We have a guest article today by the infamous Burger Girl, all rested and recovered from Firefly. She didn’t have the guts to go to Big Barrel the next weekend, but she did have a few words to say about her years at Firefly and how this relates to her other profession!
“Four Years at Firefly: A Burger Girl Exclusive for Exceptional Delaware
At Firefly 2012, I was Bag Girl, working the so-called Sustainable Beats crew cleaning trash from concert fields and replacing full trash cans with empty bags for those concert-goers who understand the concept of throwing away garbage. My first shift included sets by John Legend, Bassnectar, and Jack White. The folks with whom I worked were, by and large, good people, willing to help out, many with prior festival volunteer experience. We had a system but no full-time, dedicated manager to oversee us. We worked in the rain, in the dark, in the mud, and in the heat of the sun. When one concert ended, we swept in, cleared the area of trash, and carried our bags out behind the fence to the dumpsters. Gray bags in regular, blue bags in recycling. We set up every shift thinking of the next shift, and everyone did. Empty bags for the next crew coming in, fully stocked glove boxes, completely clean fields. We lugged ice for the vendors and smiled at everyone, thanking them and telling them to have a great day. We helped each other out and worked as a team. I was among the youngest of the volunteers.
When Firefly 2013 rolled around, due to a recommendation from my prior year’s manager I was asked to transition to a new position as a “super volunteer”. I became Beer Girl, a team leader working with volunteers who assisted the alcohol vendors by restocking ice, carrying boxes of beer to the stands, and keeping the beer tent clean. Seeing artists like Delta Rae, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, and A Silent Film was fun, and although I was pregnant, sleeping under the stars in a shared campsite was a really great experience. People were friendly and fun, and there was a really good vibe. However, to fill the super volunteer positions, folks from an outside group were brought in, and that was very difficult for several reasons, in my opinion. This was the first time I saw folks who just didn’t want to be there, doing what they were doing, and there was a lot of negativity. Most of them were well-educated folks in a business leaders program, but I ended up the one covering for the late arrivals and early departures, despite the fact that our hours and expectations were clearly stated. These leaders, by and large, lacked flexibility and adaptive skills, and they put themselves and their desires ahead of their job assignments. As for the volunteers, many were openly discussing skipping out on their shifts, signing in and immediately leaving, and even changing banks to avoid being charged the price of admission when it was discovered they had not worked their shifts. I was among the older age group of volunteers.
Firefly 2014 saw yet another change, as any individual could apply to be a super volunteer, regardless of their prior Firefly experience (or lack thereof). This year I was Battery Girl, managing individuals inside all the places where festival-goers could leave their electronic devices for a little while to get recharged. Despite a rough start, I eventually got my credentials for the VIP and Back of House areas and was able to make the rounds so all my team members had breaks, snacks, and whatever else they needed. As I walked the entire festival grounds continuously, I had the opportunity to see a large number of artists, but by far my favorite experiences were watching Weezer, Sir Sly (from the second row), Kongos, and The Airborne Toxic Event. This was the year the system began to break down, in my opinion. The super volunteers, or team leaders, weren’t circulating their areas to ensure their workers’ needs were met, or even that their workers were, in fact, working. As I walked the perimeter of the festival grounds, making sure the vendors had enough volunteers and that the volunteers had breaks, many (definitely not all, as some workers were outstanding) super volunteers sat in their tents. While I missed the massively-popular Foo Fighters concert so my team members could slip out for a little while each to see it while I worked their stations, some of my fellow team leaders compensated for the inactivity of their team members by requiring the volunteers to come to their tent and sign in every hour or so of their shift. We paid up front for our festival wristbands and were reimbursed the cost, sans deposit, upon completion of the festival shifts. I was again among the older age group of volunteers.
That brings us to Firefly 2015. The Glow Volunteer/Super Volunteer program was entirely discontinued and replaced by FestWorks and FestWorks CORE. FestWorks members were given shifts, most working fewer than 20 hours over the four-day festival, and they purchased a discounted wristband for festival access. FestWorks CORE members were told their hours would vary based on the position assigned, but that they could expect to work the entire festival and would therefore not need to purchase a wristband at all. Readers already know the adventures of Burger Girl, so let me just describe the stuff that DIDN’T get published, in keeping with what I’ve already said. Although I was invited to be a team leader, I was unable to commit to the required dates due to work obligations. Despite being “just another worker,” my tent manager pretty quickly came to realize that I had leadership skills, and though I was not in charge and did not act as though I was in charge, I tried to be a stabilizing force through shift changes, handling what issues I could and directing folks to the tent manager with anything I couldn’t address. There were many groups who came in and did work, some volunteer and some paid, and I would be remiss if I didn’t say that one group in particular, Choose Joy*, was awesome to work with. Despite the fact that FestWorks and CORE members were being paid to work, some still did not arrive on time for shifts, work the entire assigned shift, or (in some cases) show up for every shift. Among the FestWorks and CORE members, I was again among the older age group.
What does all this have to do with anything? What is the purpose of my even sharing this?
Folks, this is our future. This is the work ethic of our people. Americans came from all over to work Firefly, whether for free or for minimum wage, and over a four-year time frame I saw an increase in irresponsible behavior and poor work ethic combined with a decrease in average age. I saw a company forced to react to the lack of stability of the work force in increasingly-onerous ways, finally choosing to hire paid workers due (at least in part) to all the issues with the volunteer program. And it still wasn’t enough. Even being paid wasn’t enough for some folks to do the right thing.
You want to teach American youths “grit”? How about starting with teaching them responsibility. Teach them to look around and see what needs to get done. Teach them to see what needs to get done and to take it upon themselves to get it done. Teach them to value being on time and staying until the job is done, and to make sure the job is done right before clocking out.
In the National FFA Organization, there is a specific script used to open meetings and events. In this opening ceremony program, there is a line that says, “Without labor, neither knowledge nor wisdom can accomplish much.” To modify that phrase for my own purposes, without respect for the job, sticking to the job will not accomplish much. Educators cannot teach students to stick to a project if the students aren’t mentally there to engage. I believe the best answer to the challenges facing American education is a return to the “it takes a village” concept where the entire community accepts responsibility for the students and educators in the school, and in that way ensures that the system is successful.
*The Choose Joy group was founded to honor a young woman who died in a fire. This organization exists to help others impacted by fire, through charitable outreach that supports victims in burn units, homeless individuals and families, and others. Please look them up on Facebook for additional information.”