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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
johnross Seattle Folklife Memorial Day Weekend (94* d) RE: Seattle Folklife Memorial Day Weekend 26 May 04

Reggie and others--

I absolutely agree that the Folklife Festival has gotten too big and too crowded. But that's one of the prices of success. As far as I'm concerned, it was at about the right size maybe twenty years ago.

But the reality is that huge numbers of people come to the festival, and so it's necessary to worry about things like crowd control and public safety. And that drives a lot of the logistical planning that happens every year.

For example, the program folks try very hard to schedule concerts and other indoor events that will just about fill those theaters, without creating a huge waiting line outside the door. Every person in a theater is not walking around, so they're not adding to the crowded foot traffic.

When a street performer places him/herself in a traffic choke point, the crowd surrounding that performace makes it even more difficult for other people to make their way through that location. So the festival staff tell the performers to take their act someplace else. Sometimes, it's just a matter of moving back onto the grass or asking the folks watching to take a step closer so they don't block the sidewalk. But sometimes, the only option is to move to a different place, away from the high-traffic location.

We all know that the crowds are difficult to tolerate. But we can reduce their impact by working together.

It's a vicious circle (cycle?): as the crowds have gotten larger, the festival planners have had to add more stages and programs. And that costs more money, which means that the festival has to keep attracting big crowds to generate the revenue to support itself.

Street performers do add a lot to the spirit and the "value" of the Folklife Festival. But so do the thousands of performers who sing, play and dance on stages, and who sell their CDs through the Folklife Store. Nobody is saying "Don't sell your CDs;" they're just insisting that you contribute your fair share to the cost of making the event happen so you have a place to sell them.

Look. I write books about computers for a living. I receive a lot of my own income through an agent who takes a commission off the top before I see any money. It sure would be nice if I didn't have to pay that commission--I could probably take a nice vacation or replace my 16-year-old car. But my agent spends his time talking to editors and publishers while I spend mine writing. So he finds work for me, and he keeps me busy. Without him, I wouldn't make nearly as much money. So he earns his commission. Sure, he makes a lot more money off his commissions on "The Internet for Dummies" which has sold something like nine million copies than he makes on anything I've ever written. But would it be fair for me to tell him, "you make enough money off those big huge sellers, so you shouldn't charge me a commission on the book that sold four thousand copies"? Of course not.

As for the idea of moving part of the festival to another location, it was tried a couple of years ago, when there were some performances at South Lake Union. The audience did not follow. There were literally fewer than ten people in the audience for those sets. In at least one case, there were more people on the stage than there were in the audience. And that was for a solo singer.

Why do people come to the Folklife Festival? Sure, those of us who care about folk music come for the music and to see friends we haven't seen in a year, but for many of the people in the crowd, the music is just part of a much bigger attraction. It's the crafts, and "watching the hippies", and the food and the overall spirit of the event that draws them. Still others come to see their nieces and grandchildren perform in the Irish step dance program or the taiko drum group. A lot of us spend a lot of time and effort to come up with interesting programs every year, but the sad truth is that many of the people who come are more interested in seeing the guy on the unicycle than spending an hour watching ethnic dance or old-time fiddlers. But without the scheduled programs, the whole thing turns into The Bite of Seattle (which attracts an even larger crowd, by the way).

If anybody has ideas about how to solve the acoustical problems created by the drummers around the fountain, please share it with the festival staff. There are comment forms at every information booth, or write a letter or an e-mail after festival. Those suggestions get read by all the planning staff and all the board members.

Disclaimer: I will be chasing around the Folklife Festival next weekend in a sweatshirt that says "Staff" on the front. But everything in this message and anything else I post on Mudcat is my own opinion.

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