The Northwest Folklife Festival drew an estimated 235,000 people to Seattle Center on Memorial Day weekend.

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Fiddles, washboards and elephant ears — for many, these signal the start of summer and the celebration that is Folklife.

One of the largest free community arts festivals in America, the Northwest Folklife Festival pulled in around 235,000 people to Seattle Center over the Memorial Day weekend, organizers estimate. That’s less than last year’s count of 275,000.

This year marked Folklife’s 40th festival. Compared with its first year, which featured about 300 artists, some 6,000 were in the lineup this weekend, performing everything from Egyptian drumming to Hawaiian dance.

A Bulgarian performance of dance, folk music and singing was so popular that Seattle police reported that the line for the show snaked outside the door, weaving through the parking lot and into the street.

“Folklife is for all folks,” said festival Executive Director Robert Townsend. “We have complete inclusion of all people.”

New this year was the indie-roots stage with 40 performers, which included regional acts such as stomp-clap-sweetheart folk trio Polka Dot Dot Dot.

Also new were artists from the Urban Craft Uprising, Seattle’s largest indie crafts fair, which will be held July 9 and 10 at the Expedition Hall of Seattle Center. They sold jewelry, T-shirts and paper goods from 27 booths over the weekend.

A mainstay every year are the hundreds of independent street performers who line the festival’s walkways, performing for change. Violinists Erin Kelly and Carina Vincenti, both from the Seattle Youth Symphony, together earned $60 Sunday.

While the festival is free, there is a suggested donation of $10 for individuals and $20 for families. A 2008 study found that only 15 percent to 18 percent of festivalgoers donate.

The majority of festivalgoers are still families.

“It’s free and there’s no pressure,” said Rachid Ouardi, of West Seattle, who brought his family, including 3-½-year-old and 1-½-year-old sons Nigel and Henry. “We just come and take it easy.”

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or