You’re at LeBreton Flats, enjoying Bluesfest. When you arrived, you parked your bike in the supervised bike parking area, showed your ticket and got a beer. Between performances, you recycle your cup, check out the silent auction and make an inquiry at the information booth.

Now picture this: none of this at the 16th annual Cisco Ottawa Bluesfest — one of the biggest music festivals in North America which kicked off last night — would be possible without the work of its 4,000 volunteers.

People like 10-year volunteer Mische Hudon is one of them. For the first six or seven years, Hudon took vacation time from his government job to volunteer. Now that he’s retired, he’s free to work at Bluesfest all day, every day.

“It’s all about the patrons and the volunteers, the camaraderie,” said the Ottawa resident, who’s in charge of the VIP areas this year. “It’s like coming back to school after a vacation. You meet so many people, from different walks of life. You get doctors, lawyers, world travellers — it’s not just students looking to get their school hours.”

The number of volunteers is up from 3,200 last year, said Bluesfest director of volunteer services Tammy Parent. She said while word has spread about positive volunteer experiences, another reason the numbers are rising is the music.

Volunteers who work three shifts can see a free show before or after their shift, and volunteers who work six or more shifts can see free shows on any day they’re not working. Many of the volunteers take advantage of this benefit, she said.

Volunteers also get free meals while they’re working.

But while the volunteer perks are among the best in the country — “when I speak to my peers in the industry, jaws drop,” Parent said — ultimately, it’s the mix of high-profile and eclectic acts that bring people back.

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