From the outside, it looks just like your typical middle school. But on the inside, it's an explosion of drumming, dancing, eating and crafts, as the Fifth Annual Fall Folk Festival takes over Glover Middle School this Saturday. With two stages -- Orca and Fiddler Crab -- and four rooms at their disposal, the Spokane Folklore Society again offers a rare chance to play with other cultures -- whether it's making your own didgeridoo or singing along to a live broadcast of KPBX's Nacho Celtic Hour.
With a new locale this year, the festival promises to be the biggest and best yet. "We've had it at the Unitarian Church the last four years, but we just outgrew it," says Mary Naber, chairman of the festival. Although the initial response from the public in 1996 was modest, the event has built on word of mouth and the enthusiasm of its planners and performers.
"We started out our first year with 300 people, and at last year's event we had way over a thousand," says Naber. "This year, our goal was to recruit as much diversity as possible and to really extend ourselves out into the community."
The timing couldn't have been better. "We looked all over the place for a new spot, particularly the Spokane schools because they'd just received a Hubs grant to open up the schools to the public," Naber says. "This really opened the doors for us."
The Hubs project, "a 21st century community learning center project," is funded by a federal grant from the Department of Education and intends to use public schools as an activity base for the surrounding community. By having schools open during evenings, weekends and breaks, the Hubs project hopes to provide vocational, recreational and academic opportunities for students, their families and their community.
Starting at 11 am, the Fall Folk Festival kicks off with Celtic music on one stage, and banjo on another. One room will be getting final preparations for a live airing of KPBX's Nacho Celtic Hour with Carlos Alden, and in another, jugglers will be setting up for their first performance. By 1 pm, all six performance areas will be in full swing and the fun doesn't stop until the last whirl and violin note of a New England contra dance at 10 pm.
For people who have never been to a Spokane Folklore Society event, or who have never been to a folk festival, it's the perfect introduction. "One of the great things about the event is that it brings parents and kids in," says Naber. "So it's not so scary to meet new people or try new things."
Do the planners of the event find much resistance from the average Spokanite when it comes to trying new things?
"Resistance is such a negative word," says Naber. "Rather than resistance, I would say that it's more a matter of comfort zones, and that people don't often like to move out of their comfort zones. So what we try to do is make it comfortable for people to experience new things and other cultures. One of the things we've found in exposing kids to other cultures is that it promotes understanding. You're less likely to make fun of people you've danced and had fun with."
In addition to the traditional Americana-type folk, along the lines of Dan Maher, Marie Schneider, Hank Kramer and Blackberry Jam, the Folk Festival will have Middle Eastern dance performances by the Nah Joom ensemble, Aisha Azar's students and Elizabeth Dickens. The Erdely Ensemble, a Hungarian dance troupe led by artist Ildiko Kalapacs and her husband, Wayne Kraft, are fresh from a recent show at The Met and will be performing as well.
And then there's the drumming. If you've never seen Spokane Taiko perform, you're in for a treat. Led by Michiko Takaoka, director of the Cultural Center at Mukogawa Fort George Wright, this traditional Japanese art form combines graceful movements and beautiful costumes with incredibly powerful -- and loud -- drumming.
"Spokane Taiko is really dynamic, it's not just drumming, it's a performance," says Naber. "The drums, I believe, are all handmade, and they're just exquisite."
A Bodhran workshop with Jeff McMurtery looks promising as well. "The Bodhran is a Celtic drum that's hand-held. It's a few feet in diameter, and you hold it in the back and hammer on the front. It's a real traditional Celtic instrument."
Local contemporary artists, including Sidhe, LaRae Wiley and Nothin' Serious, are scheduled to perform as well. But with all the performances going on, it would be easy to overlook all the cultural groups participating, but they are just as much a part of what makes the event such a success.
"We have a lot of groups from the colleges and universities helping out this year," says Naber. "Whitworth's Hawaiian Club will be taking part, and the Native American Club from EWU will be there demonstrating Native American crafts."
The one thing missing, this year at least, is the international food. There will be a bake sale, soup, bread, salad and lasagne available, but no hummus and pita bread, no pasties, and no peanut-potato Caribbean stew. "We hope to have ethnic food eventually," says Naber. "But we're a non-profit with a small staff. It's amazing what we've been able to pull off this year."
The evening ends with two dances, one a Family Folk Dance at 6:30, and the final dance a New England style contra dance at 7:30. Contra dances are a traditional form in which two lines of dancers face one another and dance in figures as called by a caller. The Virginia Reel is the most well-known form of the dance, and it's popular because anyone can do it. You don't have to have a partner, special clothes or even a lot of experience. For the festival planners, it will be a well-earned chance to relax and enjoy all their hard work.
"It's wonderful, the web that gets woven with the extension into the community and all the different groups that participate," says Naber. "And then the folk festival itself, seeing everyone having a good time."
& & & lt;i & The Fall Folk Festival takes place at Glover Middle School, 2404 W. Longfellow, on Saturday, Nov. 11, from 11 am-10 pm. Live broadcast of the KPBX Nacho Celtic Hour is from noon-2 pm. Dancing starts at 7 pm. Admission is free.Call: 747-2640. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &