Guide to This Weekend’s 2010 Northwest Folklife Festival
The Annual Northwest Folklife Festival (MAY 28-31) has always been the best place to find your next favorite band. Because of it sheer size, the programmers can afford to slip in new and exciting bands all over the place. For those of you who are a bit overwhelmed by the size of the Festival (800+bands, 25+ stages, 74 acres, countless buskers, crowds of 250,000 people), here’s a quick guide to what we’re looking forward to this weekend at the Northwest Folklife Festival.
FRIDAY, MAY 28
Vintage Jazz Showcase: Center House Theatre, 4:00-6:30pm
This is one of the best venues at Folklife. Comfy seats, intimate performances and dead silence! Wonderful! And this lineup of the very best vintage jazz ensembles in town will have your toes tappin’. We’re looking forward to Hot Club Sandwich, who just gave a wonderful concert for the Seattle Folklore Society. The band is red-hot and each member brings a distinct personality to the group. It makes for a great time.
Tractor Tavern Urban Square Dance: Center House Court, 7:00-10:00pm
The Northwest’s hot square dance scene has multiple generations of old-time music fans bumping shoulders and spinning around the dance floor. It’s exhilarating and exciting and just great to know that the old fiddle tunes are finding new life. We’re especially excited about Rabbit Foot. This mostly-grrrl stringband absolutely rips on their instruments, with high-0ctane fiddle/banjo tunes played with surprising ferocity. Great stuff!
Gumar & His Magical Midi Band: Mural Amphitheatre, 9:30pm
We don’t really know much about Gumar & His Magical Midi Band, but we do know that he throws insane robot raves in town, and hand-makes cardboard instruments for audience members to play along with. Sometimes giving an eccentric band like this a headlining spot on the Mural Amphitheatre can have magical consequences that converge to make a perfect Folklife moment. We’re betting this will be the case. Rain or shine.
SATURDAY, MAY 29
Fiddler’s Showcase: Charlotte Martin Theatre, 11:00am-2:00pm
We’ve always loved the Fiddler’s Showcase. Not only does it feature master and elder fiddlers from Washington State, but it’s often an excuse to pull a killer fiddler out of a band to showcase their playing. This year, Karen England, the Northwest’s powerhouse Cajun fiddler, will kick it off. We’re also looking forward to Linda Danielson, who has a large knowledge of Oregon fiddling traditions, Paul Anastasio, who will focus on the fiddling of his mentor, jazz genus Joe Venuti, and our favorite fiddlin’ bad boy, Josh Rabie of the Water Tower Bucket Boys. And don’t forget to catch them Bucket Boys closing out the sweet New Old Time Showcase, Saturday night from 7-10pm.
Armstrong Lawton Katz/The Bobs/Baby Gramps: Fisher Green Stage, 4:00-6:00pm
This isn’t a special show, just a sweet lineup that’s worth braving the rain. Armstrong Lawton Katz are one of our favorite bands in Seattle. They’ve got some kind of folkie x-factor to their music. We just love every band these folks have been in and we’re happy they’re all in the same band now! The Bobs are a well-loved vocal a cappella ensemble with a crazy eclectic repertoire, and Baby Gramps is a Northwest legend. His music is impossible to describe (navel-gazing, foot-stomping, dust-collecting, tuvan throat singing, gutbucket blues?) and he’s also the only Folklife performer that we know of who’s performed on David Letterman’s Late Night show!
Baby Gramps on Letterman!
Folk-Punk Showcase: Fountain Lawn, 6:30-9:00pm
No matter how much of a hardcore folkie you may be, you’ve gotta admit that the boys in Blackbird Raum are our best hope for the future of folk music! Playing as an acoustic stringband, they put out more sound and raw power than a fuckin’ freight train, and they’ve been known to stage dive WHILE PLAYING THE ACCORDION! You thought folk music was about earnest lyrics and mellow guitar picking? Guess again! This is Woody Guthrie’s folk music: brave, dirty, scary and just plain impressive. Music that KILLS FASCISTS! If you prefer the Seeger version of Surrounding Hate and Forcing it to Something or Other…, feel free to move on to another stage. But we’ll be there stomping in the mud with the rest of the new folk!
SUNDAY MAY 30
Old-Time Kitchen Party, Northwest Court, 3:00-6:00pm
This show is what Folklife should be all about. Great acoustic roots musicians from around the NW, coming together in duos and trios to really delve into their favorite tunes and songs. Played before an audience of friends, family and connaisseurs, this intimate parlor old-time music will be mighty refreshing. Plus you can’t beat the bands! $4 Shoe and Squirrel Butter are featured on Hearth Music’s Listening Lounge, The Zygote Brothers marks a return to old-time for uber-mtn-dulcimer interpreter Mark Nelson, the Parlour Hoppers are dreamy and feature Ethan Lawton again, and it’s impossible not to fall in love with old-timey duo WB Reid & Bonnie Zahnow.
Sabrepulse from Folklife 2009
8-Bit Showcase, EMP SkyChurch, 3:30-6:00pm
Folk musicians love taking old, useless technology and turning it into a beatmaker. Think the rubboard in Zydeco (post-invention of washing machines). Even the Cajun accordion can be thought of as old technology (why one row of buttons when you can have THIS). But this community takes old video game machines and repurposes them for electronic dance music. For those of us who grew up with permanently dented thumbs from playing Mega Man for frickin’ hours, this music makes us a little nostalgic. But when you’re dancing your ass off this hard, it’s difficult to worry about ageing.
Slack-Key Showcase, Folklife Cafe, 5:00-7:00pm
It’s pretty much impossible not to love Hawaiian slack-key guitar. The beautiful, mellow tunings just roll off the instrument, and the relaxed, laid-back pace of the music fits the island spirit. This will be a really nice show of two NW slack-key players and a slack-key master who’s flying in from Hawaii. Mark Nelson started off playing Appalachian mtn dulcimer, but moved to slack-key later in life (probably when he realized he could write off trips to the islands for research!). Kermet Apio is a well-loved local comedian, and we’ve just recently learned that he’s also an excellent slack-key guitarist. Expect lots of funny stories. Keale is an international Hawaiian recording artist, flying in for Folklife because he’d heard about how much fun the Festival is. This whole showcase is guaranteed to please!
MONDAY MAY 31
Forget what everyone says, Mondays at Folklife are the BEST! Usually, the sun is out all day, the crowds have died down, and everyone’s so tired that they’ve reached a kind of zen levitation to their music that you usually only find at the end of all-night jam sessions.
Family Band Showcase, Fisher Green, 11:00am-2:00pm
Treat yourself to an wonderfully positive perspective on folk and traditional music today. These families make music the old-fashioned way for the sheer fun of playing music with those you love. Warning: this show might get a little weepy! Bring a hanky and a blanky and lay out on the grass (in the sun, right?).
Chill Out Show, Folklife Cafe, 5:30-8:00pm
As we all know, Monday at Folklife means tired feet. And tired body. And tired everything. This show was scheduled with you in mind. Kick your feet back and gently drift off to beautiful music. Our own Dejah Leger kicks it off with her unique and gorgeous versions of traditional lullabies.
Calvin Johnson = Dolly Parton???
Dolly Parton Tribute Show, hosted by Calvin Johnson, Vera Stage, 1:00-3:00pm
This may be the biggest stroke of genius that Folklife has had in some years!! Eccentric DIY-music elder Calvin Johnson (of K Records!), hosts a Tribute to Dolly Parton, featuring an eclectic selection of Folklife bands. Each year, Folklife hosts a tribute to a different artist (Bob Dylan, Leadbelly), but this year’s show promises to be the best yet!!
Roots Reggae Party, Mural Amphitheatre, 6:00-9:00pm
We’ve always said that Clinton Fearon’s closing set in the Monday night Reggae show is the PERFECT way to end out the Festival. An old-school musician from back in 1970s Jamaica, Clinton’s positive and uplifting lyrics, great stage presence, and fun fun beats always hit the spot for us at the end of a long, intense Festival. Clinton’s music bring out the best in Folklife and in the Folklife crowds.
So there’s our totally biased guide to the 2010 Northwest Folklife Festival. Of course, the best part of Folklfe is wandering around and making your own discoveries, so use this guide for inspiration only and be sure to find your own Folklife Festival!