September is over and the Blues & Barbecue Festival, a concert featuring live music and a sit-down meal outside at Town Center, did not happen, will not be happening this year, and may not happen next year.
There weren't enough volunteers to bring it off. It's the second time the festival has been canceled since the first one in 1997. The other was in 1998, when again the volunteers didn't step up, Town Manager Angie Howard said.
This festival is the responsibility of the Community Events Committee, one of 17 citizen groups that report to the Town Council on community matters. The events committee also organizes the town picnic in June and a holiday party for volunteers in December. This past summer brought new duties at Town Center: at least two outdoor concerts and an outdoor movie.
In the last seven years, the blues festival has raised an average of $58,000 per year, according to town records. In recent years, proceeds have twice reached $79,000. This money, plus about $250,000 annually from a 2 percent utility users tax, goes to a restricted fund for the acquisition of open space. As of July, the fund had a balance of $2.8 million, according to the 2010-11 budget.
A message on the town's website announced the five-person committee's decision. "Blues & Barbecue 2010 has been cancelled due to a shortage of volunteers," it read. "If you've enjoyed Blues & Barbecue in years past and would like to see its return in 2011, we encourage you to consider volunteering some of your time and energies."
How much time? How much energy?
Putting on the festival — and the picnic and the holiday party — "requires a very significant uptick of (extra) people" who can meet deadlines and work methodically, said Councilwoman and committee liaison Ann Wengert. "It's a worker committee of the first magnitude. We need people who can and are really ready to roll up their sleeves."
Events committee Chair Michael Bray did not respond to a request for an interview.
The day of the festival requires about 100 person-hours spread among 83 individual tasks, including setting up the event, tending beverage bars and the will-call table, and gofer duties, according to the committee's website. The bartending jobs go to people who have volunteered for more than one job.
Ahead of the festival, a dozen people spend about 30 hours handling voice- and e-mail, assembling ticket packets for will-call, receiving rented items such as tables and dishware, and preparing centerpieces for the tables. Then there's cleanup when it's over.
To ease the burden, the mundane routines are computerized to the extent possible and the whole thing is very tightly managed, Ms. Wengert said.
This year, she said, the committee lost several longtime members and many people from the corps of extras. "It was like a perfect storm of (those losses) hitting relatively quickly," she said. "One of the things that we really don't want to lose in this embedded knowledge."
Why the shortage?
Losing embedded knowledge, if that were to happen, would be a new problem for Portola Valley, which has had a deep tradition of volunteerism going back to its first years.
"So many people are so overbooked now on their time commitments, and this is one that requires time," Ms. Wengert said. "We were all disappointed. Everybody is disappointed."
Nevertheless, she took pains to point out, the question raised is not exclusively how to protect the tradition of volunteerism, but where the community is in 2010 with respect to the giving of its time.
"I think it's (the council's) job to make sure we understand what the community wants," she said.