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Seattle’s Northwest Folklife Festival 2023: Guide for Families

Memorial Day weekend fest is fun and super family-friendly

Author Kari Hanson

Published on: May 22, 2023

Circle of Indigenous Peoples Celebration area. Credit: Christopher Nelson

Get ready for drum circles and dancing in the fountain — if the weather decides to cooperate — or not. It’s time once again for Seattle’s beloved Northwest Folklife Festival!

With a huge selection of music, dance, poetry performances and more, Folklife has for decades been the celebration that marks the start of summer for many Seattle-area families. This year’s festival is the 52nd edition. While it is free for all to attend, there is a suggested donation of $20 per person.

This year’s theme — Lagom: not too little, not too much, just right — focuses on having just the right number of moments, reflections, conversations and celebrations to carry with you all year. Check out the website for more info and to learn about this year’s poster artists.

The Rhythm Tent at Northwest Folklife. Credit: Christopher Nelson

We’ve picked out a few highlights of the weekend’s events that are sure to entertain!

  • Northwest School House Band. Entertaining young musicians from the Northwest School study and perform popular music styles. (Friday, 2:30 p.m., at the Mural Amphitheater)
  • More Music @ The Moore. This is always an incredible show, and a popular school field trip destination. Young musicians of various styles perform individually and together in this energetic show. Seriously, do not miss this! (Friday, 4:30 p.m., at the Mural Amphitheater)
  • School of Rock Seattle House Band. Talented young musicians from the School of Rock perform family-friendly cover tunes and will be sure to impress and inspire. (Saturday, 11 a.m., at the Mural Amphitheater)
  • The Not-Its!. With its upbeat sounds and energetic shows, this Seattle kindie rock fave will treat the next crop of kids to their first rock show. (Monday, 12:45 p.m., at the Fountain Lawn)
  • The Harmonica Pocket. This silly and sweet kindie group is sure to please music lovers of all ages. Their chill vibes will have families swaying back and forth to tunes described as “the musical equivalent of a big red balloon.” (Monday, 1:20 p.m., at the Foundation Lawn)
  • Massive Monkees. Don’t miss Seattle’s largest breakdance battle for youth! Prepare to be amazed by some serious skills as Massive Monkees’ students participate in a high-energy friendly competition, challenging each other’s skills in front of a live audience. (Monday, noon, at the Armory Court Stage)
Kindie band The Not-Its! rock the Fountain Lawn stage at Folklife. Credit: Christopher Nelson

Other things to check out

Threads of the people
This new addition to Folklife focuses on fashion and features a mix of runway shows, workshops and demos, vendor booths, displays and material swaps. You can find Threads of the People in the Exhibition Hall and there will be various events throughout the weekend. 

Kuleana Corridor
Kuleana is a Hawaiian term which loosely translates to “responsibility”. This new addition to Folklife will focus on issues of food sustainability. Kuleana Corridor will bring focus to people, communities, organizations and cooperatives who are actively engaging in techniques that promote bio-diversity, support sustainable & healthy food production, and give strength to the cause of food justice, security, and sovereignty. 

Dance party
While not specifically aimed at kids, there are plenty of Folklife performances and experiences that even the youngest drum circle members will enjoy. You’ll find music and dance showcases every day ranging from Filipino, to Hungarian, to Croatian, to Irish, to Turkish and more. Can’t decide? Consider checking out Dance Around the World and take a trip around the globe from your seat at the Bagley Wright Theater (Saturday, 11 a.m.)

Be sure and stop by the Unkitawa Stage on Friday where you can see a teepee raising (9 a.m.), a variety of traditional Native dancing (starting at noon, 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.) and arts and crafts (5 p.m.). 

You can also almost always find some dance-worthy beats at the Jam Tent, the Rhythm Tent, or the Foundation Lawn. 

Wandering around

"Mom and baby on the lawn at the Seattle Center with the space needle behind them"
The author and her son at his first Folklife in 2009.

Folklife is a great event to attend without an agenda. Giving your kids the time and freedom to move from performance to performance can take away the stress of attending such a large event. And when all that walking makes you hungry, grab a hot dog, gyros, strawberry shortcake or even a fried PB&J from the food stands.

And don’t forget to visit the many vendors at the Uncommon Market and the Handmade Craft Market to find your newest treasure. Or visit one of the sidewalk pop-ups and have your face painted, your caricature drawn or your name written on a grain of rice.

Check the Folklife virtual schedule if you can’t make it in person.

Whether you attend Folklife for a few hours one afternoon, or from open to close all four days, you are bound to make lasting family memories. Have fun!

If you go ...

Where: The 2023 Northwest Folklife Festival takes place at Seattle Center, located at 305 Harrison St. in Seattle.

When: Memorial Day Weekend, Friday–Monday, May 26–29, 2023

Cost: Suggested donation of $20 per person, per day, but all are welcome.

More info: Check out Folklife’s extensive and detailed daily in-person schedule and plan your day!

Getting there: Expect the whole lower Queen Anne neighborhood and surrounding area to be extra busy during this popular festival. Consider arriving by transit, Monorail or bike; or plan to park your car a distance away and walk. For tips, check out Seattle Center’s getting here page.

Editor’s note: ParentMap authors Nicole Persun and Elisa Murray contributed to this article.

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