The 2016 Northwest Folklife Festival — Friday-Monday (May 27-30) — this year takes as its cultural focus “The Power of the Human Voice Through Song.”
In her lovely 2013 book “Imperfect Harmony,” Stacy Horn writes: “Life is hard … but singing is the one thing in my life that never fails to take me to where disenchantment is almost nonexistent and feeling good is pretty much guaranteed.”
Anyone who has ever sung around a campfire, in church or at a street protest knows what Horn is talking about. To celebrate that feeling, the Northwest Folklife Festival — Friday-Monday (May 27-30) — this year takes as its cultural focus “The Power of the Human Voice Through Song.”
“The hope is that whether you’re a singer or not, this is a cultural focus you can become part of immediately,” says Folklife programs director Kelli Faryar.
Northwest Folklife Festival
11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Sunday, May 27-29, and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday, May 30, at Seattle Center, 305 Harrison St.; suggested donation $10 (800-684-7300 or nwfolklife.org).
The program was inspired by James Roe, who for years coordinated the festival’s participatory singing in the acoustically flattering courtyard of Cornish Playhouse.
“Right around the time we were thinking about the cultural focus,” recalls Faryar, “Jim passed, and so it just seemed like a perfect year to have a whole festival of singing, not only to honor Jim but to bring people together to sing and have a good time.”
The courtyard chorus happens every day (noon-8 p.m. Friday, May 27; 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 28-29; and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday, May 30, Cornish Courtyard). But there will be lots of other opportunities to lift up your voice and sing.
No doubt one of the most popular will be the gospel singalong led by Patrinell Wright, director of the Total Experience Gospel Choir (1:35 p.m. Saturday, May 28, Fisher Green), who will lead the crowd in “This Little Light of Mine” and other favorites.
Still got that dog-eared copy of the IWW songbook? Then bring it to “Together We Sing,” a program of protest songs, work songs and sea chanties led by Janet Stecher of the Seattle Labor Chorus (7 p.m. Saturday, May 28, Cornish Playhouse).
If you like to sing while hoisting a glass, drop by the Fisher Green beer garden, where musicians will lead pub-song singalongs (times TBA).
And if you’ve always harbored a secret hankering to learn to yodel, take in Wylie Gustafson’s workshop (6 p.m. Sunday, May 29, Armory Lofts).
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Children’s songs — lullabies, nursery rhymes and playground songs — are the focus of a participatory show by composer and ethnomusicologist Masguda Shamsutdinova (2 p.m. Saturday, JBL Theater).
If you’d rather listen than sing, there are plenty of voice-centric shows you can attend with your mouth shut. The festival’s marquee showcase, “The Power of the Human Voice Through Song,” features acclaimed Canadian gospelizers The Sojourners, with Khari McClelland; Mary Sherhart’s mesmerizing Bulgarian Voices of Seattle Women’s Choir; doo-wop quartet The Main Attraction; shapenote singers The Sacred Cow Harmogenizers; and the Native American drum ensemble Southern Express (7 p.m. Saturday, May 28, Bagley Wright Theatre).
Another showcase celebrates the Columbia River songs of Woody Guthrie (3 p.m. Monday, May 30, Fisher Green Stage). Earlier that day, KEXP DJ Greg Vandy will read from his excellent new book about that project, “26 Songs in 30 Days” (1:30 p.m. Monday, May 30, SIFF Film Center).
Back in the day, Folklife used to host a Beatles singalong on the Bagley Wright Lawn that was one of the most popular participatory programs of the weekend. Though that’s long gone and you will no longer hear the climbing “naah-nah-nah-nana-nah-naah” chorus of “Hey Jude,” there are so many other opportunities for community singing and listening you’re bound to come away “feeling good,” as Horn promises in her book.