By Jared Davidson –
This year, Westfest is celebrating its 15-year anniversary. For a decade and a half, the festival has been a gathering place for Kitchissippi residents, serving up year after year of free outdoor concerts from local artists and touring acts. It has become such a fixture of the local culture that it’s possible to take it for granted, to see it as inevitable. This ignores the enormous amount of work that goes into ensuring that the festival continues to flourish. Without its committed team of volunteers, Westfest would not be possible.
One such volunteer is Paul Knoll. He has been an important part of Westfest’s team for 10 years, applying his versatile skill set to a range of volunteer activities from working the information tent, to artist communications, health and safety, the bike park, and backstage. As one of the longest-serving volunteers, he has become part of a close-knit group of around 25 people who are key to the festival’s success.
“He has an ability to fit in anywhere,” says festival founder and producer Elaina Martin. “He’s completely trustworthy and really smart. He knows the festival intimately.”
Paul began working for the festival in an effort to expand his horizons. He had been working with Canada Mortgage and Housing for 21 years, and he wanted to try something new. His love of live music brought him to Westfest where he began by handing out fliers. Soon, he made a name for himself at the festival and became one of Elaina’s most relied upon volunteers and a close friend.
“Elaina hired me because I have the talent to do it,” says Paul. “[She] is the greatest person in the world.”
Elaina and Paul make a great team, both during Westfest and in the offseason. Throughout the year, Paul offers ideas for the festival, and they often meet over coffee to discuss plans. Theirs is a friendship built on mutual respect. Paul recently nominated Elaina for a Celebration of People Award, an accolade that recognizes those in Ottawa who promote accessibility and inclusion.
“I was honoured, humbled,” says Elaina of the award.
In March, Paul joined Elaina on stage at Cube Gallery to accept Jim Watson’s commemoration of Westfest’s 15 years. As she brought him up on stage, cheers erupted from the crowd. Paul has certainly made an impression on those who care about the festival.
“I have a lot of friends at Westfest,” says Paul, adding, “It’s the best place to see them all.”
Paul is a constant presence at Westfest, ensuring that things run smoothly. On the rare occasions that he takes time off, his absence is felt. When Paul was sick last summer, his friends at the festival checked up on him, sending him cards wishing him a speedy recovery.
When he isn’t at Westfest, or dreaming up new ideas for festival programming, Paul can be found volunteering his time at CHEO, United Way and All Saints Church. When asked him why he gives so much of his time, his answer comes quick:
“It feels great inside,” he says.
And though Paul enjoys volunteering in all forms, his heart belongs to Westfest, as his proudly worn shirt will attest. This year, Paul will be working backstage at the festival’s new location: the grounds of Tom Brown Arena at Bayview and Albert Street. He’s looking forward to being a part of live outdoor music once again.
“People can enjoy the show in the fresh air,” he says. “It’s a much better way to do it.”
Meanwhile, Elaina is looking forward to having Paul back. She cites the effect he has on the rest of the volunteers as just a small example of his value to the festival.
“He’s the kind of guy who is always smiling. He brings positivity,” she says. “He’s invested so fully and thoughtfully in everything we do.”