And Now For Something Different: Folklife Festival

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Seattle is known for many things. It’s mountains, it’s coffee, and especially it’s thriving and unique music scene. It was the Pacific Northwest that bred the great bands of the 90’s, but the city lends itself to an eclectic and unique breed of talent that uses homemade instruments to revive and continue older and traditional songwriting styles. This weekend I was invited to the Folklife Festival, a yearly gathering of worldwide folk music, not just through traditional American banjo bands, but through Irish foot stomping fiddles, trance-like middle eastern drums and flutes, Native American drum circles, and even intellectual hip hop poetry. As we walked around the grounds, discovering each new busker or band, everyone had something different to bring to the table.

The Folklife Festival has been a yearly tradition since 1972. It is a free event that promotes traditional arts in the Northwest through music, crafts, food, and poetry. It is a free for all event. There are no true headliners, no huge names, it is open to anyone and everyone who wants to bring a guitar and play their heart out.

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What really struck me about the festival was the wide breadth of bands, each who had their own unique take on the folk music scene. Many of the bands utilized similar instruments: a banjo, a mandolin, a guitar, a stand up bass, and a washboard, but what they were able to do with those instruments was so impressive that no two bands sounded the same. Each would sing or harmonize in a different way, each had a different take, some going for a more punk folk route, the others going for a more traditional southern or delta blues sound. One of the pleasures of the afternoon was laying on the grass and listening to Irish fiddles coming from the stage with the foot stomping kick drum to match. At another point we went into the auditorium to hear drums, violins, lutes, and woodwinds of Egyptian and North African traditional music. One of my favorite groups were playing in a gypsy band style, not unlike Romanian and Eastern European traveling bands.

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Besides the music, there were stalls of crafts, hand woven clothing, unique homemade jewelry and trinkets, and crafts. There was an diverse range of food, everything from a Kenyan, to Russian, to the ubiquitous Gyro stall. Walking around, sampling food, watching bands, looking and woven shirts and crafts, it all made for a very enjoyable afternoon.

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