A few years ago, a Seattle photographer published a book called The Seattle 100—portraits of people he said were “defining and driving culture in Seattle.”
Don’t be surprised if you don’t see any of them at Folklife over Memorial Day Weekend.
The things that make Folklife such an artless good time are exactly the kind of things that anointed 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. (In fact, no money needs to change hands at all.)
Folklife used to be emblematic of Seattle culture. Now, 40 years on, 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.
No Folklife fan is going to scrutinize this year’s lineup and roll their eyes at the Bokréta Hungarian Dance Ensemble (Sunday, May 27) being booked again. The Bokréta Hungarian Dance Ensemble was never “in”—which is why the bookers at Folklife don’t have to worry that maybe the Bokréta Hungarian Dance Ensemble was totally “over” five months ago. (Or hope that they’re so “over” they could be ironically “in.”) Folklife has become a last refuge of unself-conscious entertainment, which says something about this city’s evolution.
The range of acts that Folklife presents—in a town hardly known as an ethnic melting pot—is nothing short of amazing. West African, Celtic, Mexican, Japanese, Scandinavian, Scottish, Hawaiian, Israeli, Irish, and more. Is it all great? Definitely not. But even the lesser acts give you room to wonder at the history and worldviews that produced this sound, dress, and movement. It really is diverse, and not in the sense of people wearing lots of different thrift-store ski caps.
The other thing that’s so great about Folklife is that people aren’t just there to admire an aloof performer, but to participate. You can walk in and join a choir, learn some capoeira. A lot of Folklifers are die-hard regulars, there to do exactly what they came for—like the social dancers who pack Fisher Pavilion for square dance, contradance, tango, and more. Ridiculously dorky, and ridiculously enjoyable.
The other day, Reverb Monthly editor Chris Kornelis and I were wondering what the “thing” will be this year at Sasquatch!, which happens the same weekend as Folklife. (Two years ago, the “thing” was suburban kids wearing Indian headdresses.) But we can safely say there will be no “thing” at this year’s Folklife. It’ll be the same as it ever was—a place to soak up positive energy and find joy in the color of the wider world.
Mark D. Fefer is the former editor of Seattle Weekly and the founding drummer of Robespierre.
Northwest Stringband Throwdown These spunky, sprightly string bands could inspire even the staunchest Seattleite to hippie dancing. With the Warren G. Hardings, Nettle Honey, Water Tower, Polecat. Fisher Green Stage, Friday, May 25, 6 to 9 p.m.
Our Indoor Campsite Celebrate the artful whims and layered, acoustic melodies of Olympia’s K Records at this unofficial showcase. With Katie and the Lichen, Kendl Winter, the Softies, the Hive Dwellers. Center House Theater, Saturday, May 26, 1:30 to 4 p.m.
American Standard Time Alt-country, Americana, and blues abound in this soulful showcase of Seattle singer/songwriters. With Shelby Earl, Kevin Barrans, Lonesome Shack, Denver. Indie Roots at Broad Street, Saturday, May 26, 1 to 3:45 p.m.
Ball of Wax Show Indie rock, jazz, hard folk, pop, soul, take your pick—this bill is a grab bag and a true ball of wax. With Tito Ramsey, Robert Deeble, the Foghorns, Heatwarmer. Indie Roots at Broad Street, Sunday, May 27, 7 to 10 p.m.
Artist Home Showcase Surf sounds, ’60s pop, and garage rock round out this bill of young, emerging Northwest artists. With Cumulus, Koko & the Sweetmeats, Dude York. Indie Roots at Broad Street, Sunday, May 27, 3 to 6 p.m.
Kindiependent Mom and Dad: Bring your favorite dancing shoes and let the boppin’ sounds of these family faves kick off the fun. With Recess Monkey, Caspar Babypants, and the Not-Its. Fountain Lawn Stage, Monday, May 28, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
A Tribute to Harry Smith and The Anthology of American Folk Music Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the classic anthology that ushered in the folk revival of the ’50s and ’60s, American music history buffs should not miss this one. With the Bow Pullers, Dinas o Frain, Dale Russ and Friends, Robert Millis, Magical Strings, Coventry, the Jocelyn Pettit Band. Northwest Court, Monday, May, 28, 1 to 4 p.m.
Reggae Rising Party The weather may still be a gamble, but these reggae- and funk-driven bands pop a groove like it’s sunny and 75. With Hybrid Vibe, The Highlife, Kore Ionz, Clinton Fearon and Boogie Brown Band. Mural Amphitheatre, Monday, May 28, 6 to 8:45 p.m. Gwendolyn Elliott