Seattle be the day

How clever of me to avoid references to Sleepless In Seattle and Frasier…D’oh!

All the people, so many people, they all go hand in hand, hand in hand through their FolkLife

You want to cut down on your FolkLife, mate and get electrified!

I drove in to Seattle through a couple of tunnels that reminded me a bit of the take off sequences in Battlestar Gallactica(remember, I’m 32, so I mean the Richard Hatch/Dirk Benedict version). It was a really sunny and warm day and the city is reasonably easy to drive through, so I was quite impressed. I was also impressed with the way the city seems to be a little less organised than it’s other American counterparts. Sure, blocks do seem to form the majority of the city, but I particularly liked the way some of the streets ramble up hill and down dale. I’m also a sucker for a city on the coast, as I like to look out over large expanses of water. I even liked Chicago for this reason, although it is on the shore of a lake, you find yourself getting the feeling you’re by the sea, as the lake stretches easily to the horizon and beyond.

I’d pre-booked my hotel (the Mediterranean), so I followed Little Miss SatNav to my destination, luckily got into the hotel car park, as the door happened to be open and went to check in. I think my hotel cost me roughly £50 a night and I was booked in for two. Parking was $15 a night and internet access was $5 a night. So, all in all, pretty cheap for a city and my room also had full kitchen facilities (although, curiously no utensils or pots and pans), so I thought I would also save on not having to eat out.

The receptionist very kindly pointed out where the hotel was on a map and where the festival was. She was about to tell me about the festival, when I interrupted and told her I knew all about the festival. The festival I had in mind was the Seattle International Film Festival that, although it didn’t look particularly great (it had Severance as part of the line up!), would be a good opportunity for me to see films as part of a festival.


The festival she had pointed out to me, that I strolled over to because it was right on my doorstep, was FolkLife. Never heard of it? Me neither. It’s been going for over 35 years – this was it’s 37th year. It’s free. They ask you to make a donation – a suggested $10 per day – but, they don’t hassle you for it. Apparently, the money goes on the organisation of the event. There is corporate sponsorship. But, I think I’m right in saying that the artists appearing do not receive payment. They sell CD’s, etc.

I walked up the hill to the Seattle Centre (in the shadow of the Space Needle) and when I crossed the entrance, already confused at the fact it was not the festival I was expecting, I was overwhelmed by the sights, sounds and smells.

I’d better explain the smells. There were plenty of soap dodgers there, but the smells that hit me when I entered were various food stalls. There must have been somewhere between 30 and 50 food stalls that covered so many different cuisines, I didn’t know where to start. Actually, I did. I was on the last day of my vegetarian week, so that narrowed it down a little. I opted for a falafel wrap from a Greek stall.

The sights. Well, I stood near one girl who had a very decorative neckless that turned out to be a live snake. There was the full gambit of people. Goths, grebos. emos, hippies, etc. you name it, they were there. Which is to say how open it was to all and how all were interested enough to be there. I did feel, at times, like Clint Eastwood in Coogan’s Bluff, walking through the crowds to Pigeon Toed Orange Peel. But there was a good, friendly vibe about the place.

The music covered more than the “hey-nonny-noo” that I was expecting. There were several stages in the open air and others held within the surrounding buildings. The music ranged from folk thru blues thrureggae – you get the picture: a bit of everything. The thing that I liked about it was that it was open to everyone who wanted to get involved. There were numerous workshops where you could pick up a drum or join in with singing. There were also seemingly no limitations to how may people could set up and perform in the grounds of the festival. The majority were busking or trying to sell CDs, but some did seem to be performing purely because they wanted to. In my opinion, they ranged from woeful through to quite good. My top picks would have been the guys who fused together bagpipes and a funky back beat and the guys who fused together a tuba and a funky back beat. If it’s got a good beat – I’m in!

There also were a few “performance artists” or “weirdos” – depending how you view such things. I found anyone trying to give out free hugs or free kisses looked the most sinister. I don’t think that looking particularly filthy (not the good filthy), wild eyed and carrying a bit of cardboard with “free hugz” scrawled on it is really the best way to promote peace and love. Perhaps someone should have set up a free baths site.

Speaking of sinister, any large gathering is likely to attract opportunist thieves, drug dealers, drug users, beggars and other undesirables isn’t it? I didn’t see any evidence of theft, nor did I hear of any. I did see, what looked to me, like drug users or perhaps they were drunk. I think I saw a drug deal go down: a particularly poor piece of slight of hand between a girl and an old guy, dressed head to toe in tie dye – she ended up with a wad of cash and he ended up with a small bag – draw your own conclusions. The beggars looked like they had all got together at the start of the day to discuss who was going to do what:

“I’ll lay flat out with a small plastic cup at my feet and no sign”.

“OK, I’m gonna walk through the crowds asking everyone for change”.

“I’m gonna go with a sign that says ‘travelling – broke and out of gas'”.

“My signs will say ‘ninjas killed my family”.

And so on…

I guess I saw 30 or so beggars.

I did go to the top of the Space Needle. Reminding me of a similar experience in Niagara, the views were good, visibility was clear and I took a whole host of photos. It was particularly interesting, for me, to be able to spot the route that I had driven in to the city.

I don’t want to detract from the majority of the crowd who were there to enjoy the festival for what it is. A free music festival. Some had been attending ever since it started. Some looked like locals who went along to see what it’s all about. Tourists that, like me, had stumbled upon it. The weather was great, the event was fun and varied enough to have something for everyone and I felt particularly lucky that I had changed my plans and gone to Seattle.





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