When you go to a live concert, you don't necessarily notice the person who hands you a program and shows you to your seat.
But ushers, whether they're students working part-time at Sonoma State University's Green Music Center, or retirees volunteering at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, are an important part of your evening out.
"We're there to make sure everything is going smoothly, so patrons don't have to worry about the small details, and they can just enjoy the performance," said Elizabeth Northrup, a Sonoma State University junior.
A 20-year-old music education major from Vacaville, Northrup has worked as an usher at the Green Music Center since it opened in 2012, and now specializes in helping the disabled and others with special needs get easy access to the concert hall.
"I've learned that all kinds of people come to see the performances," Northrup said. "We have people who have been major political leaders and then we have everyday people. For Hilary Hahn, the violinist, we had people in gowns dressed up for a gala, and we had small children who are studying violin and wanted to grow up to be like her."
While the ushers are there to serve the public, they also enjoy some advantages in addition to the pay student ushers get — $9 to $11 per hour now, and $10 to $12 starting next fall.
"Getting to see wonderful shows while you're working is a good perk," said Andrew Cronomiz, 22, from Santa Maria, a sociology major.
Ushers do have to remind patrons to turn off their cell phones and leave their water bottles outside the auditorium, but most people cooperate, he said.
"The crowds are always pleasant," he said. "People enjoy being there."
Cronomiz reports no close encounters with visiting performers, but he did get a good look at singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, who played a sold-out show at the Green center in March.
"Jason Mraz walked by, but I didn't get to say anything to him," Cronomiz said.
Patrick Maloney, director of guest services at the Green, said he set up the usher positions there as paid jobs for students in order to give them work experience.
"For many of them, these are the first jobs they've ever had," he said. "It really broadens their education. Showing people to their seats is probably the easiest and least important thing ushers do. It's about interfacing with people."
With a full schedule of shows at both centers, it takes a lot of ushers to do the job — up to 50 at the Green Music Center and 300 at Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, including those who operate the food and drink concessions in the lobby.
At Wells Fargo Center, the volunteers are mostly 40 or older, many are retired and some have been working at the center since it opened in 1981, said Candice Day, an administrative assistant at the center who also volunteers her time to manage the other volunteers.
"People volunteer here for different needs," Day said.
Some find themselves with free time after retirement, and some have lost a spouse and want to be around people. Others may be new to the community and want to meet new people.
Andy Tautges, 53, a former salesman and now an events manager at Relish Culinary Adventures in Healdsburg, and his wife, Mary, 52, moved to Sonoma County from Madison, Wis., five years ago and have been volunteering at Wells Fargo Center since then.