Northwest Folklife Festival, free festivals in Seattle

For a city the size of Seattle, there sure are a lot of music festivals. There’s Seattle’s newest addition, the Paul Allen sponsored Upstream Music Fest that just finished up, stalwart Bumbershoot again has a great lineup for this year’s Labor Day weekend, August camping fest Doe Bay, electronic music festival Capitol Hill Block Party and the list goes on.

However, even though bringing in big names like Lorde, Vince Staples, and Solange is great, you also end up paying for it. Prices for three-day passes to these big music festivals start at $250 and only go up from there. That’s a pretty steep price to be paying, even for a whole weekend, and that doesn’t even include things like food, water, and other festival necessities.

Not all of Seattle’s festivals are so pricey though. There are standouts in the Seattle festival scene that are much more accessible. In fact, some of them are free.

The 46th Annual Northwest Folklife Festival is taking place later this month from May 26th to May 29th at the Seattle Center. Originally a celebration of the indigenous cultures of the Pacific Northwest, it has since expanded to celebrate the art, music, and culture of many people who have settled in the Seattle area. The schedule includes hundreds of music performances from many different small artists, most of them local. And the entire festival is presented free of charge.

Block Party at the StationOn June 17th, there’s Block Party at the Station. It’s a hip-hop music and arts festival that celebrates South Seattle’s creative community. This year it features 34 performers and three DJs in Beacon Hill. Although Seattle’s black community is increasingly marginalized in the growing city, Block Party at the Station stands as a celebration of that community, hip-hop, and Seattle’s strong traditions.

Here’s the thing though. As great as these festivals are, it’s hard to keep going when you’re not charging anyone money for it. In the past, these festivals have been supported by local businesses and volunteer work. However, that model is increasingly under strain. Recently, the Folklife Festival’s board published an open letter to their website entitled “Will Folklife and the Festival Continue?”

Jacob Uitti of Seattle Weekly had a chance to speak with some of the organizers of Seattle’s free festivals and discussed some of the challenges with them, including increasing costs, securing insurance, and more, while highlighting the value such festivals bring. “In some ways, free festivals keep expensive festivals in check. They’re community outposts offering entertainment, food, and fashion, and diversity and inclusivity.”

The best thing you can do to make sure that these free festivals continue to exist is to donate. Folklife is thinking of including a suggested donation for attendees. Pay that suggestion, maybe even more if you can afford it. Make sure that the 46th edition of the festival doesn’t become the last.


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