Come As You Are, Play As You Will
Memorial Day weekend gets a jump on summer with a range of festivals, street fairs and events big on audience participation … because summertime isn't meant to be a spectator sport.
Seattle Folklife Festival's celebration of world culture brings a smorgasbord of musical styles, readings, dances and, well, happenings of global citizens of all ages. (Photo: Piper Hanson)
There's nothing wrong with a festival where the music and the food never stop, but summer life's sweeter when the celebration includes audience participation. Memorial Day weekend kicks off the frolicsome fray of the season's festivals, with activities from crafting calligraphy in Pittsburgh to cycling in costume in Flagstaff, Ariz. In Monterey, Scottish festivals and Highland Games encourage us to high-step into tossing a 26-pound stone without creasing our kilts. Street and neighborhood fairs will transform the pavement from its bumper-to-bumper reality into a funky bumpin' dance floor. What's not to love about a little dancing in our eyes and laughter in our feet, diving headlong into summer's best celebrations ... with a few thousand of our closest friends?
Northwest Folklife Festival
Folklife isn't so much about banjos and mouth harps as it is a celebration of unplugged global culture ranging from live ghost stories to Balkan brass bands to a Bollywood dance extravagnza. Of course, you can still contra, square and line dance your heart out for 10 hours a day this weekend, and yes, you'll see plenty of impromptu bluegrass bands jamming at Seattle Center in this, the 50th-anniversary year of the Seattle World's Fair. But don't miss the local high-school jazz bands performing during their traditional Friday slots; it's an opportunity to suspend your belief that these are actually kids and not professionals performing from the jazz standard playbook. Play remains the thing here, whether you're learning Greek or Southeast Asian dance steps or taking a bow at the Fiddle for Violinist workshop.
Three Rivers Arts Festival
Once a source of Rust Belt derision, Pittsburgh now tops those "Best Places to Live" surveys, and one of the main reasons is the Steel City's devotion to public culture. The 10-day Three Rivers Arts Festival has been around for more than half a century, but the level of festivalgoer participation has never been stronger, as visitors get inspired to try plein air painting, blowing glass or turning wood. The Creativity Zone is the place where kids and adults work hand in brush with professional artists during the "I Made It! Market." Painting on a theme such as the city's renowned architecture, participants create a festival keepsake while increasing appreciation and knowledge about their magnificent metropolis.
In Flagstaff, Hullabaloo (seen here in its 2011 edition) is a civic mash-up of friends and neighbors disguised as a festival (Photo: Courtesy Missing Frame Photography)
Circus Bacchus? Dead Winter Carpenters? The Big Spank? If the performers names are this much fun, imagine what the actual performances must be like. Sure, lots of festivals have bike parades, but the characters and caricatures who pedal along the Hullabaloo tour route look like they took a tram from the 1890s with stops in the 1960s and, somehow, into the future. This may sound like kid's fare, except there's a separate section of rides and activities constructed especially for the under-10 set. Puppets and pantomimes populate the park, where it's never completely clear who's a performer and who's your neighbor. So grab a drum, your stilts and that clown outfit hidden deep in the recesses of your closet (or your mind) and join this civic mash-up disguised as a festival.
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