Northwest Folklife Festival postponed

The event will not be held Memorial Day weekend for first time in 49 years.

By Michael Rietmulder / The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — As COVID-19 continues to disrupt our way of life, another longtime Seattle tradition will not go on as planned. The Northwest Folklife Festival announced Thursday that the Seattle Center institution is postponed.

The postponement marks the first time in 49 years that the festival will not be held over Memorial Day weekend. A makeup date was not given.

“After many difficult conversations and determining how we could continue planning amidst this time of uncertainty, we have come to the extremely difficult decision to postpone the 49th Annual Northwest Folklife Festival (May 22-25, 2020),” organizers wrote in a letter to performers. “The Festival has taken place every Memorial Day Weekend at the Seattle Center for the past 48 years. This decision was not made lightly, but ultimately, we feel this is the best decision for our greater community.”

For decades, the sprawling event has been a multi-day, multicultural jamboree celebrating the diversity in the Pacific Northwest. The community-driven fest brings more than “6,000 artists and culture bearers” to Seattle Center each year, with support from 600-700 volunteer staff. The arts and music festival draws around 250,000 people each year, according to Folklife’s website. Each year, the nonprofit organization sets a particular cultural focus for the event. This year’s was aimed at honoring our communities’ elders, a population most susceptible to the novel coronavirus.

“In a year where we are honoring and celebrating our elders through our Cultural Focus: Living Legacies, our responsibility to practice exemplary community care is paramount,” organizers wrote. “We believe that postponement of this important tradition is necessary to protect the public, and particularly our most vulnerable populations.”

With concert calendars already decimated by social distancing guidelines aimed at curbing the virus’ spread, Folklife becomes the first major Seattle-area music festival to be postponed. Other marquee summer fests Capitol Hill Block Party and THING in Port Townsend have delayed lineup announcements and ticket on-sale dates amid the uncertainty.

Like many festivals, Folklife has weathered financial difficulty in recent years. In 2017, organizers warned that without an uptick in donations, the festival long touted as free, could cease to exist. Festival goers were encouraged to donate $10 per person or $20 for families. Despite this year’s disruption, organizers sounded optimistic about the festival’s future.

“As we look ahead to celebrating 50 years in 2021, we look towards future days to gather as friends, neighbors, and family alike,” executive artistic director Kelli Faryar said in the announcement. “Although efforts have shifted to serve our community in this time of need, we’re envisioning what the next rendition of the 49th Annual Northwest Folklife Festival can look like to best serve the needs of our community.”

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