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Volunteers are glue that holds Sonshine together

Lex Anderson, with the Minneapolis-based Bright Light Parade, hits a high note Thursday as the quartet performs on the Main Stage during Sonshine 2012 in Willmar. Bright Light Parade was one of 11 bands or performers that hit the stage on the second day of the Christian rock festival and followed a performance by Reilly, with members Noele Huie and her husband, Dan Huie, pictured at top right. Today's lineup features a performance from Grammy Award winners Switchfoot. Tribune photos by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Whether they do it for cheaper tickets or for a sense of purpose, hundreds of people volunteer at Sonshine every year.

From the security to ticket sales to setting up the stage, almost everything at the four-day Christian music festival is done by the volunteers.

"It's a well-oiled machine," Becky Cumming of Eagan said about the volunteer process.

Cumming is one of three coordinators for 225 Sonshine Festival volunteers.

"Without them there would be no Sonshine," Cumming said.

They start recruiting volunteers through the Sonshine website months before the event and volunteers get their work schedules before they arrive. Each volunteer must work at least four 3-hour shifts, but most volunteer to do more.

"If I was needed for another shift, I'd pick it up," said Shelly Vickery of Lavern.

This year is Vickery's fifth at Sonshine but her first as a volunteer. She's working in a ticket sales booth at one of the gates and at a concession in the nearby Civic Center.

"It's been awesome," she said. "I'm working with amazing people."

Vickery, who is a college student, said she volunteered because it was more cost-effective. Volunteers pay just $25 to attend the entire festival.

Gigi Kpanaku of Brooklyn Park and Katie Ubl of Cottage Grove decided to volunteer this year to save money, but they've enjoyed their time in the ticket booth.

"We come into contact with a lot of people," Kpanaku said.

"It's a nice and easy way to connect with people," Ubl added.

While the large majority of volunteers are new this year, some have been volunteering at the festival for as long as they can remember.

Sierra Jordahl, 14, of Starbuck has been volunteering with her family for nine or 10 years.

"I've been coming here for 14 years," she said. "My mom and dad met here."

Jordahl said she volunteers because her parents do, but she really enjoys it.

She and her family volunteer with the stage crew, but Jordahl also helped with pony rides.

Like Jordahl's parents, Jason and Kelly Lowe of Coon Rapids met at Sonshine 2001 and they've continued to volunteer as security ever since.

Kelly Lowe said it gives her a sense of purpose.

This year there are 120 security volunteers, who are separate from other volunteers.

Security volunteers are responsible for overseeing the large crowds, answering questions, loading and unloading equipment for bands and maintaining a safe environment.

"It couldn't run without them," Kelly Lowe said.

Others volunteer at booths in the Civic Center and in the medical and kids' tents.

"I just feel like I'm meant to be here," said Jesse Kneprath of Willmar, who started the kids' tent in 1999.