by Percy Hilo
Each year at The Northwest Folklife Festival we’re always delighted by the large amount and wide variety of performances, visual arts and crafts that surround our selves and senses for 4 wonderful days. What is equally obvious but largely unnoticed (and certainly unrecognized) is the large and continuous amount of labor performed by so many people that is responsible for our enjoying a largely clean and sanitary environment and for keeping the festival itself running smoothly and on time. All of the Folklife related labor is volunteer and all of the Seattle Center labor are people earning a meager living by making sure we’re all comfortable. Either way we couldn’t enjoy the high quality of festival we’ve become accustomed to without these workers and it’s time to not only realize this but to recognize it as important. With this in mind our Cultural Focus for this year’s festival is WASHINGTON WORKS and Janet Stecher has put together a number of programs that will provide entertainment and/or valuable information as well as covering some valuable history as well as commentary on the current condition of labor in our state.
For all 4 days (May 24th-27th) the Narrative Stage (In what used to be the Alki Room but is now the SIFF Cinema Stage and sponsored by KUOW) will present speakers and demonstrations that were largely selected by the Mayworks committee and sponsored by The Washington State Labor Council. These will include stories of Labor HIstory presented by the Seattle Public Library, the U of W Labor Center and the Jack Straw Writers. There will be stories of the UFCW history (I’ll bet most of you don’t know what UFCW is. I don’t either. This offers us a teachable moment in between Fiddle tunes, square dances or songwriters) as well as sessions on organizing and lobbying, Immigration and Labor, a revealing and often humorous set by the Fisher Poets, a session on how union workers electrify the Northwest, a people’s history of labor titled Making the American Dream Real For Everyone, Janet’s workshop on Doing God’s Work (Is she employed by God or is she a volunteer? Is there a union contract involved? Will God allow the rest of us to perform service in it’s name? Attend and find out) and several more that will contribute mightily towards a fine time for all and a greater understanding about the labor that makes all our memorable events possible.
And that’s not all by a long shot! All weekend there will be visual arts in the Lopez Room. One of the exhibits is titled Images of Labor and Social Justice: The Art of Richard V. Correll featuring his acclaimed linoleum cuts, etchings and woodblock prints. The other is Journey For Justice: 223 Years of APA (Asian Pacific American) Labor History in the Puget Sound. This covers the epic story of the Asian Labor Community and it’s ongoing struggle for justice through, photographs, historical timeline and portraiture. These exhibits are joined by the work of local artists who are living out labor’s current conditions in what will become tomorrow’s historical exhibits.
And speaking of current conditions and history, on Saturday from 2-3PM in the Olympic Room there will be a bed making contest among members of Unite Here Local 8 in which you can learn the “Correct” way of making a bed, and on Sunday from 2-3PM a group of original Rosie the Riveters, who worked in the factories in and around Puget Sound during WWII will tell their stories in what should be some riveting history. Catch these important and very elderly historical women while they’re still catch-able!
Are you wondering where the labor music was? Not to fear because Janet has put together the excellent Labor Showcase for Saturday from 7-10PM in the Bagley Wright Theatre and Seattle’s very own (and well known) Labor Chorus as well as the marvelous Rebel Voices (Janet and friend Susan Lewis) will deliver the goods as usual and will share the stage with several performers who will be new to us and represent cultures that we should know better. Earle Peach (himself a labor chorus director) will offer fine old and new songs covering a wide variety of cultural styles, Kaeley Pruitt-Ham, a member of CISPES (Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador) will present songs of peace, justice and conscience either solo or with her family band, Alay ng Kultura, a youthful Philippine spoken word group will off a modern take on the problems and conditions that they/we are dealing with, and Rebecca Hom is a Chinese storyteller who will offer history on how Chinese workers contributed to the opening of the West. This should be a memorable evening and Washington Works promises to be one of the most complete cultural focuses that Folklife has been privileged to offer.
So Are There Any Changes?
Yes there are! The Commons/Family Activity Area has moved to Fisher Terrace (Above the Roadhouse and overlooking Fisher Green), Fisher Green will feature a new beer garden, we are not using Broad Street this year and the Indie Roots programming will be featured throughout the festival and can be found with a special icon in the schedule. Also, the Folklife Store has closed and performers can now sell their CD’s from the stages where they perform, and there will be a special spot at festival services for street performers to register although this is not mandatory. Like all other changes we’ve experienced in the past these changes simply offer us another way to present a fine festival that will memorable in all the best ways.
Family Fun For All
The Folklife Commons will indeed be on Fisher Terrace this year so we won’t have the grassy area of Broad Street but you’ll be a lot closer to the action and there will be ample opportunities for kids of all ages to participate in constructive and enjoyable projects. On all 4 days Active Art and Science will teach how to create mosaic art with finger safe glass and Planet of the Puppets will teach puppet making and performance. On Sunday and Monday Sponge will teach Chinese Calligraphy and how to make Pinatas and offer some new words in foreign languages as well, and the Foundation For Understanding Through Students will offer the opportunity to to join an interactive activity of coloring life size illustrations from the Ramayana of India. The Center For Wooden Boats will get into the act with toy boat building and Knot tying and there will be family dances on Friday and Saturday that will also encompass songs and stories and a Saturday dance in the Armory (previously known as the Center House) from noon to 1PM. The program will contain a special icon that will designate all family related activities to make it easy to find your way around. Some of the classes will include a small materials fee but will be more than worth it for enjoyment and knowledge. Come to think of it, your total expense for a donation at the gate, building materials and food will not even approach what you will receive in cultural expansion and the pure joy of being part of this experience.
Working With the Younger Generation
Folk Culture is an ongoing process and Folklife has always been pleased to recognize the contributions of youth their role in expanding and energizing our festival with their unique and creative work. This year we’re pleased to be teaming up with the Vera Project for several innovative and exciting programs and projects. They will be teaching Recording 101 at Vera (the building on the side of the Alki Court Stage and below the steps leading up to Northwest Court) on Saturday and Sunday from 2-2:45Pm and 3-3:45PM. Class is limited to 8 and sign-up will be from 11-11:45AM in Vera on both days. They will also bring their silkscreen lab outside to a table next to the Alki Court Stage where they will offer a limited number of free silkscreens in one-of-a-kind styles. They will sponsor a Young Artist Showcase at the Ver(A)rt Gallery with a focus on the youth perspective on how people work in our state (in regards to our cultural focus) and will step outside of their venue to team with EMP Sky Church in presenting a Ver(a)city Showcase featuring the up and coming bands Chastity Belt, Youryoungbody and Fame Riot from 3-6PM on Sunday. This is part of an all day celebration of Youth Voices at EMP that will begin in the Am with the All Ages Alternative Showcase featuring Phyllis Payne, Mts. & Tunnels and the Hoot Hoots and will close after the Ver(a)city Showcase with the You Can’t Fake Fresh Showcase from 7-10PM featuring Global Heat, The Sharp Five and Irujanji Physics of Fusion. What a blessing to have EMP and Vera on board to assist us in our quest for inclusiveness and the expansion of our cultural definition.
Showcases Around the World That lives Around Us
We are gifted with a large representation of the planet’s cultures that live, love and work among us here in the Northwest. For a variety of reasons we are often unaware of just how varied and creative our region is and that’s one of the reasons that Folklife is so important and enjoyable for so many. Here we have an annual opportunity to learn so much more about all these interesting peoples. One of the best ways to accomplish this is to schedule showcases presenting one or more artistic styles over a several hour period of time and include narratives of the history and style as well as ample performances and as usual there will be many to choose from. A new Southeast Asian Showcase on Indonesia, Malasia, Cambodia and more will be presented on Sunday from 7-10PM in the Bagley Wright Theatre and the regular Asian Showcase will take place on Monday in the Bagley from 11AM-1PM. A new take on Middle Eastern Culture in this area will take place on Sunday from 7-10PM in the Exhibition Hall covering the Middle East and Central Asia and will feature lots of dance and will begin with Zeffa; A Middle Eastern wedding procession. Jimi Hendrix Lovers will be delighted by a Hendrix tribute on Saturday at the EMP Sky Church from 1-4PM. This is in conjunction with their current exhibit and is free. A massive Latin Dance Party will take place Sunday from 7-10PM on the Mural Stage, an Arab Showcase will be on Saturday from 3-6PM in the Exhibition Hall, Korea will be on display on Friday from 7-9PM in the Bagley Wright, The Colors and Cultures of India will will offer delightful music and dance in the Ex.Hall on Saturday from 11AM-2PM, Bollywood will show off on Friday as well from 7-8:30PM in the Ex. Hall, Bluegrass lovers will flock to the Mural Stage on Saturday from 1-4PM for several great bands, the Maritime Showcase will be at Northwest Court for their annual Saturday afternoon songfest and will be followed by an hour long pun sing in the Northwest Court Beer Garden which is always a highlight. There are many more showcases as always and much more than anyone one person can take in. This is just a sampling of all the goodies you have to choose from, and we’re not done yet!
Focus on Fiddle and Non-Showcase Performers
Folklife has always been, above all, a family affair; Cultural, extended and blood families abound in their appreciation, performances and in working to keep the culture alive and vital in the present while honoring our past. On Sunday a trio of fiddle performances will constitute a showcase while appearing at different times and on different stages. From 11:40Am-12:50PM on the Fisher Green Stage Phil and Vivian Williams (2 of our founding members and regional Folkloric Elders) will team with Sarah Comer to present their takes on Northwest Fiddle Music culled from 50-60 years of experience and dedication. From 2:50-3:55PM on the Northwest Court Stage Truman and Adam Price and Riley and Johnny Calcagno will present Fathers, Fiddles and Sons with duos from Oregon and Seattle. Then from 6:50-8PM, also at Northwest Court, Wesley Hardisty; A first Nations Fiddler from Saltspring Island will Join Jocelyn Pettit’s Family Band as 2 young artists who are steeped in fiddle history while carving out their own paths in the new generation of fiddlers. These presentations should cover a wide range of history and style while providing first rate entertainment.
And despite all the showcases and cultural focus sets, the majority of performances during the festival are individual solo and band performances and a number of these are families of one sort or another. There is a tendency to skip over many of these in the program because the showcase sets are more eye-catching, but you may lose out culturally by doing this because these individual solo/band musics are really what our community is about: Countless solo and group performers simply playing our of love, almost all non-professional (often by choice because a surprising amount of these performances are of high quality) and enjoying this one annual opportunity to show off their music in a positive community manner for the people who appreciate these various folk/folk related styles. Almost all of the musical styles and cultures available at the festival can be found among these many varied practitioners and to sample them can only serve to expand your knowledge and appreciation of folk culture and what it has to offer.
Dance Dance Dance
Folklife wouldn’t be complete without plenty of dancing; Both performance and participatory, and once again we’ve provided plenty of both for your essential enjoyment. The Exhibition Hall will offer performances of many classic dance forms covering nations from all over the planet whose residents live, work and make music and dance in our region. Of course this informs as to each culture, reminds us of how close we always are to the rest of the planet and may even engender an interest that leads to participation, which is always the ultimate goal. And this participation will take place in the Roadhouse, the Armory (formerly the Center House) and at times in the Rainier Room. Whether your bliss is squares, contras, swing, latin (and there will be a Brazilian Forro Dance that is new to Folklife this year) or whatever the chances are that your needs will be met to the sound of infectious live music from early till late each day.
We Love Our Colorful and Creative Crafts People
The crafts vendors who are positioned all over the festival are equally as creative and important to our culture as the music and dance yet may go unnoticed because they are in booths, don’t make noise and are not on the schedule (of course not since their set times are all day every day). However, even a cursory glance at their work speaks volumes as to the skill, dedication and imagination that goes into the wide variety of wood works, glass works, fabrics, metals, pottery, candles and many other creations that are mostly functional and always beautiful, imaginative and well put together. As a culture that appreciates home made music and dance it’s only natural that we should equally appreciate these homegrown craft works and to patronize these vendors as they attempt to make their way in the world via their skills. Unlike our musicians and dancers our vendors pay for their booth space and are mostly professional. They also offer a much higher quality of work than their counterparts in mainstream stores and so purchasing from them constitutes a vote for home made work that relates to our lives, is longer lasting and allows traditional and contemporary crafts people to serve our community in an agreeable manner.
What Else Can I Do For Folklife?
I’m glad you asked! Besides playing, dancing, crafting or just appreciating all of what goes down, there are 2 very important contributions that anyone and everyone can make towards the betterment of the festival. 1) DONATIONS: There will be donations buckets at each gate and although you won’t be pushed to donate it’s these donations and also your purchases of buttons and pins inside the grounds that go a long way towards sustaining the festival. We love our sponsors (Notice who they are and purchase from them as returning karma) but their support isn’t enough. We need yours as well. Since it’s our community festival we are the ones who are obligated make sure it lives on for the benefit of future generations. And 2) VOLUNTEERING: There are hundreds of shifts to be filled and no matter how many volunteers we have there are always open shifts that you can fill by being in touch with Christina at the office (206-684-7326) or by going to ChristinaH@nwfolklife.org). When you volunteer for Folklife it’s much more than a job. It’s a family and many relationships of various kinds have begun in this manner. You start off sharing the festival and then find out that you have other things in common as well. I’ve been volunteering for 27 years and it’s been a blessing all along. Come join me why don’t you?
So there it is folks. Bring that instrument, your voice and a good spirit. Pack for a variety of weather and enjoy a full weekend with old friends and be prepared to meet new ones. Meanwhile, a Happy Spring to all.
All comments welcome: Percy Hilo: 206-784-0378 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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