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How to Rock the Northwest Folklife Festival With Kids

From hip-hop to family dances to a deep dive on Mexican culture, our top Folklife picks and tips

Published on: May 21, 2018

Christopher Nelson

If you go...

Where: Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St.

When: Friday–Monday, May 25–28, 2018

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

Details: Northwest Folklife Festival website including detailed daily schedule

Getting there: Find tips on parking and transit on Seattle Center's transportation page.


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 buskers, dance performances, workshops and more. It's an opportunity to introduce your children to the world in the most accessible way: through music, art and dance.

This year's cultural focus hits close to home: "Echoes of Aztlán and Beyond" explores what it means to be Mexican-American or Chicano/a in the Pacific Northwest through stories, art, film, music, song, cuisine, dance, language and culture. Highlights include food workshops (yum!), a pop-up mercado, a Latin dance party, a panel on DACA and a Oaxaqueño showcase.

Plus, there is a dedicated space just for families: The Discovery Zone (in the Next 50 Pavilion, near Artists at Play playground) boasts an ever-growing roster of activities and performances just for kids. 

See the full 2018 Folklife schedule to figure out your Folklife game plan (you can log in and bookmark your faves), but here are our top tips for this year's fest. 

Toy boat building at Discovery Zone. Photo credit: Christopher Nelson

Home base: The Discovery Zone

Ground zero for families at Folklife with younger kids is the Discovery Zone, a fenced area in the Next 50 Pavilion that offers performances, hands-on activities and more kid fun. See the website for a full list of hands-on activities and performances at the Discovery Zone, but favorites include:

  • The Vedic Cultural Center’s Indian spice-mixing activity
  • Family history collage making with the Northwest African American Museum
  • Workshops including Brazilian capoeira, Native American flute, Hawaiian hula, sea shanty singing and hand drumming
  • Music performances including North Indian sitar, French pop, sing-alongs, Music Center of the Northwest’s “Music Together” program and flamenco dance

And if you need some chill time, the Discovery Zone also features a covered area with picnic tables where the whole family can pause and plan the next stop.

Beyond the Discovery Zone: Program highlights around Seattle Center for families

Folklife is by nature a family-friendly festival, but you can also filter the schedule to find the most family-friendly programs. Beyond the Discovery Zone stage, which hosts more than a dozen performances a day, from hip-hop to sing-alongs to sea shanties, there are many more kid-friendly performances in the general festival.

Dancing at the Kindiependent Showcase. Photo credit: Christopher Nelson

Here are a few highlights:

  • It’s a polka party!: Friday, May 25, 2–3 p.m. on the Armory Court Stage: Learn to dance this blindingly fast, high-energy dance.
  • Bollywood Showcase: Saturday, May, 26, 5:45–7:15 p.m. at the Exhibition Hall Stage: A slew of top Bollywood dance troupes in the Northwest perform together.
  • Aztec Dance with the Salinas Family: Saturday, May 26, 5:15–7 p.m. on the Open-Air Dance Stage: Visually spectacular Aztec indigenous dance traditions from Mexico.

Cultural focus
This year's cultural focus will engage all ages. Photo credit: Christopher Nelson

  • Sound Off! Showcase: Sunday, May 27, 2:30–4:30 p.m. at the Vera Project: All-ages band contest features Strawberry Mountain, Maiah Wynne & Her Sleepless Knights, Misundvrstood and Gypsy Temple.
  • Irish country dance: Monday, May 28, 3–3:50 p.m. at Fisher Pavilion: The Northwest branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann will teach Irish country dancing.
  • Honk! Presents: Monday, May 28, 5:45–8 p.m. on the Fountain Lawn Stage: A selection of blasting brass bands.
  • Kindiependent Showcase: Monday, May 28, 11 a.m.–2 p.m. on the Fountain Lawn Stage: Dance the day away to popular groups including Recess Monkey, The Not-Its!, Johnny Bregar, Eli Rosenblatt and Brian Vogan and his Good Buddies. Following the show, the party will continue with new family rock band The Salamanders, coming all the way from Missoula, Montana.

Folklife crowd
Northwest Folklife crowd. Photo credit: Christopher Nelson


More fun at Seattle Center

Seattle Center, of course, is 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.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2016 and just updated for 2018.

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