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Best Tips for the Northwest Folklife Festival 2019 With Kids

Our top Folklife picks with kids, from family drumming to a celebration of Indigenous Peoples

Nancy Chaney

Published on: May 22, 2019

Circle of Indigenous Peoples Celebration area. Credit: Christopher Nelson

If you can navigate the crowds without losing your kids or your cool, the Northwest Folklife Festival is one of Seattle's most amazing — and affordable — family events. Held every year over Memorial Day weekend, it features hundreds of performers from cultural communities around the Northwest, as well as dance and music performances, hands-on activities, workshops and more. It's an opportunity to introduce your children to the world in the most accessible way: through music, art and dance.

The cultural focus of this year's festival is Youth Rising. This theme aims to provide a platform for and elevate the voices of youth leaders, artists, musicians and activists. It's the perfect year to take your family and let your kids be inspired.

The full 2019 Northwest Folklife schedule offers a dizzying array of performances and hands-on activities, Friday through Monday. And it's totally cool just to wander around as see what sparks the interest of your crew.

If you want a little order to your wandering, we've picked out a handful of highlights for families around which you can plan your visit. Check them out.

1. The Discovery Zone

While the entire festival is family-friendly, the Discovery Zone is the space dedicated to fun for kids and families. Find it by the not-to-be-missed Artists at Play playground and make it your home base.

Hands-on activities in the Discovery Zone include:

  • Colors of Peace: Create your personal expression of peace on paper to be shared all over the Discovery Zone. 
  • Vedic Vibes and Virtues: Explore a sampling of South Asian cultural traditions by mixing your own spice blend, weaving a small basket or getting your fortune told through palm reading. 
  • Wood Boat Building: Build a toy boat using real tools with the Center for Wooden Boats.

Performances and workshops on the Discovery Zone stage include:

  • Scottish dance performance (Friday, 5 p.m.)
  • How to play the Native American Flute workshop for kids (Saturday, 4 p.m.)
  • Performance by Merry Missives of Moscow, a children's dance group (Sunday, noon)
  • Games, songs and dance of Africa kids' workshop (Monday, 1 p.m.)
Toy boat building with the Center for Wooden Boats. Credit: Christopher Nelson

2. Circle of Indigenous Peoples Celebration area

Dedicated to showcasing Indigenous cultural traditions, this space on the lawn near Broad Street is a great place for families. Enjoy art, dance and storytelling, or join a participatory activity. Friday afternoon is a great time to stop by; experience tribal games and dances with champion hoop dancer Ryan Yellowjohn (Friday, 2:30 p.m.), and singing and dancing activities with the Daybreak Star Preschool (Friday, 3 p.m.). Check the full Broad Street Lawn schedule for more happenings.

3. Drumming for everyone

There's a whole space at Folklife designed to tap into the power of communal drumming. It's the Rhythm Tent and all are welcome. While all sessions are open to everyone, these highlights are extra family-friendly, designed for little hands and beginners.

  • Rumble & Rhythm Family Drum Circle with Jim Boneau (Saturday, noon)
  • Salmon Run Drum with John ‘Jamtown’ Hayden (Monday, 11 a.m.)
The Rhythm Tent at Northwest Folklife. Credit: Christopher Nelson

4. Family dances

Get moving to live music with your crew in super-fun and easy-to-follow dances with a live caller. You will love it (Sunday, noon and 2 p.m.).

5. Rock out!

The Kindiependent Showcase featuring popular kindie bands is always a big hit for families. This year's show features Recess Monkey, The Not-Its! and the Salamanders rocking out on the Fountain Law (Monday, 11 a.m.–1 p.m.)

Kindie band The Not-Its! rock the Fountain Lawn stage at Folklife. Credit: Christopher Nelson

6.  More picks!

  • Raise a Teepee: Learn about Indigenous Peoples on the Broad Street Lawn at this kick-off ceremony (Friday, 9 a.m.)
  • Aztec Dance with the Salinas Family: See visually spectacular Aztec Indigenous dance traditions from Mexico, also on the Broad Street Lawn (Friday,1:30 p.m.)
  • Irish Community Jam: Jig to traditional Irish music in the Jam Tent (Saturday, 2–2:50 p.m.)
  • Honkfest!: Get ready for a honking, rhythmic good time at the Honkfest Parade (Monday, 5 p.m.)

Just scratching the surface...

The number of performances and workshops at Folklife can make your head spin. As mentioned, it's awesome to just wander and take in the sights and sounds. If you prefer a more surgical strike, use the highlights above or browse the full schedule to select a handful of target activities.

Seattle Center itself is also packed with many more family-friendly opportunities to play, explore the arts and learn. Check out our age-by-age guide to Seattle Center for what might best suit the members of your crew, or search for new-to-you hidden spots in our guide to the quiet side of Seattle Center.

If you go...

Where: The 2019 Northwest Folklife Festival takes place at Seattle Center, located at 305 Harrison St. in Seattle.

When: Friday–Monday, May 24–27, 2019

Cost: Suggested donation of $10 per person or $20 per family, per day

More info: Check out Folklife's extensive and detailed daily schedule. You can filter the schedule for different interests, and even create your own itinerary if you wish.

Getting there: Expect the whole lower Queen Anne neighborhood to be extra busy during this popular festival. Consider arriving by transit, Monorail (!), by bike or parking your car a distance away and walking. For tips, check out Seattle Center's transportation page.

Editor's note: Nicole Persun and Elisa Murray contributed to this article.

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