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Northwest Folklife offers far more than most festivals

The annual Northwest Folklife Festival gets underway Friday at Seattle Center (Folklife image)

I have to admit, it’s been a few years since I’ve been to Seattle’s Northwest Folklife Festival at Seattle Center. In my mind, it’s nothing more than four days of drum circles and mandolins, but after taking a closer look, it turns out I couldn’t be more wrong.

This year’s festival, which gets under way Friday, features as broad a range of musical offerings as you’ll find anywhere. There’s live-band Hip Hop, a Jimi Hendrix tribute, Indie Roots rock and dozens of other diverse musical styles ranging from blues to bluegrass, rock, reggae, traditional Gaelic music, and sea shanties. Hundreds of artists in all on over 20 stages.

So what exactly is “folk”, anyways? Organizers say it’s any art made by folks.

“We program the kinds of art forms that community members are participating in, and we try to respond positively to all kinds of interesting applications. So the end result is that you can see performances that you might call “folk,” and you can also see new, emerging art forms like 8-bit music,” says the Folklife FAQ.

Longtime Seattle DJ and former KMTT music director Shawn Stewart (my new co-host of Seattle Sounds) says it’s actually her favorite Northwest festival over Sasquatch, Bumbershoot or the others.

“I feel like of all the festivals we have here in the Pacific Northwest, it is the most unpretentious. And things can get a little pretentious.”

Even better, Folklife remains free.

“It makes it accessible to everyone in our city at every economic level, from every neighborhood,” Stewart gushes.

Sure, there will be more than a few pot-smoking hippies. But Stewart insists there are just as many North Face clad families taking the Kindipendent showcase of kid-friendly local rock bands, or the high school swing dance.

Northwest Folklife gets underway Friday at 11:00 a.m. and runs through Monday night. And for those that just can’t resist, there are still a few drum circles.

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