Northwest Folklife Festival

With last year’s attendance estimated at 275,000, the Northwest Folklife Festival is bigger than the ongoing SIFF (about 150,000), bigger than out-of-town rival Sasquatch (22,000), bigger than Bumbershoot (100,000). The four-day festival, now in its 41st iteration, will feature 800 acts on 25 stages: music, dance, theater, storytelling, juggling—yes, there will always be juggling—and more. This year’s boldface names may be Shelby Earl and Clinton Fearon and the Boogie Brown Band, but Folklife is all about discovery—wandering, eating, and encountering the music; it’s a democracy of the ears. The things that make Folklife such an artless good time are exactly the kind of things that hipster tastemakers tend to dislike. Folklife is unexclusive, there’s not much sense of fashion, and the audience gets to do more than hand over money and adulation. It has become refreshingly out of step with many of the prevailing attitudes—and totally unlike the other big music and arts festivals in town. And don’t call Folklife stodgy! It’s even got an app this year (for Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone) to help keep track of its huge schedule. DESMOND FLEEFER

May 25-28, 2012