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Seattle’s Iconic Northwest Folklife Festival: It’s Back!

Memorial Day weekend fest is fun, super family-friendly and back in person for 2022

Author Kari Hanson

Published on: May 19, 2022

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). After two years of virtual performances, Seattle’s beloved Northwest Folklife Festival is back with live, in-person performances and events!

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 51st edition. While it is free for all to attend, there is a suggested donation of $20 per person.

As with nearly all events in 2022, Folklife will look a little different from what families may remember. There are both live and virtual events, and proof of COVID-19 vaccination will be required at certain venues for everyone ages 12 and older. For the most current COVID-19 guidelines, please check the Folklife website.

This year’s theme, Metamorphosis: In with the Old, In with the New, celebrates our ability to change and adapt in the face of challenges. Check out the website for more info and to learn about the process of making this year’s poster, which was a collaborative project that involved four local artists.

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

Live events perfect for kids and the whole family:

  • Gary Paine: Head over to the Cornish Courtyard to see Gary Paine, who has been leading singalongs for children for the past 40 years. (Friday, 2:05 p.m.)
  • Jamtown Howdy Band: In this fun performance at the Fisher Green Stage, you’ll get to be part of the band! Instruments and other props are shared with the audience for this communal music experience. (Saturday, 11 a.m.)
  • Captain Awesome Sauce: Stick around the Fisher Green Stage for this fun and interactive music performance for the whole family. (Saturday, 11:50 a.m.)
  • The Musical Socks Stringband: Put on your dancing shoes as you head over to the Alki Court Stage to listen to dance music played by students. (Saturday, 12:15 p.m.)
  • Family Rhythm Love with ‘Jamtown’ John Hayden: Find the Rhythm Tent and get ready to make some noise with a drum, a percussion instrument, or even your own two hands. (Saturday, 1 p.m., and Monday, 2 p.m.)
  • Music Together with Music Center of the Northwest: Start your Folklife Sunday off right with interactive music and dance at the Jam and Learn Tent. (Sunday, 11 a.m.)
  • Rumble & Rhythms Family Drum Circle with Jim Boneau: You know you can’t leave Folklife until you’ve played in at least one drum circle, so head to the Rhythm Tent for your chance! (Saturday, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.)
  • Eli Rosenblatt: Get ready to bust out your best moves for Eli’s family dance party at the Fountain Lawn. (Monday, 11 a.m.)
  • 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 at the Fountain Lawn. (Monday, 11:50 a.m.)
  • Brian Vogan and His Good Buddies: The Fountain Lawn will keep on rocking with this creative and inclusive musical performance. (Monday, 12:40 p.m.)
Kindie band The Not-Its! rock the Fountain Lawn stage at Folklife. Credit: Christopher Nelson

Other things to check out

While not specifically aimed at kids, there are plenty of Folklife performances and experiences that even the youngest drum circle members will enjoy. Here are just a few suggestions:

The Circle of Indigenous Peoples Celebration

Dedicated to showcasing Indigenous cultural traditions, this space on the lawn near Broad Street is a good place for families. Enjoy art, dance and storytelling, or join a participatory activity. Saturday afternoon is a great time to stop by; experience tribal games and dances with champion hoop dancer Ryan Yellow John (Saturday, 1:30 p.m.) and watch the Vicky Sobalof Children Dancers (Saturday, 3:30 p.m.). Check out the Broad Street Lawn schedule for more details.

Vera Project and gallery

This all-ages creative space (which just celebrated its 20-year anniversary) hosts a great lineup on its Folklife stage, including many young performers who will inspire your kids to pick up their guitar or dust off the piano and start playing. See the Folklife website for the full schedule. Some highlights include:

  • More Music @ The Moore. This is always an incredible show, and was a popular school field trip destination before COVID-19 (hopefully it will be again one day!). Young musicians of various styles perform individually and together in this energetic show. Seriously, do not miss this! (Friday, 5:50 p.m.)
  • The Rhapsody Songsters. Youths ages 11–18 perform from a diverse repertoire ranging from jazz to waltzes to blues. Learn more about the Rhapsody Project and its celebration of music, heritage and culture through an anti-racist lens. (Saturday, 3:45 p.m.) This group also will be at the Jam and Learn Tent leading a workshop on Sunday at 12:05 p.m., followed by a performance.
  • 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! (Sunday, 12:40 p.m.)
  • Northwest School House Band. Entertaining young musicians from the Northwest School study and perform popular music styles. (Sunday, 1:30 p.m.)
The Rhythm Tent at Northwest Folklife. Credit: Christopher Nelson

Metamorphosis Gallery

Metamorphosis: Emerging Talent art show. Highlighting art from eight emerging young artists (ages 14–24) from around the Seattle area, this display is open through May 30 during Vera Project business hours. Stop by and check out the amazing talent on display, from oil pastels to digital paint.

Dance party

Music from around the world, including polka, tango, Irish dance and the music of south Louisiana, can be found all weekend on the Fisher Pavilion stage. Pop by throughout the weekend, as there is almost always something fun to see.

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 Festival 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, crepes, gyros 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.

Virtual options

Select performances from the Mural Amphitheater will be streamed live. Additional virtual performances will stream on Facebook and YouTube. Be sure to check the Folklife virtual schedule for more details.

There will also be a virtual Folklife Film Forum showing during festival days. You can watch the films in person at SIFF, or online via Vimeo. Check the Folklife website for details and schedule, both coming soon. 

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 2022 Northwest Folklife Festival takes place at Seattle Center, located at 305 Harrison St. in Seattle.

When: Friday–Monday, May 27–30, 2022

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. 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 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: Nicole Persun and Elisa Murray contributed to this article.

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