Festival FAQ

Festival Hours / Donations / Pets / Donation and Information Stations / Misc. FAQs / Buskers and Street Performers / Changing Landscape / About Northwest Folklife

Festival Hours

When does the Festival begin and end each day?

Festival programming begins at 11:00 a.m. and concludes at 10:00 p.m. from Friday until Sunday. The Festival runs from 11:00 a.m. until 9:00 p.m. on Monday. Food vendor hours may vary.

Videographer Policy: Northwest Folklife has a proprietary license for the use of the Seattle Center Campus and Facilities associated with the Folklife Festival during Memorial Day weekend and can determine how they are to be used. Folklife asks that people do not record performers without prior consent from the performer and the Festival. In accordance with the City of Seattle legal department, indoor facilities are not a part of the public discourse; therefore, 1st amendment rights do not have precedent in these venues. We also must maintain fire lanes, egress, and safety protocols inside and outside of venues. All video recordings beyond hand held devices, within the confines of a general venue seats, must be pre-approved by both the performer and the Festival.


Why don’t you charge an entry fee? How do you raise money for the Festival?

It is the mission of Northwest Folklife to create the incredible opportunity of experiencing the thriving traditions of folk arts available to everyone. Everybody is a bearer of and participant in Folklife, and we are committed to make certain everyone is able to come and celebrate with us. Each year, Northwest Folklife depends on donations from generous individuals, foundations, government, and corporate partners in order to meet operating expenses, produce the annual Festival, and maintain year-round programs and events. It’s not easy to sustain, and we need your support.

The Festival is a community-powered event – what does that mean?

The Northwest Folklife Festival being a community-powered event means that we rely on the people and groups that come to the Festival for funding and support. In order to keep the Festival going for future generations, we accept donations of any amount. When asked, we suggest a donation of $10 per person, per day (or $20 for family/groups).

Each year, Northwest Folklife depends on donations from generous individuals, foundations, government, and corporate partners in order to meet operating expenses, produce the annual Festival, and maintain year-round educational programs and events. You, too, can become a Friend of Folklife and receive special benefits. For more information and to donate please visit our website.


Can I bring my beloved household pet?

For the safety and consideration of all Festival guests, we request that you leave dogs, ferrets, potbellied pigs, and all other pets at home.

Service animals welcome.

Donation and Information Stations

Where can I get information once I’m at the Festival?

There are eight Donation & Information Stations on Seattle Center grounds during the Festival. These stations, staffed by knowledgeable volunteers, are your best place to learn about performance schedules, craft vendors, where to eat and much more. Please consult your Festival Guide for Donation & Information Station locations.

Misc. FAQs

Sound Issues

Northwest Folklife programs the acts on our various stages through a jury process from those artists who have applied. As the sonic footprint of these artists increases, Folklife does not exclude communities and acts based solely upon their volume. Because we select from those who have applied we program a cross section of what is being played around the Northwest, in back yards, garages, basements, clubs, and community/teen centers.  As those acts become louder, the Festival has adapted to those needs.

Musicians have to be able to hear themselves and each other. Acts that have loud instruments on stage, (drum kits or amplifiers, for example) the monitors for other artists who are playing with them tend to be turned up in order to hear themselves on stage. Many of those artists can’t play “softer,” as it is inherent to their style of music. The sound engineers are tasked with making it sound balanced in the audience, so the loudest instrument on the stage usually dictates the volume of the mix coming out to the audience.

The Northwest Folklife Festival has over 20 stages active most days of the festival. Compared to most of the other festivals that means there are a considerable number of performances happening at the same time on a relatively small campus.  While we work toward stages not interfering with each other, it does mean that there is a vast amount of sound circulating at our Festival. Festival staff members walk around the festival grounds with decibel meters and limit both stage and busker volumes.

How do you bring all the Festival performers together?

We create and explore opportunities to showcase regional artists, traditional dance, music, storytelling and exhibits through partnerships with diverse cultural and ethnic communities in the region. We developed great relationships with over 100 “Community Coordinators” who help connect our programmers with bands and performers and help us keep up to date with what is going on around the Northwest. All the performers on our stages donate their time and energy to the Festival. For more information about programming visit Programming FAQ.

Why doesn’t the Festival have any headliners?

The Northwest Folklife Festival is a celebration of how people keep their traditions alive in the region. We want to share the dance, music, stories, art, and food of diverse communities that thrive in the Northwest. Sometimes this means bigger names acts take the stage, but the most important thing is to present a wide variety of musical styles and artistic expression, not to have name recognition to draw crowds or sponsorship dollars. All of the Festival’s artists donate their performances in order to share their arts and traditions. We think they’re all headliners.

How are Cultural Focus programs chosen?

Our Cultural Focus program is chosen in a variety of ways. In keeping with our mission to ‘share, celebrate, and participate in the evolving traditions of the Pacific Northwest’, it’s important for Folklife to represent communities present here in the Northwest, both existing and emerging.

Each year, Folklife’s programming staff looks at communities that are not yet represented in Northwest Folklife’s programming. As our Cultural Focus is a year-round program, this allows staff to engage deeper with communities beyond the Folklife Festival. Whether it’s with a new community not yet represented at the Festival, or a community that has been showcasing at the Festival for many years but has a particular anniversary or event happening that year, ideas are both curated and submitted.

Have an idea for the next Cultural Focus? Feel free to email us at

What is there to see, do, and participate in during the Festival?

  • Participatory Dance: whether you are a regular dancer or new to the activity, there are dozens of opportunities for you to move your feet at the Festival! Swing by Warren’s Roadhouse in the Fisher Pavilion for group dancing for four days of the festival. There are also lots of partner dances in the Armory, such as waltz, Cajun, and swing dance, along with international dances such as Swedish and Balkan. Or check out the workshops in the Armory Lofts. Participatory dance opportunities and workshops range from salsa to contra, English country to Latin swing.
  • Cultural Focus: each year present a “theme” that allows us to expand programming in a particular area or with a community. Previously, we’ve stages a Cultural Focus on Urban Indians, Maritime Communities, and the traditional roots of Hip Hop. For 2016, we will be exploring the Power of the Human Voice through Song. This program often includes multimedia, films, demonstrations, talks, exhibits and more.
  • Family & Hands-On Activities: called the Discovery Zone located in the Next 50 Pavilion. It’s a family activities are programmed all day throughout the festival, and include arts & crafts, storytelling, and music designed especially for young ones. Check out the Kindiependent showcase for indie rock that parents will love too!
  • Food: next to music and arts, what’s more culturally significant than food? Taste the world by visiting food stalls that offer delicacies from Africa, South America, the American South, and all points in between! You could easily fill your day just taking in the smells and sights, topping it off with classic Festival fare such as elephant ears and funnel cakes.
  • Crafts: be sure to bring your shopping list—you can spend many hours wandering dozens of booths that have merchandise made by the talented hands of your Northwest neighbors as well as booths with imported crafts from around the world. You can find locally made soaps, jewelry, clothing, and art, as well as imports of dishware, instruments, and hard-to-find food items.
  • Beer Gardens: take a load off, find a quiet or lively spot, and watch the Festival go by with a nice cold brew. We have a variety of beer and ciders on tap in our gardens.

Wait, so there is no admission charge? How is this possible?

From donations from folks like you! In order to keep the Festival free for future generations we accept donations of any amount; when asked, we suggest a donation of $10 per person per day (or $20 for family/groups). Each year, Northwest Folklife depends on donations from generous individuals, foundations, government, and corporate partners in order to meet operating expenses, produce the annual Festival, and maintain year-round educational programs and events. You, too, can become a Friend of Folklife and receive special benefits.

How can I perform?  Be a merchant?  Sell crafts?  

All Festival performers and merchants (food, crafts, etc.) must apply to be a part of the Festival. Applications are available in the fall. To receive an application for the next Festival, check online at or give us a call after September 1st at 206-684-7300.

Buskers and Street Performers

There is a long history of Street Performance as a tradition both at Folklife and through out history.

Street performers add a vibrant and important piece to the overall feel and concept of Folklife. We are creating opportunities for artists to share their specific cultures with the society at large. To that end, street performing fits into our mission.

Buskers (street performers who solicit tips) are encouraged to share any tips they may receive from their activities. However, Folklife cannot enforce our suggestion and the public should be aware they are supporting individuals, not necessarily our organization. We are grateful to those buskers who do choose to share their proceeds and we’re hopeful that trend will increase.

Folklife does not have the right to prevent free speech activities during the Festival. We are operating at a free and open public space. We can not dictate who can perform, assemble, or participate. We do have (and exercise) the right to move street performers/buskers who are interfering with our stages, vendors, or entry/exit points to venues. We also set sonic limitations to how loud buskers can be. But we are prevented from restricting participants based on their messages.

Changing Landscape

Why did the CD Store go away?

Northwest Folklife regretted ceasing operations of the CD Store during our Festival. It was a significant component in supporting our artists, but ultimately cost our organization more than could be earned by the commissions we received. Silver Platters and other CD retailers tried to run this store and couldn’t make a feasible go of it.  As sales declined over time, the CD Store closed for many of the same reasons that many retailers have gone out of business.

People buy music when they hear performing acts, and we encourage artists to sell in relation to their performances. We found it rare that audience members would hear an act, then wander across the campus to a non-adjacent location and sift through titles and find that act again. The number of musical acts that we have and the variety of CD’s that performers would sell made logistics for inventory control difficult. In addition, artists picked their price points, and the random nature of that pricing added to the discord present with the store.  With the increase in online sales and downloadable recordings, it has become much easier for artists to sell directly to the public without Folklife’s involvement. In our last survey to performers, we found that more performers preferred selling merchandise next to the stage and online via our schedule listing than in our CD Store. Check our Festival Schedule for performers’ URLs.

Why did the Northwest Rooms go away?

The evolution of Seattle Center and its many facilities is inevitable. KEXP is a valued new neighbor and has moved into the Northwest Rooms. While we all see the various venues at Seattle Center to be of critical importance to the Folklife Festival, Seattle Center has a responsibility to look at the bigger picture and decide what is best for its facilities in a day-to-day operational standpoint. We are working with KEXP to create an ongoing collaborative relationship and look forward to utilizing spaces within the NW court.

Most of the beloved programming that was found on the Northwest Court Stage can now be found on the Trad Stage, located in the Alki Court area, just East from the Northwest Court.

What happened to the Musical Instrument Makers Showcase (MIMS) and why did that go away?

Folklife loved the Musical Instrument Makers Showcase. Unfortunately, it became very hard to find the artisans who were willing to participate and show their wares for 4 days. With the advent of online shopping and trade, the need for MIMS decreased drastically. In the last few years of MIMS operations, many of the makers had low sales and lack of interest.  As a result, it became clear we needed to implement our available spaces in ways that our attendees and participants find more valuable.

Why isn’t there a Metro shuttle like in previous years?

King County Metro is unable to provide dedicated shuttle service due to budget constraints. However, fifteen Metro bus routes serve Seattle Center from around the region. Public transportation to and from the Northwest Folklife Festival can be planned by visiting Seattle Center’s page.

About Northwest Folklife

Northwest Folklife is a year-around non-profit that produces the Northwest Folklife Festival, along with a wide variety of programming throughout the region, and throughout the year. To learn more about our organization, please visit our About page.

Folklife is an independent nonprofit organization.

Northwest Folklife is an independent nonprofit arts & culture organization. The Northwest Folklife Festival is our main annual event and is a community-powered festival. We do receive a significant amount of support and assistance from Seattle Center which partners with us to produce the Festival. We also receive support from various city and state agencies Including the Office of Arts and Culture, 4Culture, Arts WA, etc., but that support is not sufficient enough to produce a festival of the size and scope of ours. It requires donations from individuals, corporations, and all the other revenue streams that we utilize to make this event a reality. Beer garden sales, merchant, food, and craft vendors income, sponsorships, and so forth all add into the community-powered nature of this event. The facilities, venues, staff, and parking garages made available to us are critical to our success.

What makes Folklife a year-round organization?

Northwest Folklife is a nonprofit organization with a mission to create opportunities for our constituents. We work year-round to organize and produce the Northwest Folklife Festival. In addition, we also work on other year-round programs including our Cultural Focus, the monthly Cultural Arts series at Bellevue Crossroads, the annual Seattle Children’s Festival, and consistent work with our community coordinators and collaborative organizational partners.  We are constantly working to create new and better ways to produce our current events while looking forward to future program opportunities for our organization.

To learn more about our organization and how you can support Northwest Folklife, visit our Northwest Folkife FAQ.