the festival before, some since it was first held in 2003, so there are few surprises. Few, but not none. Stick had to reconfigure the spacing for the craft area late the night before the festival began when a food vendor - who normally comes with just a tent - came with a full truck plus a tent.
“It’s one of the realities of this job,” Stick says, just before she takes a much needed 10 minute break for a mimosa.
Uschi Stehmann has been helping with the festival since year one, volunteering and now helping to direct it. This year she’s the ticket manager, which at a sold out festival is a busy job, making sure guests get the proper tickets and supervising the volunteers at the entrance.
“My job is to make sure my volunteers have everything to work efficient and fast and friendly, and be happy,” said Stehmann, who baked homemade banana bread for her volunteers this year. “If they’re happy, they work well.”
For Stehmann, just like Drainville, the festival is about the community. “We do everything we can not to maximize the profit, but to maximize the happiness of people,” she said. The tickets factor into that; they give free tickets to anyone over the age of 80, and Atlin locals get a discount to attend.
“We try to make it accessible for everybody,” she said, “baby to 90 years old.”
All in all, it took almost a year to plan, five days of setting up the venue, hundreds of volunteers and 36 outhouses to put together the festival. Already, they’re looking ahead to the 2018 festival. Helicopters buzz above the grounds counting RVs and tents to plan for next year, and the directors make notes - mental and written - for what could improve their job in the future.