Our Story

Every year since 1972, the Northwest Folklife Festival has brought a celebration of diversity and tradition to the heart of the city. The Folklife Festival exists to celebrate all forms of cultural expression practiced in the Northwest. There are no headliners and all of the performers play for free. This allows Festival organizers to keep the event free to all who attend, asking instead for donations to cover basic operational costs.

The Folklife Festival has stimulated interest and activity in traditional arts in the Northwest. In 1999, Northwest Folklife was selected as a Local Legacy by the Library of Congress in celebration of the Library of Congress’ 200th Anniversary. The Festival has become a major focal point for many traditional and ethnic performing groups and communities in its forty years of existence. And in those forty years, the focus of the Festival has grown to reflect the ever growing number of communities that call the Northwest home. Featuring hip hop MCs, Irish cloggers, Middle Eastern dancers, bluegrass fiddlers, West African drummers, ska bands and more, Northwest Folklife has built an artistic outlet that so many look forward to each year.

The first Festival presented over 300 performers to an enthusiastic audience over Memorial Day weekend, and was hailed as a successful and needed addition to Northwest arts programs. Today, the four-day Festival attracts an audience of about 250,000 visitors and has over 6,000 volunteer performers and 800 volunteers. Visitors from all over the world come to Seattle Center to take part in the weekend’s activities, but the focus remains local–all performers hail from communities in the Northwest. The Folklife Festival is a truly Northwest experience, our diversity and our commonality told through music and dance.

Click here to read a more extensive history of Northwest Folklife [pdf]>