This is Folklife Spotlight: Kristi Brown

Also known as ‘Chef Goddess’, Chef Kristi Brown-Wokoma has been serving up soulful deliciousness since 1986. Her brand focuses on the art and experience of food through Culinary Activism, or the cultivation of fresh food and cooking as a means to bring people together and help heal communities through the love and medicine of food.

With 23 years of cooking experience under her belt, the Chef Goddess has worked her way up from working front and back of house to creating a Seattle town favorite, That Brown Girl Catering, which has been transformed into That Brown Girl Cooks! She is currently involved with creating the Seattle Center Festál cookbook and you can see her demonstrating her skills at Festál Family Day “Edible Seattle” at MOHAI on Feb 18th! Let’s find out more about Kristi!

What role do you see Festál playing in the greater community? 

Festál is an birds eye experience of what Seattle has long been. A distinct celebration of several cultures throughout the entire year, not on a designated federal holiday.  Festál has taken the initiative to give us an opportunity to learn, celebrate and actively take part in cultures that we may be a part of or are curious about.  That helps us see the connections more so than the differences.

Why do you think Festál has endured for so long?

I believe Festál has lasted so long because at the core spirit of Seattle, there is a deep desire to honor the people of the land and the dedication to continue to create even more community.

How does food and cooking nurture the passing down of cultural traditions? And of cultural, ethnic identity?

Next to sex, I believe food is the most powerful medium to bring people together.  So families, even when they are not talking to one another, will share a meal.  We speak out our joys and grievances over food.  We seek solace and comfort in the warm kitchen. And these meals tell the stories,  the tales of who we are, where we came from and it all amalgamates in the pot. And those stories are passed on from one generation to another. It truly is magical.

Please share a memory connected to creating the Festal cookbook that was meaningful to you?  

There are so many….

I think it’s more of a behind the scene thing.  We truly had no idea what we were getting into.  Meaning the intricacies of each cultures food, the techniques, the respect for authenticity….it guided everything we did.  But my crew???  They were phenomenal!!! While we were making the Irish Cake, one of the volunteers, Trenita Harris, who is an amazing pastry chef, saw that I was clueless when it came to part of the decorating of the cake.  It was pretty extensive, and we were working on a tight tight deadline.  She actually took the cake home, after working her regular graveyard shift and a full shift helping cook/bake for the cookbook and totally decorated the cake in marzipan…it was amazing!!!  The dedication that everyone bought to the table….was unparalleled!  I’m so grateful for the entire crew….WE DID IT!!!

What would you like to see for the future of Northwest Folklife?

I would like to see it listed a pre-requisite for every newcomer to Seattle, because if you don’t take part in this celebration, you will never truly understand the spirit in our land.  And if you don’t understand us, you will disrespect what we’ve built.

Please finish this sentence: ‘folklife is…

Folklife is like soup.  I’ll go even further and say…It’s like Pho. The rich broth brings together each individual ingredient. But not even one of the ingredients are lost, they all stand out, to make the most prolific soup possible!!!

This is Folklife Spotlight: Steve Sneed

Today we introduce you to the Managing Artistic Director of Cultural Programs at Seattle Center Productions, Steve Sneed.

Steve oversees Seattle Center Festál, a series of 24 cultural festivals throughout the year on campus.  In its 20th anniversary this year, he has developed a unique perspective on the cultural climate of the Center.

What role do you see Festál playing in the greater community? Why do you think Festal has endured for so long?

Festál as a convener of the ethnic organizations celebrating culture at Seattle Center, is a connector. We help the organizations get better at presenting festivals and we support that effort.

How does Festál nurture the role of ‘culture bearer’? 

I think the best way we do that is by putting these “culture bearers” in the same room together monthly and provide a venue for them to share with each other.

What has been the result of your partnership with Northwest Folklife on you and your community?

Over the years Northwest Folklife has proven a place where cultural groups can get a foot in the door at Seattle Center. They see the possibilities for a cultural festival by working in and with Folklife. Then, they want to continue so they come over to see me and in some cases join Festál.

What would you like to see for the future of Northwest Folklife?

I’d like to see the development of more ethnic folk music and arts at Folklife with the understanding that Folk music is not one kind of music. All cultures have folk traditions and Folklife has such a great platform to spread that news.

Please share a memory connected to Northwest Folklife that was meaningful to you?  

It’s actually working on the committee with the Traditional Roots of Hip Hop 2015 Cultural Focus. I learned a lot about the organization and just what the Cultural Focus is. I met more staff people and got to know them. That was a great experience.

Please finish this sentence: ‘folklife is…

…a major part of Seattle culture and character.

This is Folklife Spotlight: Doug Plummer

Northwest Folklife is proud to be a community-powered organization, and at the heart of that power are people like YOU!

Photo by Rick Meyer

Today we introduce you to photographer and filmmaker, contra dancer, and Friend of Folklife, Doug Plummer.

Doug started contra dancing as well as photographing those dances in Seattle in the mid 1980s. Since 2012 he has self-published the Contradance Calendar, a photo showcase exhibiting the vibrant life of the tradition. He serves on the board of the Country Dance and Song Society (CDSS), an education and arts service nonprofit for dancers, musicians, singers, callers, and organizers, particularly from English and North American traditions.

Doug created a series of short films for Northwest Folklife called Northwest Stories, which play a vital role in exploring communities that have long been a part of Northwest Folklife. He is beginning work on a documentary film project on one of the CDSS tour communities, Coos Bay, OR. He is also a new piano player and is in a contra dance band, Purple Heys. Let’s get to know Doug a little better.

What communities are you involved with?

I started contra dancing about 30 years ago. I started to photograph the dances then too, which began a long term project to document the contra dance and music scene nationwide. I serve on the board of the Country Dance and Song Society, which educates and supports local communities in offering contra and English dancing, as well as ritual dance (Morris), and song. I took up piano six years ago, from scratch, and quickly gained enough facility to play at jams and for contra dances. I’m now on the same trajectory with guitar.

How many years have you been involved with this community and Northwest Folklife?

Pretty much since I arrived in Seattle, in 1985.

What does it mean to you and to your community to be connected to Northwest Folklife?

I’m one of those people who, in years past, rarely left the contra dance floor the whole weekend, particularly when I was young. I’ve always been friends with musicians, and my favorite volunteer slot was for Sandy Bradley’s instrument auction, even though I didn’t play anything (yet). I’m connected with the original “roots” of Folklife, as it were, the old time hippie musicians who jammed and square danced and began this great thing, and who feel a tremendous sense of ownership of the Festival, and maybe a bit too much entitlement sometimes.

What has been the result of your connection with Northwest Folklife on you and your community?

Folklife is different now that I’m a musician. I’ve been on the stage a couple of times now, and there’s nothing that compares to the rush and the fulfillment of playing for a room full of several hundred contra dancers. But what I witnessed, from this side of the room, is how community comes together in preparation for that moment in the sun. A good example is the annual Lake City marathon contra dance that’s a benefit for Folklife. One year I was in two bands. We gathered week after week to rehearse. We staged contra dances in people’s living rooms, so that callers could practice handing off the dance changes. It is from those gatherings that friendships deepen, that connections develop, that community takes form. I saw the value of gathering to prepare for an event of connection and joy, and how Folklife seeds that in this amazing multicultural way for our region.

I’m in my sixties, and because I play music now, I’m making friends and I’m more social than I’ve ever been in my life. That typically doesn’t happen to guys my age in this culture. It is the greatest gift to be connected the way I am now.

You were a huge part in creating the Northwest Stories and helping to tell different community’s stories through their own words. Why do you think these stories were important to tell?

I learned about the secret mission of Folklife that more people need to know about. People think it’s about the Festival. That’s almost the least of it. Similar to how I observed community bonds being formed through the act of preparing for a contra dance, I saw how music and dance are the glue that give meaning and keep communities healthy. They may be an ethnic group, like the Hawaiian diaspora, or a community who choose a given dance form and may or may not identify as Scandinavian, or it may be an institutional keystone and a safe space for young people, like Vera and the All Ages music scene. Whatever parameters define a community, when we come together to make art together, when we participate, when we touch and know each other, this is important stuff. This is a social good. This is the society I want to live in. It is these healthy community bonds that Folklife nurtures, and the Festival only comes in to play as the place where these communities show the rest of us what they’re about.

Photo by Julia Chambers

What would you like to see for the future of Northwest Folklife?

In my work for CDSS, I’ve observed what makes for healthy, resilient dance communities. They’re the ones that change and grow, and that hand over leadership to a younger generation. In my “tribe”, and among my age cohort, I hear complaints of how Folklife’s changed, that it’s lost its way, that there’s no “Folk” music anymore and the stages are too loud (though that last bit I might agree with). In my view, that only demonstrates that the festival and the organization are healthy and growing. My measure of the vibrancy and vigor of any traditional music or dance scene is, are the old folks annoyed? Good. That means it’s going to be around for a few more generations. If it sounds like it did 30 years ago, that’s a bad sign. It’s going to die when you do.

Do you and your community nurture the role of ‘culture bearer’? How?

I help make sure there are abundant opportunities for people to gather, to hear music, to play music, to dance. I host a house concert series; its focus is virtuosic musicians who play in traditional genres. The house concert scene is becoming a significant piece of the support system for musicians, and it’s my favorite way to hear music. My big living room is also a frequent place for music sessions and even contra and square dances. There’s no end to the amount of joy this all brings into my life, and that my community feels as well.

Please finish this sentence: Folklife is… more necessary and important than ever.