Northwest Folklife dos and don'ts: a guide for families
The wonderful thing about Northwest Folklife is that it is huge. With 17 official venues plus an untold number of buskers, and a small city’s worth of vendors and food stands, Seattle Center on a sunny Memorial Day weekend (May 24-27 this year) is a colorful, raucous and pungent maelstrom of all things that could possibly be called folky.
The terrible thing about Northwest Folklife is that it is huge. The schedule is hard to follow, the location is next door to the gridlock capital of the universe, the crowds are always in your way, and it’s all too easy to get overstimulated.
Here are some strategies for enjoying the wonderful things about Folklife without having too much of the terrible.
Do check out the schedule ahead of time. Some things you might look for:
Performances for kids: Child-oriented acts are marked in the printed schedule with a balloon icon. The Kindiependent Show is between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Monday at the Fountain Lawn Stage, featuring the Not Its, Recess Monkey and the Salamanders. You and your kids can try out folk dancing at 2 p.m. on Sunday at the Armory Court Stage with the Musical Socks String Band. One stage, the Discovery Zone, entirely devoted to acts specifically for children. (It also has hands on activities nearby)
Performances not necessarily for kids but which kids are likely to enjoy: Because this could apply to all manner of acts, it is probably prudent to stick to ones that appeal to you, the parents.
Performances by kids: Kids find it interesting to see other kids holding forth on stage. For some, it can even spark a desire to sing, dance ,or play an instrument. So it’s a good idea to check out one or two acts with child performers as you make your way around Folklife. Some possibilities: Tlingit dance by the Vicki Sobeloff Chidren Dance Group, 3:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday on the Broad Street Lawn, the Thornton Creek Elementary Ukelele Band, 11:50 a.m. Saturday at the Mural Amphitheater, the Echoes of Azatlan Ballet Folklorico Show, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Bagley Wright Theater, and Klez Kidz 11 a.m. Sunday at the Mural Amphitheater.
Don’t be too attached to a particular plan. You never know when you’ll be strolling by an outdoor venue and discover a kind of music you had no idea you liked. Keep in mind none of the buskers are on the schedule, and Folklife attracts a lot of great buskers. And it’s probably never a good idea to be too goal oriented when hanging around with kids. Yours could decide the only thing they want to do all day is run in the International Fountain.
Do bring sunscreen and water bottles. Changes of clothes for youngsters are a good idea. They may decide to run in the International Fountain and/or attempt to eat an ice cream cone and end up wearing it. Speaking of which: you will not regret packing wipes.
Don’t bring your car. Come by public transit or ride share, walk a good chunk of the way, do what you can to avoid having to deal with festival-related parking and traffic crunches. The trip may take about as much time as it would have otherwise, and you’ll save yourself a lot of stress. Folklife organizers have some suggestions here.
Do be courteous. When going to a venue, whether it is indoors or outdoors, wait until the performer is between songs before you go in and set up. If you have tall folding chairs, be sure to set them up somewhere that isn’t impeding anyone’s view.
Don’t give up if the crowds are too much. The outdoor scene on a sunny festival weekend can be enough to test the tolerance of any normal adult or child. Which is why it is great to keep in mind that Folklife has a number of mellow corners and darkened indoor rooms, often frequented by soothing acoustic acts. The Center Theater, downstairs in the Armory, is a great place to reset. Also good: the Bagley Wright Theater, Folklife Underground Café, Cornish Playhouse and Exhibition Hall.
Do support the festival. There is no admission charge, but organizers suggest a donation of $20 per family, so pay if you can. Another strategy for keeping the festival going: buy food and goods from some of the many festival vendors.
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