Folklife Festival: Celebrating traditions passed down through generations
The Northwest Folklife Festival — that tapestry-in-motion of music, dance, arts and crafts — celebrates traditions passed hand-to-hand — from master-to-apprentice...
Seattle Times staff critic
The Northwest Folklife Festival — that tapestry-in-motion of music, dance, arts and crafts — celebrates traditions passed hand-to-hand — from master-to-apprentice, father-to-son, mother-to-daughter.
This year, the festival spotlights that very process itself.
"Generation to Generation: Passing On Our Traditions" is one of hundreds of programs at the free, 34-year-old festival, which gets under way at 11 a.m. today at Seattle Center. The annual bash features more than 6,000 musicians, dancers, tradition bearers and visual artists, along with more than 1,000 music and dance performances, visual arts and folklore exhibits, symposia, workshops, films, and craft and cooking demonstrations.
"Generation to Generation" encompasses artists from inside and outside the Northwest, including the great Texas fiddler Johnny Gimble, Louisiana's Savoy Family Cajun Band and Swedish fiddler Paul Dahlin.
"This is not the kind of learning that is done in a classroom," explains Debbie Fant, Folklife's director of public programs. "It's a one-on-one way of learning."
Masters and apprentices from Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho also perform, as do dozens of local family bands. One group even features a Folklife staffer and his father. Another program showcases the occupational apprenticeship programs of trade unions.
Visiting artists include the great singer/guitarist Joe Hickerson; legendary Arhoolie record company founder Chris Strachwitz; the Vladivostok Balalaika Trio; Morris dancers from England; seven artists from Korea's "national treasures" program; and the extraordinary Mongolian musician Mr. Libo, who wowed audiences last year with his two-string, horse-head fiddle.
Additional highlights include a Bob Dylan tribute, film festival, a new Rhythm Tent and Folklife Commons area and a shot at breaking the Guinness world record for the largest harmonica band.
"Passing It On," a concert at 7 p.m. Sunday, features two National Heritage Fellows — fiddlers Gimble and Dahlin. Gimble, who turns 79 Monday, played with the great Western swing band Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, then worked in Nashville studios with everyone from Chet Atkins to Loretta Lynn. Gimble's son, Dick, and his daughter, Emily, play in his band.
Paul Dahlin, who grew up in the Dalarna region of Sweden and now lives in Minneapolis, plays lively 19th-century Swedish fiddle tunes. His band, Äkta Spelmän, includes his wife and son. Von and Ben Walden, a father-and-son duo from Moscow, Idaho, open for Dahlin.
Folklife is free, but there is a charge for a benefit concert at 8 p.m. tomorrow ($15; 206-628-0888) featuring the irresistible dance rhythms and pumping accordion of the Savoy Family Cajun Band, which includes Marc Savoy and his wife, Ann, and their sons, Joel and Wilson.
From the Northwest, Folklife draws on the region's rich apprenticeship programs, fostered by state folklore offices.
From Idaho's deep Basque community comes accordion master Dan Ansotegui, pandereta (tambourine) player Sean Aucutt and dancer Jill Aldape, whose parents met while rehearsing with the Oinkari Dancers, a longtime festival favorite.
Oregon offers Chinese puppet master Yuqin Wang, born in Beijing and now living in Portland, as well as Eva Castellanoz, an expert in Mexican coronas, the wax and paper crowns worn by girls for their coming-out ceremony, the quinceañera. Paraguayan harpist Antonio Centurion; Iranian tar (lute) player Dariush Dolatshahi and Hmong bamboo reed "harmonica" player Boua Xou Moua also come from Oregon.
Metis-style fiddler Jamie Fox visits from Montana. From Washington comes renowned harpist Salvador Baldovinos, Korean dancer Ji Yeon Cheh and others.
Even the Folklife staff is getting into act this year. It turns out programming coordinator Devon Leger is a Canadian fiddler who learned his craft — along with his father, Louis Leger (accordion), and his mother, Barbara Richert (guitar) — from master fiddlers in New Brunswick. Leger's wife, Dejah, also plays piano and "pieds" (foot-stomping) in the La Famille Leger band.
Of special interest is the surprise appearance of Strachwitz, whose Arhoolie records has been promoting everyone from Lightnin' Hopkins to the Savoys for more than 40 years.
Strachwitz appears on the festival's Narrative Stage at 2 p.m. Sunday. Since this booking was last-minute, it's not in the printed program. Folklife programs often change, so consult the Web site for the most current information: www.nwfolklife.org.
The Folklife Festival grounds have some new twists. The Broad Street Stage (by the Space Needle) is now the Folklife Commons, featuring the smaller Back Porch Stage, the Family Stage and a hands-on activity area for kids. Cafe Impromptu, in McCaw Hall, features singer/songwriters. The Rhythm Tent on the North Fountain Lawn offers drum workshops.
Unscheduled buskers — jugglers, steel drummers and so forth — traditionally have been regulated by the festival, but a recent court ruling that tossed out Seattle Center's permitting process for these performers raises questions about who's in charge. However, Michael Herschenson, Folklife executive director, said he does not expect any problems.
"These performers have been very cooperative with Folklife," he said.
The Northwest Folklife Festival takes place 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. today through Monday, Seattle Center. Admission to the grounds is free, though a $5 donation, per person, per day, is requested and there is an admission charge for a benefit concert at 8 p.m. Saturday in McCaw Hall, featuring the Savoy Family Cajun Band, from Louisiana ($15; 206-628-0888; no service charge for tickets purchased at Seattle Center outlets). Information: 206-684-7300 or www.nwfolklife.org.
Getting to the Festival
Parking: Limited near Seattle Center, carpooling or public transportation recommended.
Monorail: Daily service from Westlake Center to Seattle Center every 10 minutes 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
Bus: Routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19, 24, 33 and 74 all serve Seattle Center.
Shuttle Service: Metro Transit provides shuttle service every 15 minutes, Saturday-Monday, between Northgate Park & Ride, Northgate Transit Center and Seattle Center 10 a.m.-11 p.m. (http://transit.metrokc.gov).
Bike: Bike racks provided at some festival entrances.
Seattle Center Transportation Hotline: 206-233-3989.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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