Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Folklife 2008

This past weekend Sweetie and I returned to Folklife, after missing it last year. Folklife is North America's largest folk festival, which has taken place in Seattle at the Seattle Center every Memorial Day for the past 37 years.

What makes Folklife so special is its emphasis on participation. You don't just go to Folklife to hear great music or see outstanding performances of dance, storytelling, etc. etc. You get to make the music, dance the dances (any kind from almost anywhere in the world), attend workshops to learn anything from how to jam in klezmer style to west African dance to mask making to how to tell lies (this was a new one this year, an opportunity to hone your skills at tall tale-telling. I didn't get to see it, but our friend S. said it was hilarious). In short, for four days you get to inhabit an amazing folk world where all cultures mingle and everyone is exploring and enjoying. 

I've been to other folk festivals, but nothing compares to Folklife. I started going in 1998. Last year when Sweetie and I had to miss it I felt like I was in exile from Folkland. I've been a folkie since the age of five or six when I started folk dancing, and that identity was cemented when I started playing guitar at age nine. I have since immersed myself in other kinds of music, especially classical, as a professional singer, teacher and writer/researcher, but I am a folkie at heart and always will be. I've discovered that a number of other classical music friends and colleagues share this folk identity, which is really no surprise. As Duke Ellington so eloquently put it, "If it sounds good, it is good." He resisted labels his whole life, and I admire that. Why be pigeonholed? 

Some highlights of our experience this year:

The Ballard Sedentary Sousa Band. This is a community concert band from Ballard, an area in Seattle that plays Sousa and other band music, but since most of them are over 40 they've eschewed the marching part of the band experience and stay seated. Our favorite part is the Sedentary Majorette.  I took a movie of her because she has to be seen in action to be fully appreciated, but am having trouble uploading it to Blogger. I'll see if I can figure out another way to have you all see it if you want. Baton twirling is a dying art form, sad to say.

Some excellent klezmer, courtesy of Disciples of Goldensteyn and the Kosher Red Hots, two of our favorite regional bands.

Contradancing, of course. This year they featured a pickup band of about 20 people playing klezmer tunes (they billed it as "contras from the shtetl;" this is an experience you can only have at Folklife). Sweetie and I also went to a Yiddish dance party (this is different from Israeli dancing) and I also checked out a workshop on Scottish Country Dance. Last time I did anything specifically Scottish was when I was a kid, and I was amazed to find the nuances of the steps and hand holds come back to me as if I'd been doing it all my life. I love the way the body remembers things the mind thinks it's forgotten.

A new thing for Folklife this year:  participatory classical music. They offered a readthrough of the Vivaldi Gloria and Mozart's Requiem. Sweetie and I sang through most of the Gloria, a piece I'd never sung before, and it was great fun to sightread choral music again; I haven't done that in about 15 years.  Also cool to be surrounded by adults who can read music. 

Sweetie and I also checked out the shapenote singing, which we usually do at Folklife. I'm amazed people can sing like this for more than an hour; it's a very raw, primal sound that sounds more like shouting at times. I can't do it for long, but I enjoy it, and again, it's way cool to be around a buncha folks that can sightread, and do it using solfege to boot (think Do-Re-Mi Sound of Music stuff).

Also heard some great a capella gospel, saw a native American fashion show with gorgeous traditional and contemporary costumes/clothing (the cultural focus for this year was urban Indians), watched some amazing capoeira, looked at amazing handcrafted clothing, pottery, jewelry, art, etc. etc., ate some delicious Folklife food (Lebanese, Thai and, just to be different, a chicken artichoke crepe) and had a fabulous time. Also got to spend time with friends in Seattle I don't otherwise get to see, and bumped into several folks we know from our shul in Portland.

I can't seem to put captions to my pics, so points to you if you can identify which pictures are which bands/events.

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