“We’re A Big Family”: Volunteering at the Kalamazoo Blues Festival


You want to hear something amazing? 23 years—that’s how long the Kalamazoo Valley

Nancy King, with fellow Festival founders Jeff Howe and Dave Thomas

Nancy King, with fellow Festival founders Jeff Howe and Dave Thomas

Blues Association has been putting on its annual Blues Festival. You want to hear something even more amazing? We’ve been doing it that whole time with volunteer talent, volunteer energy, and volunteer dedication. That’s right—no paid staff involved in producing and staging one of the best blues festivals in the midwest (or anywhere, for that matter!), and one of the only festivals in the country run entirely by volunteers. It’s an incredible feat, when you think about the countless hours and enormous dedication involved in attending to all the tasks and covering all the bases

The Kalamazoo Blues Festival

The Kalamazoo Blues Festival

over the course of a 3-day festival that draws thousands of people every year. From the KVBA Board of Directors to the festival supervisors to the volunteers who cover 4-hour shifts in every area from ticket sales to children’s activities to hospitality tent services, it all comes together to produce an unforgettable experience for everyone involved.

Of course, we’ve had a secret weapon this whole time, in the person of Nancy J. King, a KVBA Board member from 1994 to 2016, and Volunteer Services Coordinator for 22 of the 23 years that the festival has been in existence. With amazing energy, enthusiasm, and endless patience, not to mention a much-needed sense of humor (“herding cats” doesn’t even begin to describe it), Nancy has pulled together the whole thing and made it work. From recruiting volunteers, scheduling work shifts, coordinating activities, and riding herd on the crew, Nancy has selflessly given her time and energy (and a few family members on occasion) each year to the challenge of managing the Festival volunteers and seeing to it that everyone has fun at the same time.

And here’s the thing: Nancy’s efforts didn’t stop with the Festival, but included coordinating volunteer services for all the other programs the KVBA has sponsored over the years, such as the Island City series in Plainwell, the Second Sunday Series of fundraising concerts for the Festival, and informational tables at events such as the Blues Series at the Kalamazoo State Theater and the Fretboard Festival.

In Nancy’s words: “I have been so grateful to the many people who served as supervisors and volunteers for the Blues Festival.   There has been a core of supervisors who have served in their area for many years.  This made my job easier, as I could rely on each of them to run his or her particular area. Also, there have been many volunteers who serve year after year and always relate to me how enjoyable their service has been—the comment being ,’Join me up for next year!’   Many volunteers sign up their friends and family to volunteer as well. After a few years the festival has become a family of folks who want to stay in touch. It is great to see these folks who come back each year for blues music and the camaraderie at the festival.”

Nancy has stepped down as coordinator—she’s earned a rest, don’t you think?—but continues to be involved with Festival volunteers. And: the Festival continues to need volunteers—this could mean YOU! This year’s 23rd Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival takes place Thursday, July 7; Friday, July 8, and Saturday, July 9. Want to go to a great party, have a lot of fun, get a cool t-shirt, and help put on the show? Click here to volunteer for the festival today!



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