Northwest Folklife Mythbusters #4

Co-creating and co-curating an annual festival with more than 5,000 artists, more than 800 performances on 25 stages with more than 100 community coordinators, while simultaneously managing the logistics of crafts vendors, food merchants, and sponsors AND making sure 250,000 visitors are safe, well served and have a great time is an enormous undertaking. It can really be boiled down to two words – Relationships and Logistics.

Relationships – Northwest Folklife works all year round with more than 100 community coordinators. These amazing volunteers represent the range of artistic genre, cultural influence and demographic origins that make up the Pacific Northwest. Coordinators provide the insight and experience within their coordinating areas to help staff make the most representative and balanced programming choices. It’s a big job and we are so grateful for their partnership.

Logistics galore!!!! Imagine setting up a system that allows anyone and everyone (remember – no barriers) to apply to perform or vend their wares that accurately gathers the information necessary to support their needs such as space, time, equipment, etc. Imagine the logistics involved with then coordinating all of those applications into the broad, cohesive festival that occurs each year. On top of that, there are all the logistics for vendors, security, volunteers, and facilities to support a quarter million guests. The list goes on and on (and on)!

Building and planning this event each year is a labor of love by an enormous group of dedicated staff, volunteers and partners. It is a vast undertaking, full of details and efforts that are invisible to most of us when we walk onto the grounds Memorial Day weekend. But, this labor of love is there when we experience the amazing breadth of the art and culture of the Northwest, become neighbors with strangers and go home with new experiences and perhaps, a little bit changed. For you – the magic happens in four days.  But it takes a year to make it happen!

Volunteer Spotlight: Wayne Severson

How long have you been Volunteering at the Northwest Folklife Festival?

Approximately 15 years.

What position(s) do you take on at the Festival?

Volunteer Check-In, Hospitality, Volunteer Party, Info Booths, and Raising Donations from festival visitors.

What keeps you coming back?

The opportunity to see old friends and the opportunity to make a lot of new ones. The pleasant atmosphere. The great music and shows.

Name a favorite food, craft, art or music that you enjoy at Folklife.

Elephant ears are one of my favorite foods. It’s so huge and it tastes so good! I enjoy craft gazing and music listening.

Please share a funny story, good memory, or tip for new volunteers!

When you want someone to donate you have to be joyful. You can’t shy away because the opportunity will pass you by. Be assertive, and be willing to chat with anyone coming or going will guarantee you a bill in the till. I’ve had people say to me that they are just passing through, or tourists, or just want to get to the other side of the Center. All you have to do is tell them that, “No matter what the size (amount) of their donation turns out to be – you will discover during your short visit was worth it, tenfold.”

Volunteer Spotlight: Julia Brewer

Volunteer Spotlight Julia Brewer
How long have you been Volunteering at the Northwest Folklife Festival?

Well technically I have been volunteering every year since 1997, but I was 2 at that age so I basically just helped/hung around with my mom while she volunteered. As I got older I was able to take on more responsibilities and really contribute to Folklife.

Another form of volunteering is performing at the festival. I have been performing at Folklife with Melody Xie Chinese Dance Institute since 2002-2013, which I have really enjoyed.

 What position(s) do you take on at the Festival?

Over the years my mom and I have done various volunteer positions, such as greeter, button selling and vendor assistant. But our favorite position is volunteer registration. My mom and I usually take the first shifts possible. We get to the grounds around 8am, so that after the shift we can possibly volunteer for more shifts if needed or we have the whole day to enjoy the various activities the festival holds.

The volunteers and staff members that I get to work with are just amazing and I get to meet others who enjoy giving back to the festival as well, which makes getting up so early not as bad.

 Please share a funny story, good memory, or tip for new volunteers!

A good memory I have is sharing my love for Folklife with my boyfriend and friends. I have also taught several of my friends and my boyfriend how to Contra dance. So few young individuals know what Contra dancing is or how to do it, so I think it is important to teach as many of the younger generation how to Contra dance so that it does not die out. I also love staying late every day of the festival so that I can get as much Contra dancing in as I can.

A tip for new volunteers would be, to remember to smile and to just have fun with the experiences. Folklife is the friendliest festival in Seattle, so you should just sit back and enjoy your time the best you can. Even though Folklife needs the volunteers, I would also suggest that high schools students that are trying to complete their service learning hours, to try not to procrastinate to until the end to get all their necessary hours; although it is funny trying to jam as many shifts as possible into their day.

Interested in Volunteering at the Festival? Sign-up HERE today!


Northwest Folklife invites musicians, dancers, community groups, artists, storytellers, and instructors to participate in the 45th annual Northwest Folklife Festival, which will take place May 27-30, 2016, at Seattle Center.

If you or your group is based in the Northwest region, including Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Western Montana, this is a great opportunity to share your music and traditions!

The annual Northwest Folklife Festival is the largest community-powered arts festival in the United States. It is presented each year in Seattle by Northwest Folklife, a year-round nonprofit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for all people to appreciate, share, and participate in the evolving traditions of the Pacific Northwest.

Folklife 2014 - SaturdayLast year Northwest Folklife programmed over 5,000 performers in 65 different genres of music, from Hawaiian to hip-hop. We presented dance performances representing cultures from Ireland to India. We believe everyone is a bearer of folk arts, and we encourage communities to share their cultural traditions, in the hope that interaction with new audiences will enrich the community as much as the audience.

Click these links to be redirected to our online applications:






If you need a paper version of our performer application, please email us at programming at

Interested in how we select bands and performance groups? Click here to read our Programming FAQ.

Still have questions? Email our programming team now.


Get Ready! Folklife Starts This Friday!

The 43rd annual Northwest Folklife Festival is almost here!  As you get ready to come down to Seattle Center for four days of nonstop music, dance, workshops, food, crafts and more, here are some useful things to know:

There have been various programming and venue changes for the festival this year:

  • Trad Stage This is a brand new stage! The Trad Stage will highlight some of the best traditional musicians of the Northwest, pulling some of the programming from past years’ much-loved Northwest Court Stage. You can expect to hear North American and European traditional music from a variety of genres including Irish, Québécois, Old-Time, and more.
  • Cornish Playhouse – Formerly the Intiman Theatre, this is a brand-new venue for Folklife and will be one of our main theatre-style stages highlighting music and dance showcases.
  • Discovery Zone – Explore the bigger-than-ever-before Discovery Zone, family-friendly hands-on activities area with performances, workshops, and activities that are fun for people of all ages. Located between The Armory & EMP Sky Church Stages.
  • International Fountain Pavilion – Located West of the Fountain Lawn Stage and directly East of the Alki Court, this will be Folklife’s home to the Visual Arts. Look for our Cultural Focus Art Exhibition as well as featured poster art designers.
  • Northwest Rooms – Music and Dance Workshops have moved from the Northwest Rooms and EMP Learning Labs to the Armory Lofts (3rd Floor of the Armory), as the NW Rooms are now home to our partner, KEXP.
  • Narrative Stage – Will now be held in the JBL Theatre inside of the EMP Museum.
  • All Ages | All Day – This programming moved to Monday (formerly on Sunday) and will be held in the EMP Museum’s Sky Church. The programming this year will highlight the vibrant Hip Hop community of the Northwest.
  • Armory Improvements – Two workshop spaces are now located on the 3rd floor, in the Seattle Center’s newly refurbished conference rooms.
  • Jamming Hot Spots – Check out the Festival map for Jamming Hot Spots – New areas designated for open jams.

Getting Here

You might notice some construction around Seattle Center—if you’re driving to the festival, please take note!   The Seattle Department of Transportation is working with Northwest Folklife and Seattle Center to ensure open and clearly marked access to the Seattle Center campus for the 2014 Northwest Folklife Festival. For complete, up-to-date information on current street conditions, click here.

There are many great options of how to get to the festival!  The Seattle Center Monorail can whisk you to the Center from downtown in 90 seconds. Fifteen Metro bus routes serve Seattle Center from around the region, and there is easy access by car from both Interstate 5 and Highway 99.  Plentiful parking is available.  Public transportation to and from the Northwest Folklife Festival can be planned by going here.

Festival Tips from the Folklife Crew:

  • Coming to the festival with your family? Designate a safety spot on Seattle Center grounds where you will meet in case of separation.  Folklife draws around 250,000 people each year and the Seattle Center can get very crowded.  Having a safety spot can help in these situations!  Also, if you or a member of your family is lost—find any of the Folklife staff or volunteers (look for a Folklife badge or vest) and they can help!
  • Drink water!  There are water fountains in most of the indoor venues at Folklife.  Bring a bottle and fill it up!  Also, look for the plethora of delicious drinks options available from our food vendors.
  • Looking for performer CDs?  All performers are encouraged to sell CDs next to their stage before and after their performance.  Look for them then or find them online through links on the Folklife Schedule.
  • Check out all of the performers, workshops and more coming to Folklife and start planning your weekend!  You can make your own personal festival schedule using our online schedule.  But remember to keep yourself open to discovering new things!  There are over 800 performing groups at Folklife this year, so you might find yourself waylaid by a new group you had never heard of!  Try something new—learn to play the didgeridoo or dance the tango.  The possibilities are endless… 

We’re very excited for Folklife this year and we hope that you are too!  Can’t wait to see you all at the Festival!


Centrum & Folklife: A Match Made in Heaven

This year, Northwest Folklife is thrilled to be partnering with Centrum to bring you blues workshops at the Folklife Festival this year!  Centrum is an arts organization located on Fort Worden State Park in Port Townsend, Washington that is a gathering place for artists and creative thinkers from around the world, students of all ages and backgrounds, and audiences seeking extraordinary cultural enrichment.  For decades, Northwest Folklife and Centrum have worked with overlapping communities and served many of the same constituents through our programs. We’re very excited to be working together and bringing some of the magic of Centrum workshops to add to the magic of Folklife!

At the 2014 Northwest Folklife Festival, Centrum will be presenting a series of blues workshops in which musicians of all levels can come and learn from masters of acoustic blues.  The workshops this year will be: Lap Style Dobro with Orville Johnson, Piedmont Blues Guitar with Eric Freeman, and Blues Improvisation for Violin with Jon Parry. 

Centrum Presents:  Blues Workshops

Saturday, May 24th, Sunday, May 25th, Monday, May 26th – Armory Loft- East – 11:00-11:50am


Northwest Folklife Pays Tribute to Pete Seeger

There will be many ways to join Folklife in honoring the life and contributions of Pete Seeger at this year’s Festival coming up May 23-26th.

Folk singer and activist Peter “Pete” Seeger had a great influence not only on folk music, but countless musicians and attendees of Northwest Folklife. There will be a special Singalong Tribute to Pete at the Fisher Green Stage on Monday, May 26th from 1-3:45pm. The tribute will be hosted by Peter McKee, Tom Rawson, Lou Truskoff, Jean Geiger and Dan Maher. All are welcome to join in the sing along!

In partnership with SIFF Film Center, we’ll be screening Pete Seeger: Power of Song , Directed by Jim Brown, on Sunday, May 25th at 12:00PM.

Catch “Pete: The Songs and Times of Pete Seeger” in the JBL Theatre located in the EMP on Saturday, May 24th at 12pm. This is a multi-media live concert sing along celebrating the songs and times of Pete Seeger, hosted by Peter McKee.

Tom Rawson will present a “Children’s Pete Seeger Sing Along” in the Cornish Choral Courtyard on Saturday, May 24th at 2pm. Bring the little ones to introduce them to the songs of Pete Seeger!


See you all at the Festival!

For the LOVE of FILM – SIFF Film Center and Folklife unite. Part One.

In partnership with SIFF Film Center, the 2014 Festival presents bold and local films throughout the entire weekend. Come join us in the Film Center and get inspired!

Part One: This year, the Festival’s Cultural Focus celebrates India and their culture! We will be exploring and sharing India’s ancient history, unique heritage steeped in traditional arts, and its people, many of which have traveled from the country of their origin to various parts of the world taking with them the message of their culture. Some of these experiences can be found in features films like: Sita Sings the Blues – directed by Nina Paley, The Lunch Box – directed by Ritesh Batra, The Sound of Mumbai : A Musical Documentary– directed by Sarah McCathy and One Track Heart: The Story of Krishna Daas – directed by Jeremy Frindel.

Sita Sings the Blues, Director: Nina Paley Friday, 2PM

Sita Sings the Blues is a 2008 musical written, directed, produced and animated entirely by Nina Paley. This light-hearted version of the traditional Indian tale of Ramayana, a classic text in Hindu mythology, is cut up into four different artistic styles that blend together to convey the artist and directors own experiences, views, and perspective on the ancient Indian epic. The aspect of the story focuses on the relationship between Sita and Rama, gods incarnated as human beings, who even they can’t seem make their marriage work. Set in the 1920s, this satirically animated tale tells the story of Rama on his journey to save his wife Sita from the nearly invulnerable king of Lanka, Ravana. The entire movie is geared around Sita and Director Nina Paley and their misfortune with their unsuccessful romantic endeavors in a comical powerful way. Director Nina Paley describes it as “a tale of truth, justice and a woman’s cry for equal treatment”.

The Lunch Box, directed by Ritesh Batra Sunday, 2PM

The Lunch Box is an extraordinary drama about love, loss, and yearning between two strangers who shares their feelings through romantic notes. The legendary Dabbawallahs of Mumbai, India, deliver millions of lunchboxes a day throughout the city. They pick up containers packed by housewives and using public transportation takes them to the husbands’ desks. This love story begins when lonely housewife lla (Nimrat Kaur) decides to try adding some spice to her stale marriage by preparing a special lunch for her neglectful husband at work. Unfortunately, the delivery goes astray and, unbeknownst to her, is mistakenly delivered to another office worker, Saajan (Irrfan Khan), a governmental employ, lonely widower and a grumpy old man who is getting ready to retire. Curious about her husband’s lack of response, lla adds a note to the next day’s lunchbox, and thus begins an unusual friendship in which Saajan and lla can talk about their joys and sorrows without ever meeting in person.

The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical Documentary, Director Sarah McCarthy

Saturday, 2:55PM


For one emotional night, a group of slum children in Mumbai, India, get a chance to experience a different world and fosters hope as their lives change forever as they perform, The Sound of Music with the backing of the Bombay Chamber Orchestra and with Austrian professor and conductor Johannis Steinwender .With the music of Rodgers and Hammerstein as an undercurrent, the film follows them into their homes, giving glimpses of hard lives with little prospect for improvement. Director Sarah McCarthy wisely pitches much of the film through the eyes of the young man, whose own pressure to succeed coupled with a pure enthusiasm is both heart-breaking and infectious. Regarded by his family as their last hope to rise out of poverty, charming 11-year-old boy Ashish, is given a small solo in the performance and invests considerable hope in what this will do for his future. With a sort of “Slumdog Millionaire” syndrome, Ashish constantly reminds himself in writing or by talking to himself in the mirror that he needs to stop feeling self-conscious and have the confidence in order to be successful. His natural charisma suggests that he could go far if given the right opportunity.

One Track Heart: Story of Krishna Das, Director Jeremy Frindel

Monday, 12PM

One Track Heart: Story of Krishna Das is a 2012 documentary about a young musician named Jeffrey Kagel in the 1970s, who walked away from the American dream of rock ’n’ roll stardom by turning down the lead singer slot in the band that would become Blue Oyster Cult. He sold all his possessions and moved from the suburbs of Long Island to the foothills of the Himalayas in search of happiness and a little-known saint named Neem Karoli Baba. The Story of Krishna Das follows Jeffrey Kagel’s journey to India and back, his struggles with depression and drug abuse, and his eventual emergence as Krishna Das—the world-renowned spiritual teacher, chant master and Grammy-nominated recording artist. Krishna Das is one of the most popular singers of Indian devotional music in the world. Layering traditional Hindu kirtan with instantly accessible melodies and modern instrumentation, this musicial genius has been called yoga’s “rock star.” This film reveals remarkably soulful voice that touches the deepest chord in even the most casual listener, and has taken the call-and-response chanting out of yoga centers and into concert halls, becoming a worldwide icon and the best-selling chant artist of all time.




Meet the 2014 Festival Poster Designer

Northwest Folklife is thrilled to have The Art Dept. create our design for the 2014 Folklife branding and poster! The Art Dept. is a charming mom and pop boutique creative firm — melding love, attention to detail and pure art into their finished eye candy masterpieces: just take a look at the 2014 festival poster for proof! Helmed by two artists Peter and Sarah Berkley, The Art Dept. offers clients a wealth of creative services, from design to photography, filmmaking and the written word.

The Festival is honored to be working with this marvelous talented duo again! We wanted to continue our amazing friendship with The Art Dept. after they created a stunning poster for this year’s Winter Fireside Party! We’re grateful for the extreme amount of beauty and dedication The Art Dept. has created for this year’s festivities.

Introducing the Trad Stage! Join Us for a Pub Crawl

In celebration of the Broadway Musical “Once” showing at The Paramount Theatre (May 27- June 8, 2014), Northwest Folklife will be celebrating with the sounds of Irish Music…and beer.

Catch Carrigaline on Monday, May 26 at 3:20PM on the Trad Stage

The musical “Once” tells the tale of a Dublin street musician that finds inspiration with a beautiful young woman who is also a fellow musician. Locally based Irish musicians, Carrigaline Celtic Band and other guests will be playing traditional music, talking about their unique instruments, and giving insight to the importance of pub culture in Ireland on

Monday, May 26 at 5PM in the Fisher Green Beer/Wine Garden.

This event is part of an Irish Pub Crawl produced with our partners Seattle Theatre Group that will continue off Festival grounds following this introduction at the Festival.

Catch Carrigaline Celtic Band and other British Isle performers on Folklife’s newest stage, the Trad Stage!  The Trad Stage (sponsored by Fretboard Journal) will feature some of the best traditional musicians of the Northwest, and will pull from the programming from past year’s much-loved Northwest Court Stage. See you at the Festival!

Kierah Raymond performs on Saturday, May 24 at 7PM on the Trad Stage

From the Streets to Mainstream, Hip-Hop has Something to Say

Photo by Eric Lau

Over thirty years ago, Hip-Hop culture had its start in the streets of The Bronx, New York City. With roots in scat singing, performance poetry, talking blues, and funk, Hip-Hop uses voice and instruments to beat out cutting-edge music with a message. Lyrically powerful and moving, it’s often accompanied by rapping (MC’ing), break-dance, graffiti, street-style games, and themes of isolation. Though sometimes called rap music, rapping is not required in hip-hop. Other elements may be used; DJing and scratching, beatboxing, and instrumental tracks.

Hip-hop dance is divided into old and new school styles. Old school includes popping, locking, and breakdance with boogaloo, electric boogaloo, tetris, waiving, robot, and more. New school adds more focused footwork and dance styles to the mix. Themes such as isolation, racism, greed, propaganda, government corruption, day life struggles, making ends meet, and the emotional overload of reality are often explored.

Catch Larry Hawkins perform on Monday, May 26th in the Sportn’ Life Showcase at 5PM in the EMP Sky Church.

Hip-Hop artist Larry Hawkins (formerly SK) is a Seattle, WA based MC.  Featured this year at Northwest Folklife, he’s shared the stage with Mos Def and Red Cafe and has played notable music festivals such as the Heineken City Arts Fest and The Capitol Hill Block Party. In 2013 he and childhood friend and R&B recording artist Davey Jones released the album “Butterfly Sauce.”  Backed by Hip-Hop record label Sportn’ Life Music Group, Hawkins is currently working on his first solo project.

Says Hawkins, “I perform because music is passion – it is art for me – it allows me to express myself – and sometimes in life that’s what we need to take the weight off.  I’ve been doing music all my life. If I never turn out to be a performer or writer, I would still have to be around the one thing I love – and that is music and performing.”

Bringing his passion to the stage, Hawkins explains, “The way I perform is full of excitement – and what happens is completely up to the song I’m performing at the time. I mean, I could be ready to jump into the crowd – or next it’s spoken word on a groovy beat. I like to take the crowd on an adventure – and my songs and performances bring that out. It will be a great sight of joy to see you there!”

Originally isolated to street culture, evidence of how deeply hip-hop has become a part of mainstream culture since its inception can be seen in the recent success of Seattle’s own Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. The pair was nominated for seven Grammy awards at the 56th Annual Grammy Awards, winning four awards including Best New Artist, Best Rap Album (The Heist), Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance (“Thrift Shop”).

So join us and learn what fires Hawkins! With lines like these from his album Butterfly Sauce: “I’m too positive to be doubtful, too optimistic to be fearful, too determined to be defeated,” his show is bound to be great!

Grab your partner for a contra dance!

Long lines go forward and back. Promenade across and shift one place to face a new couple. Ladies chain across, star left one and a quarter, allemande right your “shadow” and look for your partner to gypsy left one and a half around. Find your partner: balance and swing!

roadhouse_dancers-13If this sounds familiar and your feet are already beginning to move just imaging the formations and the music, you alreadyknow Contra dancing is always wildly popular at Folklife with hours of dancing each day of the festival and many of the best contra dance bands from around the Northwest.  And you’ve also begun to anticipate a Contra dance party unlike any other in the United States; one huge hall full of some of the best Contra dance bands, dancers and callers anywhere in the country.

But if you’ve never contra danced, why not give it a try this year at Folklife? It is riotous fun – and its basic steps are easy to learn. You’ll never find a better place to start Contra dancing than Folklife. A caller leads a “walk through” before the music starts and then prompts the dancers while the music is playing. The dance moves are nothing fancy, just simple walking steps in time to the music.

Contra dancing is derived from English country dancing and was brought to the American colonies by 18th century settlers. The “Virginia Reel” is an early example. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were avid contra dancers. Dancers dance to live dance bands, which may include fiddles, flute, guitar, piano, and bass. Occasionally you can hear drums, saxophone, or trombone.

Bob “Mac” McQuillen

This year, we are mourning the loss of Bob McQuillen, a contra dance musician who was well-known and loved nationally, but held a special place at Northwest Folklife.  He had performed at the Festival for many years and was influential to generations of dancers and musicians.  The Rhythm Rollers will be doing a special set honoring Bob McQuillen and playing many of his original tunes in the Roadhouse (Fisher Pavilion) at 7:00 pm on Friday, May 23rd.  We also plan to have a tribute wall to honor Mac—a place for people to bring and share stories and photos about his life.

The full Contra dance schedule will be online soon. So whether you’re a beginner or a pro, plan to join us for a spin around the dance floor. We’ll see you in the Contra line! johannamiller on PhotoPeach – Fresh slideshows to go!