The 42nd annual Northwest Folklife Festival came to a close on the evening of May 27th, wrapping up four days of music, dance, food, history, art, and celebration. But the Folklife spirit doesn’t end with the Festival—Northwest Folklife, the year-round organization that presents the iconic event, is already at work preparing more opportunities for the public to share in the region’s traditions.
The Northwest Folklife Festival brought together over 6,000 performers across 22 stages, with the aid of at least 800 volunteers. This year the Festival drew an estimated crowd of 230,000 people to Seattle Center over four days. The crowds enjoyed surprisingly fair weather for most of the event, and spirits were high despite periods of rain on the final day.
But, as the lead singer from The Sojourners noted, “Rain crowds are the best audience, because you know they really want to be here!”
Festival highlights included a fascinating and moving discussion with Washington State “Rosies,” women who went to work in the shipyards during WWII. The talk was part of the Cultural Focus “Washington Works.” Energetic crowds were in full force for a Saturday night performance by soul band Eldridge Gravy, as well as Monday evening’s performance by reggae legend Clinton Fearon and his Boogie Brown Band. Rain was even embraced during the stirring set by pedal-steel band The Slide Brothers on Monday afternoon. And the Exhibition Hall was standing-room-only during Friday night’s Bollywood Showcase, a good sign that next year’s Cultural Focus on India will be hugely popular and engaging.
The festival is presented by Northwest Folklife, a year-round organization with nine staff members. In addition to the annual Festival, the small group also produces other events throughout the year. Indeed, a monthly community dance series at the Crossroads Mall in Bellevue kicked off just a week before the big Festival, and will continue every third Saturday through October. June’s event is a family dance, and July offers a taste of folk dances from around the world.
The Cultural Focus of “Washington Works” will not end with the Festival. Deputy Director Debbie Fant, a folklorist, will continue to collect oral histories from union workers across Washington State as part of an Archie Green Fellowship from the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, eventually producing several short documentaries with filmmaker Doug Plummer that will be archived at the Library of Congress and the Washington State Labor Archives.
Folklife is also hosting a community-building night at Safeco Field on August 6, when the Mariners face off against the Toronto Blue Jays. As an organization that represents the greater Northwest region, Northwest Folklife hopes that Festival friends will come down from Alberta and British Columbia for a reunion of sorts.
In the fall, Northwest Folklife will host an autumn harvest celebration at Town Hall. More details about this event on November 1st will be announced at the organization’s website, www.nwfolklife.org.
Says Executive Director Rob Townsend, “The board and staff of Northwest Folklife thank all of our many supporters, the thousands of performers who volunteer their talents, and the hundreds volunteers who came out to the Festival this past weekend and shared in the arts and heritage of our region. Our mission—to share the talents and traditions of the Pacific Northwest—is what drives us to create even more opportunities to build community throughout the year.”
Please enjoy photos from the 42nd Northwest Folklife Festival at our Facebook page, where we’ll also post updates about all things Folklife.