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johnross Seattle Folklife Memorial Day Weekend (94* d) RE: Seattle Folklife Memorial Day Weekend 02 Jun 04

I've just come from a post-Folklife party where I had several conversations that could easily have been part of this thread. The crowds, the commercial sponsors' impact, and the damn drummers are all products of the size and scale of the event, and they all contribute to the changes in the spirit and character of the Folklife Festival.

It's not the same event that it was in the 1970s, and as far as I'm concerned, it was a lot better in many ways back then. I agree with a lot of wht Don, Bob and others are saying in this thread and in the one specifically about the Northwest Folklife Festival.

If anybody can offer any practical suggestions about how to put this particular genie back into the bottle, I would love to hear them, and I can promise to pass them along.

My own approach is to do what I can to try to make sure thare are some events every year that are consistent with my own sense of what the Folklife Festival is supposed to be. The Phil Thomas program this year, and the Coffee House Reunion last year are the most recent results. And the Band Scramble "contests" that John Watt and I have run for more than a decade are very directly intended make sure that participatory events remain part of the mixture.

And I'm not alone. I could name several other people who arrange and organize good and interesting programs every year, just as I try to.

And it's equally true that the core staff are dedicated to keeping the "folk" in the Folklife Festival. At least three of them have graduate degrees in folklore or ethnomusicology. They're devoting a huge proportion of their time and energy into making the festival a "public folkore" event, and not just a showcase for singer-songwriters and ethnic junk food vendors.

For example, this year's focus on the people of the Horn of Africa was organized by working with the local immigrant communities from Somalia, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan. Their culture is as much a part of the culture of the Seattle area and the Pacific Northwest today as those of the earlier immigrants from Norway or Ireland or the ones who came up the Oregon Trail. It's not as if somebody from Folklife picked up the telephone and called a booking agent in New York or Paris or Addis Ababa and said, "This year we want to do the Horn of Africa. Who can you send us?"

These new immigrant groups are gradually becoming part of the broader regional cultural mix, just as the Vietnamese, Cambodian and Hmong immigrants did twenty-five years ago, and the Scandanavians a century ago. But the Folklife Festival is probably the only opportunity many of us will have to learn what our new neighbors are like, beyond what we might see on the menu in an ethnic restaurant.

In other words, yes, there is a lot to criticze about the Northwest Folklife Festival, but bringing in exhibits and performers from East Africa shouldn't be on that list. Those "international" performers at the festival are our neighbors in the Northwest, doing the things that they usually do in their churches and community centers for other members of their own ethnic or cultural groups. Damn right they should be part of a regional Northwest event.

I'll probably have more to contribute to this thread, but that's enough for now. The usual disclaimer applies: These are my own opinions and should be treated as such. I have no authority whatsoever to speak for Northwest Folklife, nor do I claim to be doing so.

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