Festival on-the-Green needs more helpers

MIDDLEBURY — For 33 years, organizers of the Middlebury Festival on-the-Green have been able to draw a steady stream of talented entertainers to the heart of Addison County’s shire town for a week of free music and family fun.
Now organizers are appealing for an infusion of new talent within their own ranks in order to keep the annual festival successful and vibrant into the future.
“We are at an energy crossroads,” said Festival on-the-Green President Gale Hurd.
“The festival is at a place where we need, as a group, to do some self-examination and reflection.”
Festival organizers will do just that at a “community conversation and volunteer recruitment” event slated for Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 6:30 p.m. at the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association headquarters on Collins Drive, near Porter Hospital.
The conversation is being driven by an unfortunate confluence of events: An impending, dramatic turnover in festival leadership, and the recent erosion of the volunteer base that helps stage the extravaganza each year.
“We could use some help year-round, and from people willing to jump in during that (festival) week,” said Pat Boera, who has been involved with the festival since its inception and currently serves as its secretary.
The nonprofit organization is projected to experience dramatic turnover in its board later this year. Hurd announced she is ready to step down as president, as have vice president Sandy Rivera, treasurer Faith Parkins and program director Beth Duquette, according to Boera. All of those folks have done substantial heavy lifting to make the festival happen each year.
“It is an accident of timing,” Hurd said of the turnover, though she and some other folks on the list expect to remain involved with the board in reduced roles.
“This is not a situation where people are leaving because they are dissatisfied with what is going on.”
In fact, the festival is financially solvent and continues to draw large crowds. Board members are simply getting older, or have other commitments demanding their time.
Boera and other organizers are hoping the new generation of festival enthusiasts will step up and share in the workload, which has become too strenuous for some of the more mature helpers.
Younger folks are needed for assignments like lugging tables, moving sound equipment and hanging speakers.
“I am still pretty physically capable, but some of our officers can’t do any heavy lifting at all,” Boera explained.
She noted the festival is losing some of its younger, stronger high school volunteers to college. Boera hopes the Sept. 7 meeting draws commitments from other teens and young adults willing to fill those ranks.
Not being able to replace volunteers raises the prospect of having to hire help. That would add an unwanted expense line to what has been a frugal operation. The festival cost around $39,000 to stage this year, around $20,000 of which went to pay performers. The balance of the budget was spent on insurance, rental of some sound and lighting equipment, printing and other incidentals.
“We don’t want to get to a point where we have to charge for tickets,” Boera said.
New volunteers and board members might also want to take the festival in new directions, organizers acknowledged. The weeklong event currently emphasizes folk, Celtic and other “un-plugged” musical fare.
“The program we have had these days has stood the test of time,” Hurd said.
Indeed, many local residents and visitors plan their vacations so they are sure to be in Middlebury during the week of the festival.
“It is a very special community,” Boera said.
More information on the event can be found at www.festivalonthegreen.com.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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