Folky and live at Folklife

It’s a sunny Memorial Day weekend in Seattle, which means that thousands are thronging to Folklife, the largest free folk festival of its kind in the nation. We want Mara to have as much experience with the richness of human cultures as possible, so after lunch today we caught the 16 and went down there. Mara wondered if there would be a play structure.

I used to spend all four days and evenings of the festival contra dancing, twirling myself into dehydrated delirium, and I went home limping. I was in my twenties and had nothing but time and energy. In my mid-to-late forties now and responsible for the amusement and welfare of a four-year-old, my idea of a good day at Folklife is much different. I don’t intend this blog to be about how wonderful my kid is, but really, having a child enter your life makes you see your life more clearly and it’s worth taking note of.

Clapping to Ross' Rovers at the Northwest Court Stage. Heat stroke imminent.
Mara, Angela and an anonymous third potential heat stroke victim enjoy Ross’ Rovers at the Northwest Court Stage.

We started with just a walk-through, experiencing the clash of tones and rhythms as we moved from one busker’s audio-zone to another. Fiddlers, balladeers and guitarists, drummers with djembes, drummers with paint buckets, a tap dancer. Wandering through the crowd at one point we encountered a man on stilts, dressed all in white, with white face-paint, and wielding a long net. Every once in a while he would drop the net on someone and “catch” them. There’s someone spooky like this at every event like this we attend (a giant yellow chicken lady at the Easter Egg Hunt at the zoo, a white-painted fairy lady at a previous Folklife who stood motionless until someone dropped money in her bowl, then began a gyrating dance), and Mara is always riveted by these uncanny figures. Unfortunately I didn’t get a photo of the stilt man, more’s the pity.

We sat and listened to some Celtic music, but the sun had become hot and Mara was baking. She’s clapping in the photo above, but the sun was killing us. What she really wanted to do was splash around in a wading fountain that she’d seen. So we did that. Since we didn’t have a swimsuit or a change of clothes for her, we told her she could wade but not get her bottom wet. After she fell, though, she just started paddling around. She is usually very cautious, but around water she grows fins.

Next we availed ourselves of the food booths to get a corndog for Mara and some crab caesar wraps for us. After this dinner al fresco, we checked out the dance hall, hoping there might be a contra dance. Neither Angela or I is into the whole mad contra scene anymore, but we thought we might twirl a line once with Mara just to introduce her to the idea.

Happy kid. Just add water.
Happy kid. Just add water.

No such luck; it was zydeco hour. Some cajun band was clattering away up on stage and the hall was full of people in cowboy boots. As we stood behind the line of onlookers at the side, Mara grabbed our hands and urgently said “follow me!” We humored her and she pulled us right out into the midst of the crowded dance floor. So we bounced and dipped in our best zydeco style and followed the slow turning around the hall. Mara seemed to intuitively understand that Folklife was all about jumping in and letting go, gettin’ wet and gettin’ down.

We finished up by eating strawberry shortcake while listening to a marimba band, and before heading out we bought Mara a little fairy princess dress at one of the booths and let her wear it home.

We think she’ll have pleasant memories of Folklife.


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