We're back with another annual guide to the Northwest Folklife Festival, the largest community-run arts festival in the nation. And that's a serious claim, folks! With 5,000 individual performers from 65 different communities and expected attendance in the six figures, this is a staggeringly huge festival. I should know, I used to be the lead booker. Which is why I do my Folklife guide each year; to introduce you to really cool new artists and to give out some of my secret tips about how best to experience the festival. Of course, the main tip is still the same: Just Wander. Grab a bite to eat and wander around the 74 acre campus of the Seattle Center, gawk at the street performers, people watch, wander into a theater to cool off and discover your neighbors, and try to check out a band you know nothing about. That's the beauty of Folklife. It's this audacious idea that the music we make and the cultures we create in the Northwest should be something we all celebrate together. To make this happen, there's no fee at the gate, just a hopeful donation. This seems small, but it's HUGE. This is why Folklife isn't a homogenous crowd of affluent, privileged gadflies like other Seattle festivals, but a diverse field of families, working folks, and communities. It's a bold experiment, and not without its drawbacks (Folklife can be hugely overwhelming), but it's worth it in the end and it will change how you see your Pacific Northwest home. -Devon Leger
HEARTH MUSIC SHOWCASE
Sponsored by KEXP
Friday, May 22, 7-9pm
Fountain Lawn Stage
Our own Hearth Music is featuring a special showcase on Friday at Folklife, so I'd be remiss not to mention that. I picked out three of my favorite live roots bands because I wanted a show that just wouldn't quit! Jacob Miller & The Bridge City Crooners tap pre-war blues, hokum, and jugband roots with their dapper-dan lead singer. These guys jump and wail and are so much fun to dance to! Vaudeville Etiquette are a hard-rolling roots band out of Seattle that we've totally fallen for; they combine folk and country songwriting with stomp-and-sway beats, harmonica vs. pedal steel runs, and anthemic singalongs. Great great fun and some of the nicest folks. Wild Rabbit have been ruling the NW roots scene for a while, playing all over WA and making a name for themselves nationally. Together with Vaudeville Etiquette and Jacob Miller, this is our favorite showcase at the Fest and we'll be there partying too!
Sponsored by KEXP and STACKEDD Magazine
Saturday, May 23, 7-10pm
Set up by Hearth Music's own Mindie Lind, a well-known figure in Seattle's roots music underground, the Heavy Harmonies showcase features four lady-led bands from different genres. All four are Seattle bands, and the Vera Project is the best kind of enclosed, secret space to check this music out.
YVES: Dreamy jazz lullabies with a vintage vibe
Powers: Power Punk with Heavy Melody and Light
Eurodanceparty USA: Balkan-Based Eurotrash Funk
Prom Queen: David Lynch meets Nancy Sinatra and Film Noir
Powers : Pop Punk, Fun Fun
All 4 Days
Every year the Northwest Folklife Festival presents a "cultural focus", which is basically a way to highlight one of the many communities that participate in the festival. Past focuses have included East African culture, Urban Indians, and Labor Songs. This year, Folklife shines a light on the roots of hip-hop. Even when I was working at Folklife, we were arguing that hip-hop is folk music in the best sense: handed down orally in families or from person to person, beholden to the past but engaged with remixing old sounds with new ideas, the voice of the streets rather than the voice of the 1% (though that line blurs more and more these days in hip-hop), etc. Hip-hop has many folk roots, from verbal street battles known as the Dozens, to African griot spoken word and storytelling, to jazz scatting and mouth music, to Latin dance, socially engaged wordsmithing, and more. Festival Programs Director Kelli Faryar is directing this year's Cultural Focus and it's long been a project of hers to dive deep into the roots of hip-hop in Seattle. She's accomplished a major master plan this year, and pushed through major changes in a festival known often for its nostalgic ties to a very-white and very-folkie folk revival past. Kudos to Kelli!
Recommend Cultural Focus Events
Friday - Cultural Focus
-DJ Larry Mizell Jr of KEXP at the Fountain Lawn at 3pm
Larry's one of the main voices of hip-hop in Seattle and a hugely knowledgeable and deft DJ. He writes a powerful column on hip-hop for The Stranger and leads up Street Sounds on KEXP. Great guy to know and a real force for good in this town.
-Skratch Lounge at the Vera Stage, 7-9pm
This sounds like a cool event. DJs from the Northwest gather to demonstrate scratching techniques and turntablist DJ culture. The process in which hip-hop took old records and record players and turned them into a vital percussion and sample system is absolutely fascinating.
Saturday - Cultural Focus
-Panels at the Experience Music Project
Music of the Movement at 2pm - "This panel focuses on the ways Hip Hop has been a part of artistic-social justice movements and continues to be."
History of Northwest Hip Hop at 4pm - with Larry Mizell Jr, Fatal Lucciauno, and Dr. Daudi Abe
-Draze and Otieno Terry
4-6pm, The Mural Amphitheatre
We wrote about Seattle hip-hop artist and Afrikatown activist Draze last year and interviewed him too. Great MC and really passionate person for supporting black culture in Seattle's increasingly-gentrified Central district. He's part of a showcase "The Essences: Expression of Africa Through Beats" that features artists of African descent in Seattle. One key artist here that's blowing my mind is Otieno Terry. I'm trying to get a handle on what he does and it sounds like he's tapped into Seattle's jazz and hip-hop scene, with a heavy heavy dose of soul-meets-jazz vocals. He's a bit of an experimentalist, which means that his future output should be fascinating. He won the EMP Sound Off! Contest in 2014, which is a good indicator of big talent in town, but his absolutely stunning performance here of the old blues number "Trouble In Mind" dropped my jaw. This kid's gonna be huge!
Otieno Terry - "Trouble in Mind"
Sunday Cultural Focus
-Gabriel Teodros at 1pm, Fisher Green Stage, KBCS Acoustic Showcase
Gabriel Teodros has been flying the flag of conscious hip-hop in the NW for a long, long time, and he's a great MC with a great heart. Of Ethiopian heritage, he's also done some fascinating work with other Ethiopian diaspora artists like Meklit Hadero. Should be cool to see him doing an acoustic set for KBCS on the Fisher Green Stage.
-Yirim Seck at 3pm, part of Dope Emporium Showcase at EMP Sky Church
I've been a fan of Yirim Seck for years and he's been a part of Folklife for years as well. A dedicated family man and hard-working MC, his Facebook posts about raising his family in this post-Ferguson age can be heart breaking. As an MC, he burns hard, with impeccable rhythm and a larger storytelling urge to his poetry (one of his songs tells the story of Peruvian Olympic skier Roberto Carcelen). He's of Senegalese descent, part of the larger constellation of African rappers in Seattle.
Monday Cultural Focus
-Bomb It at SIFF Film Center, 12pm
This documentary on the global graffiti movement looks pretty fascinating. Though some see graffiti and tagging as a nuisance, the point here is that it's the control of our public spaces by corporate advertising that's the real nuisance. Graffiti injects art and resistance into our modern culture.
10 ARTISTS YOU NEED TO KNOW
Part of the joy of Folklife is discovering new artists to fall in love with, and we've got some key suggestions! Since Folklife is such a large festival, they can take more chances than any other festival, which means you're pretty much guaranteed to either hear the next big band first at Folklife, OR to find a band that you'd never be exposed to otherwise.
GRACE LOVE AND THE TRUE LOVES
Saturday, May 23, 2015, 7:30pm
The Mural Amphitheatre
part of The Soul of Emerald City Showcase
It could be that Seattle has a problem with soul. A recent Facebook polemic pointed fingers at Seattle's soul poster child Allen Stone (who's white) for booking a showcase of all white artists, and while the post occasioned some honest soul searching (sorry for the pun), the reality is that the Seattle music scene is far too segregated for its own good. So here's hoping that Grace Love, a true Seattle soul sensation, can bring everyone together at Folklife with her rafter-rattling vocals. Love, a native of Memphis who grew up in Tacoma, has put together an ace backing band of soul stalwarts and brass maniacs to support her amazing singing. Add in some killer songwriting, the song "Fire" just burns and burns, and you've got quite the combination. Her sound is a bit of a throwback to the glory days of soul, with reverb-shimmering guitars, electric organs, and heavy breakdowns, but this is totally modern music for the kind of Seattle we all wish we lived in. We reached out to Grace to find out more about where she came from:
"I was born in Memphis raised in Tacoma. I grew up with a father who was an evangelist and a mother who was a missionary. I don't like the cliche of the church tied to soul music, as I've seen hypocrisy in one of them and it isn't the music....hint hint. But the realest truth I can say is feeling what the message is trying to tell you and how it wants to move you!"
BANDA L M
Sunday, May 24, 2:30pm
The Mural Amphitheatre
This is a big coup for Folklife! Banda L M, also known as Banda Le Mejor, is the best banda in town and they're usually pretty busy playing for the Mexican communities here in the Northwest. I think this if their first time playing at Folklife, and if it's your first time hearing Banda, then this will be a real treat. Banda is the ebullient and infectious brass-band dance music of Mexico and California, originally from Sinaloa in N. Mexico, huge in Mexican and Mexican-American communities. Up in Seattle, there are giant banda dance events that fly totally under the radar, but pack out a couple hundred kids at pretty spendy ticket prices. The bands are huge, the brass instruments impeccably polished, the vocals thumping through giant speakers, and it's all great, over-the-top, dance-all-night fun. There aren't too many opportunities to experience banda in Seattle without having a major in in the community, so this is a great way to discover the music that lights up late nights from Cali to Washington State and is beloved by many many people. BONUS: Banda dancing is pretty hot, so hopefully you can see some great examples at the show and maybe pick up a lesson!
Monday May 25 at 4:15pm
The Fountain Lawn Stage, part of the Ear to the Ground Show
Every year at Folklife I take a break from the drum circles and banjos to go watch the kids skating at the Seattle Center skatepark. It's one of my favorite parts of the festival. There is something about watching kids shredding and falling in repetition that takes me back to my grungy, punky roots. It's a nice reprieve from an otherwise very folky weekend. Thankfully, this year, with psych / freakout bands like Low Hums performing, I'll have more than one opportunity to get weird at Folklife. Low Hums (Versicolor Records) have perfected a new wave of drone folk, and are at the center of the festival's cast of More-Rock-n-Roll-than-Folk bands (see also Lonesome Shack and Ben Von Wildenhaus) that keep the festival new and representative of Seattle's sound. -Mindie Lind
Friday May 22 at 6:50p
Hobe Kytr is a bit of an underground legend in the Northwest folk scene. He's not famous or super well-known, but he's an influential folk songwriter whose genius lies in documenting the rain-drenched lives of Portland's lumberjacks and fisher poets. He was a key part of the seminal group Timberbound, and was involved in the revival of this logger and woodsman music from just outside Portland by our friend Joe Seamons. He's also a fisher poet himself, and if you haven't heard that term, it refers to the tradition of informal poetry among NW fishermen. There's different stories about how these poets got started, and ultimately fisher poetry is tied to other forms of occupational poetry like logger poetry or trucker poetry, but the story I like is that the long haul from Seattle or Astoria to Alaska encouraged fishermen to start writing stories and poems and sharing over the radio on the way up and back. As a folk songwriter, Kytr's 1985 album, Dog Salmon and Rutabagas, demonstrates a real eye for Oregon folk culture. There's a subtlety to the writing that shows a love of place and does honor to the oft-ignored Oregon forest and ocean cultures. As someone who grew up in Oregon (albeit Southern Oregon), his music rings true to me. At Folklife, Hobe will be appearing as part of Joe Seamons and Ben Hunter's Rhapsody Project, which will include Ben and Joe as well as Timberbound, the modern incarnation of the older folk revival band from Oregon.
Sunday, May 24, 6:45pm
The Fountain Lawn Stage, part of the Underwoods Stables Show
KITHFOLK recently premiered the first song from the amazing Dean Johnson and Lowman Palace. Here's what we said: "Currently the best kept secret in Ballard, a cozy little corner of Seattle, Dean Johnson and his new band, Lowman Palace, have only played a few shows around town, each packed with a who's who of Seattle's favorite songwriters, all murmuring in deep anticipation about when we can expect an album. A few months ago I asked Dean Johnson to "record a damn song already" and he gave me 5 shitty iPhone recordings to hold me over, each of which I immediately added to an infinite loop; in my speakers and in my heart. Without any doubt, one of my favorites of the batch is Annabelle Goodbye, a longing tale of love gone wrong. Recently, Dean and the other Lowmen went into the studio to record the song, in what we hope is the first of many recordings released from the group." -Mindie Lind
SOUTH INDIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC SHOWCASE
Monday, May 25, 11am-1pm
You'll thank me for this one, trust me! South Indian classical music doesn't get quite the same amount of attention as its North Indian Hindustani music cousins (no famous Ravi Shankar to help!), but it's absolutely electrifying and consists of some of the most technically brilliant and mathematically complex music on the planet. Carnatic percussionists and singers can routinely subdivide the beats of the music into labyrinthine mathematical progressions on the fly and there's an insanely high level of improvisation at work here. I'm not too sure who's going to be performing at this showcase (though Jagadeeswaran Jayaprakash seems to be an awesome drummer), but there are few things more thrilling and beautiful than the spiraling rhythms of the Carnatic drum, the mridangam, in tandem with the fluid, liquid-like violin playing of South India. The violinists sit cross legged and rest the scroll of the fiddle on the ground, which enables them to slide constantly up and down the neck, more accurately imitating the vocal lines of the vocalists. Befriend the person next to you at this show and ask them more about the music if they seem to know it. Carnatic music is a fantastic world of precision and daredevil acrobatics!
THE NATIVE SIBLING
Saturday, May 23, 2015 at 2:00pm
The Fountain Lawn Stage
I first got hip to The Native Sibling, a beautiful indie roots duo of actual siblings, when they were in Santa Cruz, so it was a nice surprise that they moved up to the Northwest. Their music is drenched in the kind of rainy-day harmony that comes from being together since birth, and their songs are carefully constructed gems of folk-influenced anthems. Think Mumford & Sons back when that band was putting out songs that actually made you feel something, or early The Head and the Heart back when that band was shooting really sweet informal videos at the Doe Bay Festival. The 2014 album from The Native Sibling, Letters Kept to Ourselves, is up on Bandcamp now and I encourage you to have a listen. The music rolls smoothly along, like a river with a swift undercurrent, and like that river, there's a sweetly gentle emotional movement to the songs that I find uplifting. Used to be a lot more bands making music like this and it's too bad that it's dying down a bit. We all could use a little more honest singing in our lives.
REBECCA LOMNICKY & DAVID BREWER - THE FIRE
Sunday, May 24 at 12:20pm
Young fiddler Rebecca Lomnicky has long been one of the best Scottish fiddlers in the Northwest, first as a kid onstage at Folklife with much older acts around her, and now as a young woman with an impressive new duo album hot off the press. Titled The Fire, it's also the name of the duo itself. For The Fire, Rebecca partnered up with veteran Scottish Highland piper, tin whistle player, and guitarist, David Brewer, who's best known for his work with premier West Coast Celtic ensemble Molly's Revenge. This is their second duet album together, and it's a masterful blend of subtle fiddling and hard-driving piping, the kind of album that sounds like it was a lot of fun to make. Celtic music gets a bit of a bad rap these days, but there's something so lovely about immersing yourself in these old melodies (new ones too, since David's a prolific tune composer), and listening closely to the complex and rapid-fire ornamentation each musician makes up on the fly. The goal should be to play the tune differently each time, and though this isn't jazz improvisation, there's an element of surprise behind this music that makes it great fun. It's also a real treat to be able to highlight a Highland bagpiper as accessible as Brewer. The instrument is an amazing thing to experience in person. It was designed to terrify enemies on a battlefield, and there's something deeply visceral about an instrument THIS loud being played THIS well.
Sunday May 24, 2015 at 4:35pm
The Vera Project, part of the Redefined Showcase
It only takes a moment to see why Seattle is obsessed with Tomo Nakayama's sun-soaked songs. Widely known for his collaborations with super group Grand Hallway, Tomo has since released a few solo albums including this year's Fog on the Lens (Porchlight Records). His mellow-drone music borderlines on psychedelia and sits in a mist of clean lines and wide-open landscapes. Tomo's songs feel like sun seeping in through the blinds. They are relaxing, vulnerable, and bring to mind out-of-focus dust bunnies about to float into the shadows. -Mindie Lind
Monday May 25 at 3pm
Back Porch Stage
Seattle guitarist Michael Wohl's been traversing a mysterious path for a while now, sending out cassette tapes or vinyl 45s of his dark blues music. He's a fan of the American primitive guitar school and of open tunings for sure, but there's a bit of Cascadian noir behind his music that takes him out of the realm of your usual country blues guitarist or John Fahe.y obsessive. Wohl's got a curious mind and a roving eye when it comes to guitar work, and has been talking recently about parlor and Spanish guitar traditions from the late 1800s, and how ragtime guitar is reflected in modern Hawaiian music. He's the kind of artist that's always out following his ear to new musical inspirations and his albums are a kind of blend of a lot of different guitar roots into one vision of Cascadian hardwood tone. It'll be interesting to see what he does at Folklife and I bet it will be transporting. Show up and find out!
BONUS: Underwood Stables Documentary Screening
Sunday May 24 at 12pm
SIFF Film Center
In an ever-disappearing Seattle, not only is the city erasing its history with the closing of major venues like Chop Suey, The Funhouse and The Comet, but underground venues too, like The Josephine and Underwood Stables have also closed up shop, pushing the historic and art-space death-rate to an all time high. Overpowered by the larger corporate landscape, there seems to be little for us artists to do to keep our neighborhoods weird, our art spaces active, and our communities intact. With his new documentary "One More Song While We're Awake" filmmaker and director Ryan Jorgensen's answer to the problem is to depict what one of these closings really looks like. After spending three months with the Underwood Stables community (based around an underground honky-tonk social club), Jorgensen's doc is a feature about the beginning of the end and what it looks like when one of the treasures this town has built its identity on is gone. Here is a sneak peak of the doc, be sure to check it out. -Mindie Lind
FOLKLIFE SHORT CUTS
Here are some quick looks at other key artists to see at Folklife. If you want a longer, more complete list of great things to see at Folklife, follow along with Hearth Music's own Festival schedule. We've gone through every artist in the schedule and highlighted the ones that we know are good. So you're guaranteed to see something cool with this:
Friday Short Cuts
-Open Old-Time Jam at 3pm, Boeing Green
Old-time music is ridiculously fun to play with other folks, so try your hand at an old-time jam in a safe and welcoming environment.
-The Passenger String Quartet at 8:45 pm, Center Theatre
Musical polymaths and passionate adventurers, The Passenger String Quartet bring chmaber music into contact with all kinds of new ideas. Beautiful artists here and real visionaries.
Saturday Short Cuts
-Horse Crazy Cowgirl Band at 11am, Back Porch Stage
This should be a hoot! An all-lady band of Western Swing enthusiasts, so come get in touch with your inner cowgirl!
-La Famille Leger at 11:45am, Trad Stage
Our own humble family band, but we've got some new tricks up our sleeves and some lovely French-Canadian traditional songs to share.
-Crankie Fest at 2pm, Center Theatre
The humble crankie (old-fashioned moving panorama scroll) is enjoying quite the resurgence. Here in Seattle, inspired by Appalachian duo Anna & Elizabeth, we even have our own Crankie Fest. Hearth's own Dejah Leger was profiled by Folklife and you can find out more here:
-The Onlies at 3:40pm, Back Porch Stage
We premiered the latest track from The Onlies new album HERE and it is a killer album. If you haven't gotten your copy from these young trad wonders, do so at Folklife.
-The m9 at 6pm, Fountain Lawn Stage
Word is that m9 is the hottest Balkan brass band in town.
Sunday Short Cuts
-T’ilibshudub at 1:45pm, The Mural Amphitheatre
Traditional oratory, dancing, singing and ceremonial practices from Seattle's Duwamish tribe. This is important.
-The Antone Family Band at 2:20pm, Back Porch Stage
Bob Antone and the Antone Family are inheritors of NW timber culture, from the old logging songs of Buzz Martin to Coast Salish art and music. Bob's a passionately curious man who loves to engage with NW culture. Don't miss this!
-The Hi-O Revelers at 3:10pm, Trad Stage
Devon Champlin's one of the best old-time fiddlers in the NW and we're lucky he just moved to Seattle from Bellingham. He's a huge champion of fiddle rags, which are wickedly complex and great fun.
-Chaopraya Ensemble at 4:55pm, Center Theatre
As far as I know, Chaopraya is the only classical Thai music ensemble in the NW and one of the longest running.
Monday Short Cuts
-Kermet Apio at 12:20pm, Fisher Green Stage
In addition to being an ace Hawaiian slack key guitarist, Kermet's also a great comedian. What a fun combo!
-Fire of Tierra Caliente at 1:40pm, Fisher Green Stage
The music of Mexico's Tierre Caliente region is heavy on fiery fiddling, so don't miss this band with Paul Anastasio, Seattle's master fiddler who has extensively studied this music with the elders.
-Armin Barnett & Friends at 2:15pm, Fisher Green Stage
Armin Barnett is a seminal old-time fiddler in the NW though he rarely gets his due, since he doesn't record too much. But that's about to change. He's in the studio now at Jackstraw (and part of their Folklife showcase), so here's hoping he'll get some love for his stellar fiddling and tune compositions.