This weekend Seattle Center will transform into a microcosm of the Northwest’s prolific community of world music and arts.
If you’ve ever wanted to experience the rich cultural diversity of the Pacific Northwest all in one place, this is where you will find it.
The first Northwest Folklife Festival held in 1972 presented 300 performers. Today, thanks to robust community investment, Folklife is a free festival bringing together an average of 250,000 visitors, 800 volunteers and about 6,000 performers each Memorial Day weekend.
Festival goers from all over the world come to Seattle Center to take part in the weekend’s diverse acts — from local favorites such as the Seattle Fandango Project, to groups from elsewhere in the region like the Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble. The festival offers a great platform for artists who hail from the Northwest — a free event that is a definite “to do” for everyone on this side of the ocean.
As one of the largest cultural organizations in the country promoting folk, ethnic and traditional arts, we’re lucky to have Folklife in the Pacific Northwest.
“Folklife works with over 100 communities each festival,” lead programmer Kelli Faryar said in a statement. “Most of our community showcases are framed in a two-to three-hour window which is only a glimpse into who and what these particular communities thrive on and the traditions that they are passing along.”
Each year, the festival highlights a theme that honors one of the many cultures and ethnic backgrounds that make up the greater Pacific Northwest. This year, Folklife celebrates “India and its People” with traditional Indian acts across six stages.
It’s impossible to pick out the best shows from this wide repertoire of performances, screenings and workshops, but here’s just a smattering of what to expect:
Seattle Center Exhibition Hall – Friday, May 23 from 6:45 p.m. to 8:15 p.m.
If your only reference to Bollywood music is “Jai Ho” from “Slumdog Millionaire,” you have to attend this. Curated by Bollywood Dance Seattle, the “Bollywood Show” will feature Bhangra with Chi Shen, Bolly Dance Moves, Bollywood Seattle, Desi Girls, Nachle, a drag Queen Harish, University of Washington Bollywood Kahaani, University of Washington DangeRaas Dawgs, and Vibha Srinivasan.
From Chi’s high-energy Bhangra from Punjab, to drag Queen Harish’s dance from the Indian desert state of Rajasthan, to semi-classical folk Bollywood songs, you have the whole regional range of Bollywood dance. If you’ve ever wondered about India’s obsession with music and dance, this show should explain it all.
The Tall Boys
Fisher Green Stage – Friday, May 23 from 6:20 pm to 6:50 pm
Then there are one of Seattle’s alt country sweethearts, The Tallboys, who are rooted in traditional string band music. Performing old-time country and blues, their long-running dance series at Ballard’s Tractor Tavern is regarded as one of the best in the world for traditional country dance. Check them out here.
Bagley Wright Theatre — Saturday, May 24 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Featuring Bonaca & Ruze Dalmatinke, Vela Luka Croatian Dance Ensemble (VLCDE), Radost Folk Ensemble, Dave and the Dalmatians, and Gradec Croatian Tamburica Orchestra, the showcase will spotlight Dalmatian, Bosnian, Balkan and other Eastern European music and a cappella.
VLCDE, founded in 1975, perform the classic folk music and dance of Croatia by way of Anacortes, Washington. A quarter of the residents of this unique Pacific Northwest community are descended from immigrants from another fishing village across the Atlantic Ocean: Vela Luka, on the Island of Korčula, Croatia.
The performers in Vela Luka represent four generations of Croatian Americans who have introduced their culture’s extraordinary choreography, music, and instruments to people all over the world. Forming a cross-cultural link between the Puget Sound region and Croatia, the company strives to preserve Croatian folkways and culture for generations to come.
Dace and the Dalmations are a group of six guys who specialize in Klapa, or group singing from Croatia’s Dalmation coast (yes, this is where the dog gets its name from, too). The subjects range from the sublime to the ridiculous. Based out of Seattle, Dace and the Dalmations have been a regular sensation at Folklife since 1996.
Hamilton International Middle School Vocal Jazz
Xfinity Mural Amphitheater — Saturday, May 24 from 12:20 p.m. to 12:45 p.m.
Hamilton International Middle School, known for its excellent music program, will present three of its performing groups: Chamber Orchestra, Vocal Jazz and Senior Jazz. Lead by award-winning teacher and jazz musician Lary Barilleau the group performs songs from the Great American Songbook and other unique arrangements. Check out the schedule for specific times.
Folklife Café — Saturday, May 24 from 11:30 a.m to 11:55 a.m.
GABRIELA Seattle, a collective of Pin@ys will be celebrating their multifaceted identities, revolutionary history, and rich culture of the Philippines onstage, sharing their captivating stories through a narrative presentation.
The Lunchbox – Movie
SIFF Film Center – Sunday, May 25 from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Written and directed by Ritesh Batra, this is the story of an unlikely friendship between Saajan, a retiring accountant and Ila, a young, lonely housewife. The communication between the two starts when the famous dabbawalas of Mumbai make the rare mistake of delivering Ila’s husband’s lunchbox to Saajan. Add an orphan, who looks up to Saajan as his mentor and friend, and you have a brilliant, heartwarming story. Do Saajan and Ila end up together? Watch and let us know.
The Rouge & Noir Tango Orchestra
Armory Stage – Sunday, May 25 from 4:25 p.m. to 5:05 p.m.
Founded in 2002 to play Argentine tango for the Folklife Festival, the whimsical Rouge & Noir Tango Orchestra will inspire you to get down and moving, as this will be a participatory dance performance.
EMP Sky Church – Monday, May 26 from 12 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.
Sengalese-American MC Yirim Seck is a native son of Seattle’s Central District and grew up making music with many of Seattle’s legendary hip hop talent. His legacy and flow equates, and he’ll be representing the Africatown-Central District initiative proper, self-styled in authentic hip hop from Seattle to Senegal.
Tribute to Pete Seeger
Fischer Green Stage – Monday, May 26 from 1 p.m. to 3:45 p.m.
Northwest Folklife will pay tribute to recently departed Pete Seeger at this year’s festival at various times from Saturday through Monday (including the film, “Peter Seeger: Power of Song,” directed by Jim Brown).
Monday’s event will be hosted by Peter McKee, Tom Rawson, Lou Truskoff, Jean Geiger and Dan Maher. This is a sing-along event, so join Folklife in remembering the works of the legendary singer-songwriter and activist.
While you’re taking in the glory, there are special programs and activities to keep your little ones engaged, too. Check out the Discovery Zone, open 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on all days of the festival.
And just a reminder on how much you’d have to shell out to be a part of this festival. Zero. Zilch. Nada. It doesn’t get better than this.