Jim Buessing, advisory board member and utilities committee liaison, stands on a lift 40 feet in the air to set up rope lines for a shade canopy over Gourmet Alley on the ranch side of Christmas Hill Park July 22 for the 2014 Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Hundreds of volunteers were scattered around Christmas Hill Park early Tuesday afternoon, transforming the 25-acre facility on Miller Avenue into the home of the 36th Annual Gilroy Garlic Festival.
Groups of volunteers pitched tents for the festival’s many booths, while others stacked hay bales and carried tables from flatbed trucks to set down beneath the shade of large tents.
Advisory Committee Chair and board member Jim Buessing was working a boom lift—aided by a utility crew working two other lifts—to install shade canopies over the vineyard stage.
Volunteers like Buessing, who has contributed more than 30 years of service to the festival, help convert Christmas Hill Park into the site of one of the world’s premier food festivals in less than a week.
“It’s garlic magic,” Buessing said. “Some of us are working 12-hour days, and it’s all hands on deck. We try to put on a great festival so when people come they get their money’s worth.”
Volunteers began initial setup of the festival’s framework on Sunday, and crews plan to work until the festival gates open on Friday. But even after the festival opens to the public at 10 a.m. and an expected 100,000-plus patrons visit throughout the weekend, droves of volunteers will help take care of everything from trash pickup to ticket sales. Every hour spent working translates into dollars for area nonprofits. Since its creation in 1979, the Garlic Festival has put $10 million in the coffers of various non-profit organizations, from local sports teams to area churches and theaters.
“This is the reason the festival works: the volunteers,” Gilroy Garlic Festival Association President Vito Mercado said Tuesday as he stopped his golf cart near a group of people setting up tents and equipment at Gourmet Alley—the culinary corridor where some of the festival’s signature dishes are made and sold. “They come, year in and year out, to make sure it will be awesome. It’s very rewarding to see it all come together.”
Veteran volunteers, like Buessing, the entire board of directors and all the committee chairs often take time off of work to contribute to the festival.
“I take off the whole week before and part of the week after the festival,” Buessing said, after securing a shade canopy to his 40-foot lift with a zip tie. “My wife comes out here and my kids are usually out here every day helping out. They’ve grown up with it.”
For many of the festival’s 4,000 volunteers, they know their hard work has paid off when they see festival-goers enjoying themselves.
“Having somebody walk up to me in the middle of the festival and say ‘thank you, I had a wonderful time,’ makes it all worth it,” Buessing said.
“(The best part about the festival is) the people we meet from all over the United States—wonderful people we can call our friends,” said Recipe Contest Committee Chair Mike Davis.
While seeing new faces at the festival is a given—whether puckering at the first taste of the infamous garlic ice cream or exhilarated after riding on the zip line—vendors will have the opportunity to access a new designated wireless Internet network this year. And festival-goers no longer have to worry about carrying enough cash.
On Tuesday, a husband-and-wife team with the San Francisco-based Brown Pelican Group were installing 20 antennas across the festival grounds to establish a wifi connection so business can go on as usual.
“Everybody is using Square or another system to run credit cards and handle transactions,” said Brown Pelican Group President Marybeth Hall. “Even though the festival brings in a boosted cellular signal, it’s not enough to handle the hundreds and hundreds of people who have to do transactions.”
In years past, the festival has relied entirely on cellular networks. Whether 3G, 4G or LTE-based, they don’t cut it when there are 100,000 people using them at one time, according to Hall. Access to the network will cost vendors $50, and each paying vendor will receive a password.
Both Marybeth and Glenn Hall, the company’s chief technical officer, have established wireless internet networks at large outdoor events across the nation, including the Coachella Music Festival and a concert by pop star Shakira.
If the network has technical issues during the festival, vendors won’t need to call technical support.
“We just run over and deal with it if anything goes wrong,” Marybeth said with a laugh, adding that the couple’s RV will be their base of operations throughout the weekend. “We can monitor and manage the whole network from a laptop. If someone’s not playing nice and starts streaming videos, we can rate-limit them so they don’t have access to more bandwidth than anyone else. When you have hundreds of people doing the same thing at the same time, you can’t let people hog it; that’s really critical.”
Vendors, volunteers and festival-goers alike can expect the Garlic Festival to open to sunny skies July 25 with temperatures in the 90s through July 27, according to the National Weather Service.

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