Programming the Festival: How Does it Work?

The gorgeous ladies of Programming. From left: Jerin Falkner, Kelli Faryar and Lucie Klimes. Center: Debbie Fant

Do you ever wonder how four days of music, 26 stages and over 6,000 performers are organized and scheduled for the Festival? Well, I do.

With that being said, I went to the Programming Department yesterday afternoon to learn a bit more about this gigantic task.

First off, I’ll dispel any preconceived notions of the proverbial waving of wands or snapping of fingers. If this were true, the Northwest Folklife Festival would be somewhat of an anomaly. What our Programming Department has in abundance is patience, passion for music and culture and a keen ear.

Already, when you walk into their office an enormous scheduling board takes up a whole wall and breaks the Festival into days, then intervals of time, and lastly performer tags of where they can schedule which artists and when. Confused yet? To me, this board closely resembles a puzzle; to them, it’s the Holy Grail.

Before I jump ahead, Programming gives me the scoop on the application process.  On September1st applications go live on the Northwest Folklife website. People who are interested in performing at the Festival can either submit an online or paper application. The application deadline is November 1st and at that point, Programming has collected anywhere from 1,200-1,400 applications. No big deal, right?

Programming then goes through every single application, listens to the submitted CDs or music links and enters the applications in the database.  As you can imagine, this process takes quite a bit of time and energy. 

After hundreds and hundreds of applications are reviewed, Programming starts the scheduling aspect.  Their goal is to represent over 61 genres of music at the Festival. These genres include global and regional music and dance styles. To help find performers who best represent a particular cultural community or genre, Programming relies on 60-70 Community Coordinators.  These Community Coordinators are active within their cultural community and help connect performers who best represent their cultures’ music or dance styles.

Overall, the application process results in scheduling around 900 to 950 performances.  The preliminary schedule is done in mid-March and final confirmations are sent out in April.  By Memorial Day Weekend, the kinks are (cross your fingers) all smoothed out, and Programming is ready to have their hard work enjoyed by the 250,000 people who attend the Festival.

What is one of Programming’s favorite times of the year you might ask? Well, besides Memorial Day Weekend, it’s probably June when they can decompress and reevaluate their work. Not to mention relive the Festival over and over again by listening to recorded tracks from the weekend and “digging for nuggets” to put on the Roots and Branches Vol. 2:  Live From the 2011 Festival CD. That isn’t a plug or anything…but you should probably check it out.

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3 Comments on “Programming the Festival: How Does it Work?”

  1. Kristina Says:

    nice!

  2. Karen Says:

    It’s great to have this online so people can understand programming ad scheduling considerations behind the decisions about who performs where and when.

  3. bill kepner Says:

    I have written twice or more to the director about the shabby treatment of the liars contest and the usuitable venue of the international dance stage, where the large audience cannot see well and bleachers or other forms of elevation are needed.

    Perhaps this time my note will go to the right people. If so, please do respond so that I can elaborate on my concerns and perhaps be helpful


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