For those of you who don't know, Folklife is a four-day festival that takes place each year on Memorial Day weekend at Seattle Center. Stages are set up all over the grounds and thousands of volunteer performers apply to be a part of it.
|Not too long before my first|
time performing at Folklife.
The following year I performed at Folklife for the first time. It was at the stage set up next to the Kobe Bell. Some of my high school friends came, and before too many more years, attending Folklife was the official start of Summer.
That was thirty three years ago. Once or twice I missed the festival entirely, but usually I went. After that first performance, I didn't apply again until the formation of my band, Wicked Celts. We performed every year during the band's lifetime. By the time the it was winding down, Slighe nan Gaidheal was starting to fill up my calendar, so our musical group, Seirm, would keep me getting up on stages at Folklife. I never once had an application rejected.
In 2012 I released my first solo CD, and started looking for opportunities to perform so I could promote the recording and make some progress toward resurrecting my solo career. I applied to Folklife and was accepted. I even got a pretty good time slot.
The next year I applied again, and got a mediocre time slot and had the absolute worst sound engineering experience of my life. The stage was awash in feedback the entire show. Folklife 2013 was a nightmare for me.
Then, in 2014, the part of Seattle Center where Folklife programmed most of its British Isles content was going to be under construction and unavailable. This is the year I will always think of as The Blood Bath. My application was rejected, along with many, many of my best musical friends. We were all upset, but tried to give Folklife the benefit of the doubt and soldiered on.
Then, as if by fate, I found myself the recipient of a pair of complimentary tickets to a fabulous concert by Le Vent du Nord. Doug and I went, and we hadn't been in our seats too long before our hosts introduced us to another beneficiary of their generosity. The individual had only just left a position at Folklife that involved making application decisions, so before I could stop myself, I asked "So, what was up this year?" The individual hesitated a moment, then said: "Oh. You're that Seumas." Bingo.
The individual related the official Folklife narrative about how the usual British Isles content stage was unavailable and how only some of the customary acts could be accommodated on other stages... If they had stopped there it might have worked, but they didn't. After all, they continued, the British Isles genre did have a much higher acceptance rate than any other genre so leveling the playing field... [over to my inner voice] ...was an opportunity to cut the second rate acts who were just getting in for the sake of Celtic coolness... [back to the outer world]
I had been cut as a second-rate act. It was a bitter pill to swallow.
Since then, I've had plenty of time to think back over the last three plus decades of supporting Folklife and realized that there has been an evolving pattern of change from my first experience of the festival. Some examples:
- There used to be one big hall of vendors where artists and craftspeople of all kinds, including instrument vendors were housed. First the instruments were taken out and isolated in a musical instrument emporium, then they were eliminated. That's right: you can't buy a fiddle at Folklife anymore.
- Sandy Bradley used to run a musical instrument auction, which was a fantastic opportunity for musicians to sell unwanted instruments, and for aspiring folks to buy them; sometimes at excellent prices. Sandy retired. Folklife stopped holding the auction.
- Folklife used to sell your CDs for you all weekend. Now you can set up a table next to your stage if you have someone to staff it for you while you perform.
- Electric instruments used to be excluded from Folklife. Now they blare across the Seattle Center and drown out the traditional music.
- There used to be a performer's appreciation party on the Saturday evening of the weekend held at a nearby venue with many spaces for musicians to mix and meet each other. Now it's held in the same hospitality barn that's open to performers all weekend. There's no additional effort made whatsoever.
- Performers have long enjoyed having the instrument check-in room, and that continues today, but it's run by the local scouting council for tips, not by Folklife.
- This year, performers were reminded that they are not allowed to use Seattle Center bathrooms to change in and out of performance attire. I plan on taking off my kilt in the lobby of the theatre.
|Almost certainly my last performance at Folklife in 2013|