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53rd Annual Northwest Folklife Festival: a blooming of Seattle’s spirit under rainy weather

As a Seattle tradition since 1972, this year’s Northwest Folklife Festival took place from May 24-27 at the lively Seattle Center. Despite the rainy weather, the festival gathered thousands of people throughout all four days.

With over 400 performers, more than 200 vendors, and buskers, the 53rd iteration of the festival marked the third chapter of its five-year Cultural Focus storyline, Meraki. Derived from Greek, the word represents doing something with creativity, passion, and love. It urged attendees to seek that which gives them joy, approaching it with a sense of pride, soulfulness, and discipline.

Sophia Bruscato | The Seattle Collegian Folks gather by the Mural Amphitheater at Northwest Folklife, 2024

A Brief History 

Launched in 1972 as a free-admission celebration of folk and ethnic arts and held each Memorial Day weekend, Northwest Folklife’s first edition gathered an impressive 123,000 people. Founded by the Seattle Folklore Society, the National Park Service, the National Folk Festival Association, and the City of Seattle, the festival was intended to showcase underexposed musicians, artists, and performers. However, in 1997, Folk music legend Pete Seeger performed to large crowds throughout all four days, contributing to the year’s theme of labor movement music.

Despite enduring multiple financial crises, including its recent cancellation scare in 2018, the festival has never imposed an admission fee. Instead, many of the estimated 200,000 people it attracts each year contribute monetary donations at the gates and inside the festival. Its “pay-what-you-can” system still manages to keep Northwest Folklife alive, reflecting the deep-rooted love it has fostered within the city.

2024 Northwest Folklife Festival

After attending the festival for the first time last year under heavenly clear blue skies and warm temperatures, I held high expectations, imagining that dream-like atmosphere to be recreated this year. The higher forces of nature, however, had other plans, providing a classic Seattle rainy weekend, which created a whole different environment than what I experienced before.

Sophia Bruscato | The Seattle Collegian Folklife Festival attendees, 2024

The outstanding music performances, paired with vendors, activities, buskers, and hundreds of attendees, made up for the sleepy weather. “Although this year the weather was not at its finest, I think Folklife is something we shouldn’t take for granted,” notes Morgan Dulitz during her second time attending the festival. She remarks how there’s still a sense of a grassroots movement, with buskers being welcome to set up along the sidewalks and being accessible to the public. “Unlike many festivals of this day, [Folklife] hasn’t succumbed to becoming a corporate event … Each time I have attended, I’ve discovered amazing artists I wouldn’t have found otherwise, and I’ve gotten to soak up the multitude of cultures that come together during the event,” continues Dulitz, emphasizing the original spirit of Northwest Folklife.

Sophia Bruscato | The Seattle Collegian Attendees gather around Seattle Center’s International Fountain, 2024

Among traditional folk performances, brass bands, and Punk Rock shows, there was something for all tastes and ages, weaving together a tapestry of sound encompassing the Seattle Center in a colorful portrait of human culture. “[Folklife] was the thing I most looked forward to all year, even more than being out of school,” shares Eddie Dozortsev, reminiscing on his childhood in Seattle while riding Route 8, leaving Seattle Center after the festival’s last day. “I remember coming home after Folklife on the bus, just like this, in 2011, and it was like coming back to the airport after vacation,” concludes Dozortsev, noting the remarkable atmosphere of the festival, which comes as a true retreat from everyday life in the city.

Sophia Bruscato | The Seattle Collegian Band Ockham’s Razor perform at the Vera Project stage, 2024

During the festival’s second day, Saturday, May 25, I strolled into the Vera Project stage and was immediately lured by a compelling Celtic Rock performance by Seattle band Ockham’s Razor, in their unique collection of traditional Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English folk-rock songs. Although I was still agonized by the rain and cold, I recall thinking to myself, “This is bringing me back to life,” as I danced to Ockham’s Razor’s exceptional original music, blending Irish folklore melodies with the iconic chorus of Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”

On Sunday, a particular performance lingered with me: The SongCatchers, a Native American Fusion Music group whose chilling rhythmic drums, paired with traditional Native American vocal melodies, struck the audience at the Mural Amphitheater stage. One of the group’s vocalists sang, “I am my mother’s daughter, my name is Neon Sky, I do not need a reason, I do not need a reason, I do not need a reason,” followed by Native American chants in unison, leaving me in a state of comfort and steady bliss. Their evening concert ended with attendees gathering in front of the stage in a celebratory dance.

Sophia Bruscato | The Seattle Collegian The SongCatchers perform at the Mural Amphitheater, 2024

It was as though the music rose to the overcast skies, piercing through the rain and clouds in a collective prayer of joy—ringing true to this year’s Northwest Folklife’s title, “Meraki.”


Content Editor at Seattle Collegian

Sophia is an internationally published author with her book Primeira Pessoa, as well as a young classical singer. Born and raised in Brazil, music, writing, and Astronomy are her greatest passions. She believes the greatest role of a writer is to bring forth the truth, the honesty, and the humanity that echoes within each one of us. Journalism, while Art, is for her a portrait of the fraternity of the Earth. At the moment, she works for both The Seattle Collegian and the M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery, while completing her AA degree with a focus on Anthropology & English.

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