I’ve been attending ComFest almost every year since I was a teenager. It is the nation’s largest, independent, volunteer-run festival – and something quite unique that Columbus, Ohio has to offer. However, despite about 20 years of ComFest attendance, this year was a unusual experience for me – not just because I got to perform at the festival (I sat in with Local Color back in 2009-ish) – but because this was the first year that I volunteered.
I spent my Friday morning helping set up the Peace Village and the Healing Arts tent in what probably remains the quietest corner of ComFest – a huge event that is starting to outgrow itself as its numbers topple an expected 300,000 attendees this year. Hanging out at the Peace Village reminded me of what ComFest felt like 20 years ago – a place where activism, community spirit, and alternative lifestyles are at the forefront and eating, drinking, and loud music take a back seat. Part of my job during my volunteer shift was to invite all of the neighboring vendors to come over at the start of the festival to enjoy some free food. The looks on people’s faces as I walked up to their food carts to offer them to come over and eat free food was priceless.
In recent years, people have been complaining about how ComFest is getting too big and too expensive, but volunteerism has its rewards and between my shift at the Peace Village on Friday in performing in the Songwriter Round on the Solar Stage (yes, a solar-powered concert space!), not only did I get a free t-shirt, but I spent the entire weekend appropriately fed and boozed without spending a dime. In fact, I only spent about $25 the whole weekend – so I could buy an amusingly original art print by Michael Phillips. I also got my free yearly diabetes screening (and yes, I remain free and clear for yet another year despite family history concerns).
As for my performance on Saturday, I learned that ComFest was trying something new by featuring several songwriter rounds throughout the weekend this year. I was paired up with Morgan Treni and Mary Lynn to provide an all-female, all-keyboard set of original music.
Some appropriately-timed rain helped make for a full house, but despite the randomness of the gathering, it was quite an excellent audience – probably the best audience that I’ve ever performed for so far. There is nothing quite like giving a space loads of energy and getting it right back.
I don’t have the easiest time with big festival crowds, but now that I’ve experienced what it’s like to do ComFest from the inside, I don’t think I’ll ever have it any other way. I can’t say that everyone should take the cheap route…I mean, if everyone skated through the weekend with loads of volunteering, then it would be awfully hard for ComFest to keep giving hundreds of thousands of dollars back to the community. However, for me, the experience was just right.
Thank you, ComFest, for such an inspiring weekend. I’m looking forward to doing it again in 2014…