New Orleans’ Jazz and Heritage Festival has been drawing music fans from across the globe to the city for fun and funk for more than 40 years, but without the help of a volunteer force numbering nearly 1,000 people, the show could not go on.
“We currently have 973 scheduled volunteers,” said Jamala Roux, human resources director with the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
Between 400 and 500 volunteers are scheduled for each event day, with roughly 15 volunteers per day scheduled to help with activities before and after the fest, she said.
It translates to more than 3,500 three- or four-hour shifts, Roux said.
“We definitely use volunteers in every aspect of the festival, during the event the most,” she said.
Volunteers indeed help with a wide array of tasks, including construction, clean-up, catering, directing visitors and even artist hospitality.
Volunteers are vital to the production, Roux said. “I don’t know that there is a savings in ticket price, but we definitely could not hire the number of people that we really need to do this,” she said. “They really are an important aspect of the whole operation, and we are thankful to have them — and have as many of them as we do.”
Volunteers are required to pledge a minimum of 15 hours of service at Jazz Fest. Those who cannot pledge 15 hours may not serve.
Roux noted preference is given to volunteers who have donated their time during previous Jazz Fests.
Louisiana native Anthony Dubuclet, 68, has been volunteering at Jazz Fest since 1994.
“I volunteer for everything that comes up,” said Dubuclet, an active volunteer with a number of local organizations and events.
“It’s just for the fun — and the T-shirts,” he added with a laugh.
Dubuclet, who has worked in areas including the medical tent, grandstand and catering, said he particularly enjoys the social networking aspect of Jazz Fest.
“I like meeting the people; you meet people from all over the world,” he said. “You never know who you’re going to meet.”
Dubuclet retired more than 10 years ago, but he said, “I like experiencing different things.”
He advises young people to pursue their own opportunities.
“Don’t always look for the dollar — you’d be surprised how much you can learn and how much you can get simply by trading your time for an experience. That can be worth more than any amount of money that you can get.”
Jazz Fest volunteer Gloria Ward also said her experience volunteer has been invaluable. Ward has been an active volunteer with a number of local organizations since she moved to New Orleans from Chicago to be with her husband, Darryl Summers, in 2006.
“It helped me acclimate to the city,” she said of volunteering. “And I like to meet people. I’m a real people person.”
Of the fest, she said, “Everybody is very nice and it’s nice to see the same workers visit every year.”
“I’ve been seeing the same people for all these years so … it’s a real family setting there at the Jazz Fest.”
The up-close view of the fest and the music are big drawing cards, she said. “You really get to feel the Jazz Fest, and on top of that you get all that free music.”
“Look, I was born in the ’60s; I’m a hard rocker, a jazz fan, R & B, I enjoy mostly all of the music out there,” Ward said.
Samuel Audigane and Barbara Smett, both 30, cited similar reasons for participating. The couple came all the way from Paris to volunteer and have pledged time every day of the festival.
“We plan to go to live in Montreal at the seventh of May and as we have crossed the ocean, we wanted to come here because I’ve been here three years ago for just two weeks on holiday, during Mardi Gras, and I fell in love with the city,” Audigane said. “I wanted to share it with Barbara.”
“It’s my first time in United States,” Smett said, noting New Orleans’ music scene is just one facet that drew them to the city.
Audigane said they wanted to practice their English but also came to the city “because of the music, because of the language, because of the city, because of the culture, because of the food.”
“Because of the people,” Smett added with a smile.
“We are really into brass bands and jazz in general and hip hop and every style of music, electro and everything,” Audigane said.
“We are crazy about music, it’s the reason why we are here,” Smett said.
While it’s too late to volunteer for this year’s Fest, volunteer applications for the next Fest will be online in early January and will be accepted through mid-March 2014.
“We schedule people in the order in which they apply so it is a first-come, first-served basis,” Roux said. “I would definitely advise anybody who’s interested to check the website early January.”
Roux noted, “Working [the Fest] is a particular sense of satisfaction, to be part of something so grand and so big … Being a part of that is just very rewarding.”