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Northwest Folklife Festival continues tradition of arts discovery, community online

Northwest Folklife Festival has shifted online and will take place May 23-25.
Photo courtesy of Christopher Nelson
Northwest Folklife Festival has shifted online and will take place May 23-25.

Countless staple regional events that typically mark the start of summer have been canceled due to COVID-19. But the 49th annual Northwest Folklife Festival has made the shift to online. “From Home to Home: Northwest Folklife Festival” takes place this Memorial Day weekend. 

Reese Tanimura, managing director at Northwest Folklife, said even though the platform has changed, the festival’s focus is still the same.

“It’s remained something that is not about headliners, it is about people showing up for each other,” Tanimura said. “And I think particularly during this time, that is what is needed — is people being seen, being heard.” 

Other elements of the annual festival also remain the same. Along with performances from multiple art disciplines and cultures, there will be an online marketplace for various local vendors. 

The virtual event will be a little smaller than what was originally planned for the in-person festival. More than 30 different performers are on the schedule this year, offering music, storytelling and even group dances over Zoom. The festival originally had more than 600 artists booked.

Eduardo Mendonça is a Brazilian composer and musician who has been performing at Folklife since he moved to Seattle about 25 years ago. He said one thing he’ll miss this year is the audience.

“This kind of connection is already missing. I don’t have to wait for my performance to feel already that I’ll be missing that portion,” Mendonça said. 

Despite the festival being a little smaller, Tanimura said there’s still an opportunity to explore new things.

“It’s that same sense of discovery both with maybe art forms that you’re familiar with, but it also might give you the chance to experience something you haven’t seen before,” she said. 

Folklife’s virtual festival is still free, although there is a suggested donation of $20-30 per day. Donations will go toward supporting Folklife's operating costs. There’s also an option to donate directly to artists through Folklife’s artists page.

Rebekah Way is an on-call news host at KNKX. She began her career in public radio as a news intern at KNKX, where she's also worked as an interim producer and reporter. Rebekah holds a life-long passion for music and also works as a professional musician and educator in the Seattle area.