Monday, May 25, 2009

Not an Autoharp in Sight: Folklife 2009

Way back in the eighties, I used to work at the Tower store at 5th & Mercer. And without a doubt, the most nightmarish weekend of them all was during Folklife. Yes, we called it "Jokelife," but that didn't diminish its awfulness. For one thing, it always rained and I don't mean the sort of half-assed drizzle that falls nearly year round here. This was torrential; buckets and buckets for three solid days. This was enough to force most of the hippies (they were real, genuine, original hippies, so therefore, they were quite disagreeable sorts) into the store to wait for the rain to stop, which it never did - not for the whole weekend. The entire store smelled like wet, slightly sweaty wool. I'll never forget that smell. Once the store was full of wet hippies, they'd just go ahead and sit down wherever they wanted. Anybody asking them to move would feel the sting of hippie righteousness, because, after all, man, they weren't hurtin' anybody, man. A few would come in and very obviously shoplift for whatever reasons they thought best, so the security guys were in full arm-bending mode. Occasionally, we'd have to tow some dumb Folklifer's car, because he hadn't read the signs posted all around the parking lot that said they'd get towed if they parked there and went off to Folklife. Yeah, it was always a treat dealing with irate folkies. In short, the store was a total zoo, with a pungent smell to match. Since I've always associated Folklife with such madness, I've stayed away for nearly 20 years. But it's a new millennium, the Tower store is gone and I decided to pay Folklife a brief visit. Of course, I waited till the afternoon of the last day to go, but I did jump Belltown's northern border and stage a visit.

Here are a few shots of the sea of humanity:

Lots of people, but strangely enough, not a lot of them folkin' out. No wait, here are some:

And some more:

You know, I expected more drum circles and things like that, but most of the instrumentalists there were fiddle players. Many were not very good. Sure, they were trying hard and having fun, but good intentions don't negate bad music. Well, maybe if you're David Helfgott, that guy from Shine, but everyone else is excluded. In addition to the musicians, there were all these roving gangs of tweens offering free hugs. I did not take the bait. Hugging strangers is never advisable until you know their politics. Teach your children that.

In my brief time there, I looked hard for the least capable and inspired act. It had to be these guys:

That's a fellow playing a beat-up mandolin and a woman attempting to step dance, all the while looking just slightly too happy. They were not good. Almost everyone performing there was not good. I see now! If nobody's any good, we'll all feel better about ourselves. That's a brilliant plan!

OK, it's not like I haven't been to Folklife in 20 years. I actually played there a few years ago. That was back when they staked out the entire Exhibition Hall for jazz bands. I only remember three things: 1) the night was cold and very rainy; 2) once we got going, we had about 300 people dancing to us; and, 3) we didn't sound very good. That's probably because the band wasn't very good to begin with. I tried, but I was but 1/17 of the assembled forces.

So that's what Folklife was like for me for about 20 minutes. I have no desire to ever go again.

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