Best Bets at the Northwest Folklife Festival

The Northwest Folklife Festival takes over Seattle Center for the entire Memorial Day Weekend. Featuring hundreds of artists with dozens of interpretations of that word “folk,” the all-free, all-ages festival can be daunting. Here are our picks to help you find your folk.

Fin Records Showcase

Friday, May 24, 6–9 p.m.

This independent Ballard label specializing in local music and limited-edition vinyl offers a complete listening experience in an age when music is consumed, processed, and tossed aside like so much junk food (seriously, do you even know what’s on your iTunes anymore?). Its gorgeous blue and white marbled platters, special 7˝ pressings, and limited editions—complete with liner notes, a digital download code, and great cover art—are made for careful, deliberate listening. Plus, vinyl buyers tend to be more discriminating in their purchases (this is a real thing, after all), a concept that proportionately reflects the quality of the label’s roster. The showcase’s lineup covers the range of Fin talent from alt-country to ambient psych-rock, and it’ll be worth settling in for the whole show. With Lures, Low Hums, Davidson Hart Kingsbery, Red Jacket Mine. Fountain Lawn Stage.

The Jelly Rollers

Saturday, May 25, 12:25 p.m.

When you’re talking about the Jelly Rollers, what you’re really talking about is the blues. The Rollers started in 1985 as an acoustic duo—Darren Loucas on guitar and Sean Divine on harmonica and vocals—and over the years they’ve added bass and drums to the act -- with Rebecca Young now on bass and Eric Eagle on drums. The band’s full-volume take on a roots-infused, Chicago-style blues has made it a mainstay of the Pacific Northwest’s vibrant blues scene, with regular appearances at the Highway 99 Blues Club and the Port Townsend Blues Festival. If the names Little Walter or Sonny Boy Williamson ring any bells, you’ll be more than a little bit interested to check out the Jelly Rollers. Fountain Lawn Stage.


Saturday, May 25, 8:30 p.m.

There’s something very familiar about Spoonshine’s brand of Americana; it’s simple folk music with lyrics that often touch on natural themes. But what sets guitarists/vocalists Jacob Navarro and William Cook apart from other Americana bands is their conscious effort to bring the folk music of yesteryear into today’s world, incorporating heavy rock riffs alongside mandolin and upright bass. The group’s latest release, Song of the Sockeye, features Flogging Molly’s George Schwindt, adding yet another modern, raucous touch to a classic genre. Drummer Denali Williams and fiddler Jakob Breitbach also make guest appearances. (Also catch Spoonshine on Saturday afternoon at EMP’s Sky Church performing their takes on a few Jimi Hendrix classics during “Hey Hendrix,” a look at the artist’s life and work.) Fisher Green Stage.

KBCS 91.3 Showcase

Sunday, May 26, 1–4 p.m.

One of the best things about Folklife is the chance to discover emerging artists alongside established ones in an engaging and nurturing format you won’t find anywhere else. With a seasoned on-air crew including Earshot Jazz’s John Gilbreath and Christine Linde and programs like The Caravan and Bluegrass Ramble, Bellevue College’s long-standing listener-supported station plays a similar role. KBCS might not have the bumper-sticker bling of, say, KEXP, but at 8,000 watts it does have nearly twice KEXP’s range, meaning you can encounter new world-beat, folk, and jazz artists clear to Tacoma, and you don’t need Sirius or the web to do it. With Nancy K. Dillion & Friends, Jim Faddis, and David Maloney. Fisher Green Stage.

Hollow Earth Radio Showcase

Sunday, May 26, 7–10 p.m.

From its studio in the Central District, grassroots online radio station Hollow Earth provides outside-the-bandwidth music and other creative audio thoughts for adventurous ears, which makes it a natural choice for the loose-form, art-forward Folklife festival. This year, Hollow Earth’s showcase features eerie sound-capture technicians Scorpio Scorpio Scorpio (from the band’s bio: “Live performances occur primarily around the Solstice/Equinox”); edgy improv noisemaker Eric Ostrowski; left-field singer/songwriter Autococoon; and inventive singer/multi-instrumentalist Sokai Stilhed (pronounced “sockeye steelhead”). Altogether, a great fit for such an eclectic festival. Vera Project.

* K Records & Northern Showcase

Monday, May 27, 2–5 p.m.

Since releasing his first cassette under the K moniker more than 30 years ago, label proprietor Calvin Johnson has continued to hunt down inventive artists in the label’s Olympia hometown and beyond. This showcase, hosted with Oly all-ages haven Northern, features two of the label’s latest discoveries. Kendl Winter is an Olympian via the Ozarks and she sounds like it, playing a blend of bluegrass and endearing indie folk while plucking away on her banjo, Dobro, and guitar. The Shivas, on the other hand, are a true-blue Pac Northwest garage-punk outfit that just made its K debut with WhiteOut. Rounding out the bill are two K-related artists: Briana Marela released the hypnotic synth-pop full-length Speak From Your Heart last year on Bicycle Records, distributed by K; and while songwriter Eric Williger hasn’t released any K Records, he has helped get them out to the world while working in the mail-order department. Vera Project.

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