How recruiting difficulties during covid-19 impact the music industry

This newly postered seating area in the basement of the West End Cultural Centre is where volunteers meet up for events at the historic venue.

Attica Riots, Five Alarm Funk and House Handshake each performed as part of Festival du Voyageur 2020.

At a time when industries are finding it extremely difficult to keep their doors open due to staffing shortages, organizations are facing similar challenges recruiting volunteers. This is an issue, as many larger music events and festivals rely heavily on volunteers to operate.

the emu and domo11 perform at the Good Will Social Club on Jan. 24, 2020. The performance was part of the last in-person Winterruption.


Meagan Stewart is a volunteer-turned-house manager and volunteer coordinator of the West End Cultural Centre (WECC), a partner and venue for the Winterruption festival. Stewart says the WECC has taken a number of steps to make their volunteers feel more comfortable when on shift.

“The staff are now doing more. We have more paid staff around during the events than we might otherwise,” Stewart says.

They also have a venue safety attendant to check vaccination status, so that volunteers are not put in an uncomfortable or vulnerable position.

The WECC typically operates with six crews of 30 or more people. According to Stewart, most crews are operating with about 20 people or less. In response, the WECC has broadened recruitment through social platforms and increased their reach through creating partnerships, such as with Real Love Winnipeg, to collaborate with the WECC on Winterruption.

“Previously, it was more organic. People that were in the building would see posters and email to the volunteer coordinator and (go) through the orientation process,” Stewart says.

At the time of publication, Winterruption has announced a postponement and has yet to set a new date. Stewart is trying to be open and honest with volunteers to keep them involved.

Hannah Epperson performing at the Good Will Social Club as part of Winterruption on Jan. 24, 2020

BreakOut West

Violet Vopni, volunteer coordinator on contract for BreakOut West (BOW), echoes the sentiment of difficulty in volunteer recruitment.

“It’s been really slow,” Vopni says. BOW is an annual event presented by the Western Canadian Music Alliance and includes a music festival and an industry conference.

Originally BOW projected having their usual 120 volunteers. However, prior to the holiday season, they had only 20. That is when Vopni reached out to other groups she had worked with previously, such as Central Canada Comic Con (which held its last convention in 2019), or groups she had recruited volunteers from in the past, such as the Tec-Voc High School student broadcasting group and Northwest Law Enforcement Academy.

Megan Stewart is a house manager and volunteer coordinator at the West End Cultural Centre

“Now we have 60, maybe 70,” Vopni says – a far cry from the expected 120.

Vopni has found it challenging to anticipate the number of positions required, as it meant balancing fewer attendees allowed with the increased number of jobs required and anticipating people being unable to attend their shifts due to illness.

“When you have less crowds to manage, you need less volunteers to manage them. I think we will be okay,” Vopni says.

Violet Vopni is the volunteer coordinator for BreakOut West.

Vopni thinks potential volunteers were caught off guard, since BOW typically occurs during the fall.

“Events haven’t been happening, so people weren’t prepared for this. BOW usually happens in October, not in February. They are doing the 2021 conference and showcase series in 2022, and then they are rolling forward and doing the 2022 conference and concert series in October 2022.”

After this interview, BOW shifted to an online format that requires little to no volunteers. Vopni will reach out to volunteers already signed up if any new opportunities arise.

Le Winston Band performing at the Sugar Shack as part of the 2020 Festival du Voyageur

Festival du Voyageur

Dan Girard has volunteered for Festival du Voyageur, the festival celebrating Franco-manitoban culture, since he was 14 years old, eventually rising to become a blacksmith at the festival and now the volunteer coordinator.

While Girard doesn’t personally have past years’ experience as volunteer coordinator to compare, the records indicate the number of volunteers appear to be lower than previous years. However, he is hopeful, because there are many people who, like himself, have never missed a year of Festival.

“I have never missed a Festival in my life,” Girard says. “The keeners have already signed up.” 

“We are trying to book more volunteers knowing we will have people who last-minute are dropping out,” he says. “We are telling our volunteers that if you don’t feel good, stay home. Don’t worry about anything. We will figure it out.”

There are certain volunteer groups at Festival in charge of their own recruitment.

“All the bar staff in the park. You have your heads of the bar department. They find their own volunteers for each tent. The trading post across Winnipeg, CCFM (Centre culturel franco-manitobain), the Notre Dame Recreational Centre – it’s usually volunteer groups that take charge of that. I still have to communicate with them for their needs,” Girard says.

At the time of this interview, Festival du Voyageur was planning to go ahead with the festival with precautions in place.

Chantal Vielfaure, director of marketing for Festival du Voyageur, adds that they have posted on their website the health protocols the festival will have onsite for all attendees, volunteers and staff. The festival will also feature virtual content for those attending from home.

“We are currently building a mobile concert trailer, where you can have a four-piece band in there. This will allow us to offer music anywhere. We are looking at where it could be possible to offer entertainment and traditional music,” Vielfaure says.

While festivals and large-scale music events face challenges as they continually adapt to COVID-19, many organizers are hopeful for positive outcomes and are appreciative of the support.

Dan Girard, the new volunteer coordinator for Festival du Voyageur, has been volunteering for the fest since he was 14 years old.


BreakOut West runs from Feb. 2 to 6. Virtual passes are available at breakoutwest.ca. To volunteer for Festival du Voyageur, click the red volunteer button on the navigation bar of their website, heho.ca, or sign up by calling the office at 204-237-7692. Festival du Voyageur runs from Feb. 18 to 27. Available volunteer positions include bonfire attendants, toboggan and winter playground staff, parking staff, tent assistants, beard-growing competitors, tear-down workers, hosts, ambassadors and more! Many West End Cultural Centre events are currently postponed or shifting to other platforms. Volunteer intake is still open for future shows. To sign up, email [email protected] or visit bit.ly/33wlS0N. Winterruption is postponed. People who wish to volunteer for the event can sign up once the new dates are announced. BOW, Festival du Voyageur, Winterruption and WECC have volunteer-appreciation packages and programs.

Published in Volume 76, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 20, 2022)

Related Reads