This year 16 guides will bond with nine performing groups, with a male and female guide assigned to most groups. The 2012 guides stayed a night at the Folkmoot Friendship Center last week as part of the training for their two-week residency, which begins when their group arrives in the country.
“I don’t like the name guide. You are more like ambassadors,” Dr. Chris Wenzel said Friday evening where he was helping with the training session for the guides. “You represent America to them. Make sure you represent us well and make us proud.”
Wenzel has first-hand experience, serving as a Folkmoot guide from 1987 until 1991 while he was a college student. His initial perception of the role was that it would be a whole lot of fun and very little responsibility. After his years as a guide and now serving for the past 10 years on the Folkmoot board of directors, he has learned that being a guide is still fun, but there is a lot of work involved.
During the two-week festival in July, a guide stays with his or her assigned performance group 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Guides help groups get to performances, find things they need like towels, help plan late-night parties they host, plan and accompany groups on sightseeing and shopping trips, and help them with other needs. Guides act as stage managers, emcees and souvenir salespersons at some performances.
They also often serve as translators for performers who speak limited or no English and do not have an interpreter with their group. Some have translator applications on their Smart phones for words they may not understand.
The team is led and supervised by Doug Garrett, who served as a guide for 21 years before going to work year-round for the festival.
“I was later to start than most,” Garrett said. He was 33 when he attended Folkmoot for the first time and saw the need for people to assist the performing groups. He was a teacher, so he had summers off and was able to spend time with his assigned group. He was hooked and has returned every year to help.
Garrett has had plenty of help from Vivienne Poppas, a school bus driver who has used her skills for the past 23 years driving the Folkmoot buses. Folkmoot director Karen Babcock calls Poppas the “go to guide.”
“Those with experience help those who are new,” Babcock said.
For some, working with Folkmoot is a family tradition. Katy Stringfield, 17, said she was inspired to be a guide after her sister, Anna, and brothers, Jake and Sam, served as guides for the festival. Cousin Hugh Sloan is back for his fourth year as a guide.
“I grew up coming here from Mississippi, and I wouldn’t want to do anything else with my summers,” Sloan said. Sloan speaks fluent Spanish and will be assisting a group from Peru this year.
Lauren Lankford, 21, is also in her fourth year as a Folkmoot guide. Lankford is a dancer herself with a Philippine/American folk group and is thrilled that her group this year is from the Philippines.
To make sure it is a rewarding experience for all guides and the performers, Friday night’s training session explained basic rules like conduct and appearance. One of the keys to having a stress-free two weeks with the performers is to review daily schedule sheets, Garrett told the guides.
“One of our primary objectives is to keep our groups on schedule,” he said. “Bring an alarm clock and watch to make sure they stay on time.”
Jeff Haynes, a detective with the Haywood County Sheriff’s Office, explained the importance of always doing a headcount so no performers are left behind when traveling to performances or outings. He also stressed that no one is allowed in the Folkmoot center without a proper identification and that no guests are allowed in performers’ rooms.
Each guide will be called to meet at the Folkmoot center to go to the airport when their group arrives. They are the first to meet the groups and the last to tell them goodbye.
— By Peggy Manning