Article by Percy Hilo
With the arrival of spring we experience expectations of outdoor enjoyment on a variety of levels, and one of the most eagerly awaited is the annual Northwest Folklife Festival and the hundreds of possibilities for enjoyment and participation. This 43rd edition offers more of the same, which is also always different and never fails to entertain, educate and expand the lives of all who become a part of it in any capacity. There are always a few changes to conform to and to exercise new creativity in packaging, and this year brings more changes than usual. SO, before I overload you with the goodies, let me inform you of where we’ll be and not be from May 23rd to 26th.
Due to their acquisition by our partners KEXP-FM we will lose the Northwest Rooms, as well as the Northwest Court Stage and the Alki Court Stage. The music and dance workshops have been moved from the Northwest Rooms and EMP Learning Labs to the Armory Lofts (3rd floor of the Armory – formerly Center House). Also, we have a new stage, the Traditional Stage, which will have 80% of the Northwest Court entertainment and then some, and you can expect a wide variety of American, Irish and other traditional forms at this venue.
We also have the Cornish Playhouse (formerly the Intiman Theatre) as a brand new stage this year; it will be the site of many of our music and dance showcases. The Discovery Zone will be expanded in size and activities that will be family-friendly (no Folklife Commons anymore) and the International Fountain Pavilion (between Alki Court and the Fountain Lawn Stage) will serve as our home to the visual arts. The Narrative Stage will be relocated to the JBL Theatre inside the EMP museum and two workshop spaces will be found on the 3rd floor of the Armory in the Center’s newly refurbished conference rooms. The All Ages/All Day program will move from Sunday to Monday and will be held in the EMP Museum’s Sky Church, and will feature the vibrant hip hop community of the Pacific Northwest.
Aside from the changes that will affect everybody there are two important changes for participants to be aware of. Performer registration will move from the Armory to a tent directly in front of hospitality (which is in its usual location), and volunteer check-in will move from the Armory to the Next 50 Pavilion, east of the Center Theatre outdoors of the Armory. And as usual, our resilient groups of participants and audience members will adopt to the changes in a seamless manner and a joyous and expansive weekend of traditional and contemporary folk and folk-related arts and entertainment will ensue to the delight of thousands.
Everything that hasn’t changed will obviously remain the same, but I feel it’s important to assure all of our Folklife Family (and millions of potential family) that of all the non-changes the most important is that of quality. We will continue to offer the very finest examples of folk culture in all areas of the Folklife experience, so if you’re a bit let down by the disappearance of a favorite area or stage, let it go, surrender to the fact that the only constant is change and be prepared to enjoy the 2014 festival as much as any in our 43-year history.
Cultural focus: India and its people
India has a long, colorful and proud history of music, dance, crafts, culinary delights and spiritually enlightening traditions that have remained vital over the centuries for all the right reasons. These ways of living have attracted admirers, collectors and non-Indian practitioners from all over the globe, and Folklife is proud to finally be able to host the colors and culture of India for enjoyment and edification of all. Colors And Cultures of India, on Saturday from 11AM-1PM in the Bagley Wright Theatre, will present an elaborate array of all-ages Kathak Dance, a classical Indian dance style. Music Across India will feature three incredible performances from local players of traditional Indian music and will include a presentation by internationally known artist Priya Raghav and two groups of dedicated young players in the Center Theatre (downstairs in the Armory) on Sunday from 11:45AM-1:45PM.
Later on Sunday, from 5:40PM-7:50PM there will be a Kirtan Showcase (Kirtan is Hindu chanting in call and response) with many of Seattle’s Kirtan singers that will offer audience participation throughout. Bollywood will come into play at the Exhibition Hall on Friday evening from 6:45PM-8:15PM and will feature a gorgeous array of Bollywood Dance. The grand traditional operatic dance ballet Mahishasura Maradini Kuchipudi will fill the Bagley Wright Theatre with lovely music and dance, featuring the internationally known dancer Sri Pasumarthi Venkateswara Sarma from 7-10PM on Sunday. These dance performances will put you in the mood to learn Bollywood dancing yourself on Monday from 1-2PM on the Armory Stage, so that you can take your good times out into the world with you the rest of the year.
And in addition to all this, there will be a festival-long Indian Cinema presentation of many films at the SIFF Film Center from 11AM-7PM every day and a spectacular Indian Fashion Show, Reflectionz, in the Exhibition Hall on Sunday from 5-6PM. The printed program will contain a special icon to mark each India program so that you’ll have no trouble finding them. India is just one more of the annual cultural themes that showcase various parts of the planet, their people and their lifestyles as practiced in the Northwest. Folklife themes enable us to attain a fuller realization of all the varied and interesting people and cultures that exist right here amongst us; they also help us understand that we can add any of them to our own lifestyle without having to travel the world over.
Brand new to Folklife in 2014
Each year brings the joy of introducing new performances to the festival which, when mixed with the usual performances, serve to infuse the festival with new and exciting energy that keeps us vital from year to year. This year we’re excited to be partnering with The Centrum Arts Organization to bring Blues Workshops on Saturday, Sunday and Monday in the Armory Loft from 11-11:50AM, which will exhibit some of the Northwest’s finest blues musicians such as Orville Johnson, Eric Freeman and Jon Parry. We’ll also debut a showcase on Chicano Stories in the Center Theatre on Saturday from 1-2PM, which will feature poet Raul Sanchez and musician Jacque Larrainzar who come from a place to the south where the sun shines fiercely and where they are well-known and respected in their artistic fields. The Diaspora Negra: Afrolatino Showcase (a preview of a year-long project) will take place on Saturday from 2-2:50PM in the Cornish Playhouse (formerly the Intiman Theatre) and will feature music and dance from various groups who are part of the AfroLatino Arts Education Project. These groups aim to preserve the rich heritage of folk arts to be found in Haiti, Peru, Brazil, Cuba and other Central and South American countries as well as ours – where African and Latino cultures mix, create and entertain for the benefit of all. This event should be among the most entertaining and educational events of the entire festival. And for dancers who appreciate Latino culture there is a Latin Dance Party: iA Bailar on Sunday from 7-10PM outside at the Mural Stage and Amphitheatre will feature the Cumbieros, an exciting fusion band rooted in traditional Chilean styles that never fails to get everyone up and moving. This event will follow in the footsteps of Brazilian Showcase Aquarela Do Brazil and combine to provide a day of super exciting Latin American music and dance. That’s just some of what’s new and waiting to be discovered and enjoyed on the Center grounds this Memorial Day Weekend.
Some other great showcases among several dozen
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the contribution that Pete Seeger made to the folk culture, the peace and justice culture and the planet in general during the more than 94 years he spent amongst us, except to say that it will never be forgotten and that Folklife will do our humble best to carry on his legacy with a weekend-long tribute. A special tribute sing will be held on Monday from 1-4PM at Fisher Green and will feature Tom Rawson, Peter McKee and Jean Geiger among others. Tom will also present a Children’s Pete Seeger Sing Along at Cornish Courtyard on Saturday at 2PM and Mckee will present Pete: The Songs and Times of Pete Seeger on Saturday at the JBL Theatre in the EMP at 12 noon. And you can be assured that Pete will appear in many places and in many different songs and situations over the weekend as we join the rest of the world in remembering and passing along his noble legacy in the hope that it will continue to entertain, educate and help heal our beautiful yet ravaged planet.
Scandinavian culturists will be pleased with a music showcase on Saturday from 11AM-1PM in the Cornish Playhouse, and there are dozens more that would take up way too much space and include almost every facet of Northwest folk culture. For example, Friday will offer a Rhapsody Showcase on the Traditional Stage from 7-10PM and a Honky Tonk Show at the Fountain Lawn from 6-9PM, Saturday has the Fiddle Powerhouse on the Traditional Stage from 11:40AM-1PM and the annual much beloved Maritime Showcase, also on the Traditional Stage from 3-6PM. Sunday offers Sounds From the Gramophone at Fisher Green from 1-3PM and a Liar’s Contest in the Armory Loft from 3-5PM, while Monday presents a Ukrainian Showcase in the Exhibition Hall from 1-2:30PM and a 206 Zulu Showcase at the EMP Sky Church from 4-6PM. As I’ve stated, these are but a few of many dozens of fine showcases that will reveal the excellence and expansiveness of folk culture in our region.
But that’s not all for the musical sets
The showcases are attractive and well put together by dedicated practitioners, but there is so much more to our musical program! And by that I mean all the varied and meaningful individual and small group performances. These friends, neighbors and fellow Northwesterners (and beyond) are mostly non-professional at their music and play for the love and enjoyment they derive from it and to share it with their friends. Most of them hardly ever play out and Folklife gives them a rare (sometimes only) opportunity to share their skills and feelings with the greater community. It’s only fitting to pick out a few that you resonate with and include their music in your weekend. And the individual sets will offer at least as much variety as the showcases.
Yes, bring your own instrument!
Why let all the programmed players have all the fun? Folklife is about participation and not just as part of some of the showcases. There is always ample room for jamming, many others looking to jam, and an instrument check in the hospitality room that opens early and closes late so that you won’t be burdened with the extra weight of your instrument when you want to see a performance or simply stroll around. WE WANT YOUR MUSIC, whether you’re on the schedule or not, and it’s also an important addition to the overall quality and mission of our festival.
The Discovery Zone
This new family-friendly hands-on activities area is important because it allows for the entire family to play and enjoy together! There’ll be Games of the World, Ropeworks, Toy Boatbuilding, Making Your Own Mosaic, Make & Take Pop-Up Puppets, a Seafair Milk Carton Derby and the innovative early childhood music education program, Little Wing. And that’s just the off-stage doings. The stage will offer a Jumpworks show, a Kaleidoscope Collective, a Magic show, Singing Games for All Ages, North African Songs in French and a bunch more. Not only will families love it all, but it will enable a more complete understanding of our culture and possibly serve as groundwork for children in the workings of folk arts and crafts so they won’t have to start from scratch later in life (as I did). The Discovery Zone is as important as any stage or theatre at the festival.
Do you wanna dance? I thought so!
Dancing will be everywhere at the festival, including showcases, individual performances and participation. Participants will find square, contra, Cajun/Zydeco, swing, African, Latin American, Nordic, Balkan and other forms available in the Fisher Pavilion (Warren’s Roadhouse) and demonstrations of dance styles from the world over as well as belly dancing will be presented primarily in the Exhibition Hall and the Armory Stage but also at the Mural and other venues. Like the musical sets, it would take forever to mention them – but suffice it to say that dance lovers will have no excuses for not getting their fill. And what’s more, we simply couldn’t call in a Folklife Festival without you!
Give it up for our vendors
Crafts people are as creative as our musical and dancing performers and it’s important to realize that their contribution to folk culture is equal to all other creators and instructors. And unlike most of the performers, many of our vendors make a full or partial living from their art or craft and have to pay for their booths. SO why not have some empathy for the interesting, colorful and homemade creations that always brighten up the vendors’ walkway as well as other portions of the festival and purchase that functional and beautiful item that attracts you or that graduation, birthday or anniversary gift that you’ve been looking for from one of our own. It’s in the spirit of the Folklife Mission and is a win/win for both crafter and buyer.
What makes Folklife possible?
Well, lots of things really, but when it comes to labor, volunteer help makes or breaks it, as with almost any other event of this kind. Volunteers are needed to fill more than 1,000 shifts over the four days as well as pre- and post-festival work and since this is a community event, we the people are charged with the task of doing the work at all levels. And the excellent news is that it’s much more than a job. In fact, it’s a family working together in a good way for the best of reasons. I’ve found in almost 30 years of volunteering for Folklife that it’s a labor of love that enables people who have one thing in common to meet and discover that they have other things in common as well. Many fine relationships of various kinds have begun through the avenue of volunteering for Folklife and there’s also much satisfaction in working for something we really believe in. So why not be in touch with our volunteer coordinator, Christina, at 206-684-7326 or firstname.lastname@example.org and get the ball rolling. You’ll be glad you did and so will we. Welcome aboard!!
So what else makes Folklife possible?
You knew I’d get around to the financial matters at some point, didn’t you? Well, love may make the world go ‘round but money puts food in your belly and keeps the Folklife engine revved up as well. We have a great relationship with the city of Seattle and Seattle Center but do not receive financial help from them. We do have some sponsors for our stages but that’s just the staging. We also have expenses for sound, infrastructure, production crew and staff, and a number of other smaller but still significant bills to pay. And since we’re a people’s community event, we, the people, have to take on the task of making up much of the million dollars a year it takes to keep the festival alive. SO we ask for your donations at the gate as well as your philanthropy the year round (Friends of Folklife, etc.). We understand that times are tight and that you will already be spending money for the festival in other ways, but your donations at the gate each day you attend and for each member of your party will go a long way (an awful long way) toward making our favorite yearly event possible for next year and many years in the future. After all, shouldn’t our children and grandchildren have access to the same joyous weekend that we’ve been able to enjoy? We’re always sensitive to your conditions and so we ask only that you give what you can, and many thanks for that in advance.
So there you have it. Another fabulous full weekend of creative, meaningful and just plain fun stuff to enjoy and work at together. We welcome you and all your loved ones to share the joy. Meanwhile, a happy spring to all.