Folklife is the annually strange and fantastic four day congress of hippies and hipsters, dirty kids that never let go of the ‘90s and squeaky suburban parents, gold and silver statue ladies and sad mute clowns that wave rubber chickens and balloons at passersby. Most of all it is a place for folk music, a genre stretched for memorial day weekend to include anything that isn’t plugged in.
The music is a thing to behold. Bagpipes squealing out a Hendrix-esque solo over the hip-hop percussion of four drummers. Six marimbas of varying sizes pipe out some of the most invigorating music of the day, a very tall woman jumping and smashing her mallet onto the largest marimba with definite tribalistic energy that shakes out in low tones.
Hallucinating men and women with melting smiles offer sincere hugs, perhaps causing a contact high. A very small lady offers to serenade the addled mind with a vintage synth keyboard powered by AA batteries.
The music and deep-fried-anything that makes up Folklife does not come without its sadness.
At no cost to attendees, Folklife is one of the country’s largest community-run festivals, and certainly one of the most diverse in economic classes. The severely poor, elderly, homeless combat-vet panhandles next to a drunk man in his thirties leaning on his right leg, which is bound in an unconvincing cast. Both are largely ignored because moderate wealth always seems to create an extreme paranoia of people like the man faking injury, coupled with our bored society’s casual ability to equate exciting exceptions with the rule.
Perhaps a sixth of the population has the distinct bandana-and-dust flavor which denotes vagrancy, a thing which Seattle proves time and time again to alternatively fear and ignore. For some of these folks, festivals are all they do.
“I have traveled from festival to festival for almost eight years now,” a man who called himself Mordecai said. His dreads are laced with beads, and he keeps a single tiny songbird feather in his leather hat. “Barter festivals, music festivals, every Rainbow gathering my cute little ass can get to.”
“In the culture that has been created,” Mordecai adds, “people like me don’t feel viable. Expression is ridiculed, creativity is disvalued, and when anyone has a trouble, sadness is medicated. But in places like this,” he said, motioning to the festivities around him, “the townies are the ones that suddenly seem unviable.”
What Mordecai means by this is apparent to those who look. Musicians, artists, contortionists, the soul of Folklife is more sincerely engaged by its own vagrant bohemianism than it is by the townies, the clean suburban people fearful the gypsy magician is going to steal their wallet even as they reduce the gypsy in their minds to nothing but entertainment, like some show animal. People are reduced to something akin to reality TV.
Exiting the festival to mega phone wielding homophobic Christians was unpleasant, but in a way there is a certain honesty to these freakishly obsolete people that the townies do not have. They never come into the festival, and they are honest about their contempt for those inside of it.
The homophobes are as far away from the Seattle Center fountain as they can be while staying on the property. This is reaffirming, because the closer to the fountain, which acts as the geographic center of the festival, the more colorful people are, the more lucid. It is not certain whether this is an act of attraction, of like attracting like with a certain gravity, or of repulsion between unlike things.
If you belong here, you know it immediately.
“Jesus was a hippy,” someone shouted at the homophobes, then motioned to the festival grounds. “Welcome to his paradise.”