GUTHRIE — Volunteers get a sweet deal at the Oklahoma International Bluegrass Festival.
In exchange for working six to eight hours during the course of the festival, volunteers get free admission all three days.
What's more, they receive access to the jam sessions in the campground, something not currently available to ticketed patrons.
“The Cottonwood Creek Stage is an amateur stage set up in the campground,” said Stacey Watts, co-coordinator of volunteers. “People who are camping can sign up and perform in front of a live audience, get a chance to work on their stage presence, to jam together. That's some seriously amazing music.”
Campers staying in tents and recreational vehicles arrive before the festival and hang around afterward; the campground availability lasts for eight days. That's part of why Watts and co-coordinator Delores Stokes need an army of volunteers — about 420 this year. And they are always looking for more.
Joe and Lois Sturgil, of Edmond, take their RV to the festival and volunteer at the campground. RV camping is one of the hobbies they have taken up since he retired from the postal service.
“We love the bluegrass music,” Lois Sturgil said.
Ticket-taker Robin Nicholas, of Mulhall, said she works for InterBank in Guthrie, which allows her to take days off to volunteer at the festival. This is her 16th year to volunteer, and the Kruger Brothers and Hunt Family Bluegrass are her favorite bands.
Volunteers come from all across the state, but most are from Guthrie, Watts said. Many arrive a week early to start setting up the campground and doing other preparation such as grounds maintenance and electrical work.
“I have the single most amazing volunteer on the planet,” Watts said. “Her name is Delta Raines, and she volunteers every year to clean the bathrooms. This is the 17th year of the festival, and she has volunteered 15 years. She lives in Guthrie and works at one of the schools.”
Volunteers also staff the merchandise tents and help the students who come on field trips from local schools.
“We expose them to the bluegrass culture,” Watts said of the students, who listen to the music and do craftwork.
The festival uses volunteers to help cut its expenses, because proceeds help fund cash prizes and scholarships awarded in the youth competitions. Last year, 22 musicians ages 10 to 19, most from Oklahoma, won scholarships for their expertise on such instruments as the fiddle, acoustic guitar, mandolin, bass and banjo.
Watts, who is a Chamber of Commerce volunteer and a part-time receptionist at a pet hospital, said her birthday always falls during the festival.
“My 50th birthday party was attended by Vince Gill and 8,000 of my closest friends,” she said with a laugh. Gill headlined the festival last year.
Grammy winner Kathy Mattea, this year's headliner, is scheduled to take the stage at 9 p.m. Saturday. Even with severe weather expected late Friday night, Watts expects at least 4,500 people to attend the festival Saturday.