Just Get Up And Dance
It seems that Folklife has evolved into one of the most amusing hodgepodges of cultural celebrations in Seattle—or perhaps it is just me who has evolved to see it that way.
As a Washington native, I began attending Folklife festivities before I even knew what ‘folk” meant. I would arrive a wide-eyed elementary schooler, not wanting to venture too deep into the organized chaos of the event. My previous habits at Folklife included eating tasty snacks, browsing booths and maybe sitting down to watch one performance—nothing too immersive. This year, the ragtime styles of Jacob Miller and the Bridge City Crooners swept me out of my seat and put my feet to the dance floor—or more accurately, the grass.
The six-man band, which plays instruments such as the washboard and plectrum banjo, performed hip-swinging original songs inspired from the ’20s and ’30s. With my newfound interest in swing dancing, the bands’ music moved me in a way that I wouldn’t have been able in years prior. Even though my newly bought purple elephant harem pants didn’t fit the mood of the tunes, I felt perfectly at ease dancing right in front of the performers’ for the entirety of their set.
Folklife, along with Seattle as a whole, becomes weirder and more all-embracing with every year. As I was dancing away to the sounds of a washboard, I realized: so have I.
Spoon Booths and Black Skirts
I grew up 50 minutes east of Seattle and always loved Northwest Folklife because it was a good excuse to get out of my small town: it has always been free, fun and filled with beautiful music and art. But above all, my favorite part of Folklife has always been the booths.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the booths at Bumbershoot, too—but if I’m not a huge fan of the lineup, I don’t want to pay $60 to see booths that are exactly the same as those at Folklife.
At each year’s festival, I always make a beeline to the booths by the Seattle Center fountain, because that is usually where all the local artisans set up. And because I am terrible about impulsively purchasing things at festivals, this year I gave myself the budget of $50 to spend on items—and I was only going to get what I needed: a new black skirt of made-in-the-USA organic fabric.
Alas, no such skirt was found within my budget, but nonetheless I was completely captivated by all of the beautiful creations of local vendors. Seeing local artists’ work is always awe-inspiring—and it makes me want to bend spoons in ways spoons shouldn’t bend.
Balkan Misfits Party
As a born and raised Seattleite, I’ve attended Folklife every year since I was old enough to bus to Seattle Center. I love all the people, the art, the street performance, and above all, the music.
This year I was able to see a lot of unforgettable folk and bluegrass bands, but my favorites were a band from the Balkan Misfits Party at the Fountain Lawn Stage. My friend and I stood sipping summery beer from nondescript travel mugs as we watched the Bucharest Drinking Team (yes, that’s really their band name) take to the stage to perform a number of lively Balkan dance tunes mixed with ’80s disco flair.
In true folk fashion, there must have been at least a dozen people in the band—I counted three singers, two violins, three trumpets, drums, an accordion, a saxophone and a tuba before I gave up and started drinking more. (Speaking of which, it should be noted that the band uses clever alcohol puns to refer to their instruments, including “alcohordion,” “beeritone,” “trumpetini,” and “violimoncello,” among others.)
But all alcohol references aside, it was a musical performance to remember. My friend and I held hands and joined in a dance circle with complete strangers of all ages—and even though most of us were pretty bad dancers, it was absolutely perfect.
My Deep-Fried Folklife Memory
This is my first year living in Seattle, thus it was also my first year at Folklife. I’ll admit it—I was overwhelmed. My visit lasted just a few hours on Saturday afternoon, but was packed with more food booths, banjo players and sword-swallowers than I think most people probably see in a lifetime.
But I’m not complaining. I always love an excuse to go near the Space Needle (I think I’ll still identify myself as a tourist in this city until I graduate), and the performances I saw were excellent.
What sticks in my mind most, however, is not a musical act or an outrageous street performer—it’s a food. I feel utterly blessed to have been able to eat my first-ever deep fried PB&J sandwich at this year’s festival. It was the perfect end to what will surely be my first of many days at Folklife.