Mary Free has never attended a Strawberry without being on the Musician Liasion Crew, and that’s a lot of Strawberries.
35 years ago, while she was working at a pet clinic in Santa Barbara, a representative of the software company came in from out of town to help set up the new system. Mary saved her some money by offering her a place to sleep, and in return, the woman invited Mary to a festival she was part of. “Come hang out,” she said, “you won’t have to do anything!” Intrigued, Mary came to her first Strawberry, and in her words, “I’d never worked so hard in my life!”
Her first job was as a runner (among other things), who goes to the gate to pick up musicians when they arrive, and takes them to the stage. Mary was hooked, and came back year after year. Then when the crew leader retired, Mary was asked to step in.
“Our main directive is to serve the musicians in such a way that they can relax and enjoy their time with us,” Mary says, speaking of her crew. She points out that some festivals don’t do much to welcome musicians, they’re just told “when to show up,” and that’s it. At Strawberry, however, this crew’s mission is to anticipate the needs of the bands and make them feel welcome as if they are guests in our home.
Most of the crew has been together for most of Mary’s tenure and because of this continuity, many of the repeat performers arrive at the festival with a sense of coming home. Some of the new acts come in with an attitude, which the crew endeavors to change with kindness, competence and attention. There are many stories, some funny, some harrowing.
Mary recalls a time when a large group came to perform, and the liaisons were caring for the bus driver, backstage. “He was fed and watered,” she said, but “a little off.” They weren’t sure how to read it. But as a staff member was leading the bus slowly out of camp through the dispersing crowd, his calm but clear voice came over the radio, “I need Medical, and Security to my location, now.” As he was walking backwards in front of the bus, he witnessed the driver having a seizure at the wheel. A scary situation, but handled quickly and safely. Crew members were relieved that it happened while creeping slowly along, well supervised at Strawberry, instead of barreling down the mountain on the highway.
That story reminds us how Strawberry is like a village for a weekend, with a vast range of occurrences. Not only does amazing music and inspiration happen, but medical emergencies arise, ideas are hatched, and people fall in love. Mary met her Sweetheart at Strawberry.
In her “other” life, Mary has a degree in accounting which keeps her busy, and she has two Strawberry-raised, adult children. She lives in Cazadero in “a little mountain-top cabin that’s getting bigger,” – another project that occupies her time.
“At one point, I was thinking about quitting Strawberry,” Mary muses. She’d realized that it was the only place she really felt like she belonged, and had a really strong connection. She thought maybe she needed to take that energy and spread it out into her whole life, somehow. Luckily, one of the staff told her “Mary, you’ve got that backwards! You need to find a way to spend more time with Strawberry, not less!”
Mary agreed. She soaks up as much goodness as she can each Strawberry, and carries it back down the hill, like all of us who love the Strawberry Way. She loves the festival, and loves her role in it, too. “We are creating something that makes so many people happy – how many things in your life can you say that about?”
Mary, thank YOU for making so many musicians, bus drivers, managers, volunteers and festival participants so happy. We are grateful for you!