Note: This is an overview of Folklife 2013. Go here for detailed daily coverage and photos.
With alternately soggy and sunny days over Memorial Day weekend, the Northwest Folklife Festival drew slightly fewer folks to Seattle Center than Executive Director Robert Townsend would have liked.
But on Monday, based on counts from the first three days, Townsend estimated that the sprawling, ever-popular, free spree still would bring in 220,000-230,000 people.
“We’ll have some work to do before the end of the year,” Townsend said of his $1.2 million organization, “but we’re not in debt.”
Attendance was light Friday, strong Saturday and Sunday, when the sun made an appearance, and slow on Monday, as a light rain persisted.
Still, the crowds came out, some with umbrellas, some braving the drizzle in stoic Seattle style.
There was a lot to come out for. Folklife started 42 years ago as a mostly acoustic fiddle and banjo affair, embraced world music in a big way in the ’90s and now uses an even broader definition of “folk,” which takes in familial, ethnic, regional and occupational communities.
By that measure, Olympia’s alternative-rock label, K Records — celebrated Monday at the Vera Project — fits in as nicely as bagpipers, indie-folksters and high-school jazzers.
K Records’ new artist Briana Marela, who conjured a mix of Bjork and Laurie Anderson with a laptop overlay of metallic, whispered voices, was one of several welcome discoveries.
Another was Jessica Lynne, a honky-tonk singer with attitude who just moved to Seattle from Denmark two years ago and got the crowd rocking at the Fountain Lawn stage Sunday.
The festival used to showcase indie-roots bands on one stage, but this year integrated them all over the grounds. Br’er Rabbit, with lead singer Miranda Zickler stomping a tambourine with her cowboy boot, featured caffeinated guitar strumming and vigorously shouted lyrics at the Fisher Green Stage.
On a quieter note, over at the Folklife Cafe, Coty Hogue and Aaron Guest transported a rapt crowd with the faraway, winsome sound of a lovely Appalachian ballad, “Oh, Wind.”
Over at the Armory (formerly known as Center House), En Canto, which plays lively Brazilian forró music (no one else here does), spurred a crowd of dancers who took a lesson in that locomotive style from instructor Norma Henry.
As always, Zimbabwean marimba music thrived at Folklife, with Idaho’s Chiroto regaling crowds at the Fountain Lawn and Nyamuziwa’s deep bass tones inspiring two young women to dance in time on the Exhibition Hall lawn — each with a hula hoop spinning around her waist.
Buskers abounded. At Alki Court, 9-year-old Kaj Litch and his brother Tashi, 11, blew listeners away with fiddle music so lithe and supple it made you wonder if Kaj just might be the next Mark O’Connor.
Hot Damn Scandal kept hokum alive outside the Armory, and the King of Hokum, Baby Gramps, was in fine form at EMP’s Sky Church, rasping out a hair-raising version of Bob Dylan’s “Hey, Crawl Out Your Window.”
The festival’s cultural focus this year was “Washington Works,” which showcased jobs Washingtonians have done over the years, with a labor-union emphasis.
Highlights included a panel discussion about a dramatic exhibit in the Lopez Room of woodblock prints and linoleum cuts by the late artist Richard Correll. The artist’s daughter Leslie came up from Oakland, Calif., for the panel, and explained how her father first started doing his progressive prints for the communist newspaper Voice of Action while living in Oregon. He then moved to Seattle to work on with the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
But the highlight of Washington Works was the Olympic Room panel of “Rosie the Riveters,” who talked about doing factory work during World War II.
“We didn’t think we were trailblazers,” said Georgie Kunkel, who drilled holes in wing panels of B-17 bombers. “But we were happy to get a man’s wage.”
And so the 42nd edition of the Northwest Folklife Festival — with its nine staff members, 800 volunteers and 6,000 performers — was logged into the books. Its faithful fans will no doubt be thinking about next year soon.