In the past month or so, I attended three venerable institutions of revelry in Seattle: the University District Street Fair, the Northwest Folklife Festival, and the Fremont Solstice.
The University District Street Fair is where hippies go to sell shit. The other events do as well, but this is just on a huge scale. There are hundreds of booths spanning multiple blocks. I wouldn’t be surprised if, all told, over a dozen city blocks are taken over by the fair.
It was a beautiful day, so it was absolutely packed. Not all that unsurprisingly, clothing was the majority of the booths. If you want funky hats, tie-dyed clothes, and leather goods, this was the place for you. There were many kettlecorn booths and apparently, jerky is making a big comeback because there were several of those as well. I was also surprised at the number of caricaturists. I half expected them to starting fighting amongst themselves over customers.
There were also a surprising number of religious booths, which is unusual in that Seattle is a pretty liberal (ie secular) city. Being Seattle, they weren’t exactly Southern Baptist snake handlers preaching Armageddon. There was a Jews for Jesus kind of a booth and I also noticed a Bikers for Jesus booth, complete with large bald men wearing biker jean jackets just looking for someone to give them crap about their beliefs. I abstained.
All in all, a nice walk but since I’m not exactly a huge consumer, not a huge event for me.
The FolkLife also had a large number of hippies selling shit. What differentiates it from the street fair is that there are a large number of musicians, located seemingly about every ten feet, busking for change. There were a number of accordion players. There was a red headed Scottish guy playing bagpipes. There was not one, but two white guys playing the didgeridoo (simultaneously but in different locations), which seems an uncomfortable act of cultural appropriation. On a lighter note, there was a group labeled two angsty teenage girls playing for pizza money, which from their looks and attitude, seemed highly accurate.
At previous FolkLife’s, there was always a couple of ole-timey bands, but now they have pretty much taken over. There were many groups featuring jugs, spoons, wash boards, and banjos. Some groups have upped their game by having some young woman with very long straight brown hair wearing a peasant dress dance hypnotically in front of the band to the music (some people have watched too much Woodstock). Why do I think that next year they all will be doing this as a way to express their artistic nonconformity?
Finally, there’s the Solstice. This was by far my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a ton of hippies selling shit. It is a street fair that largely takes over the small downtown Fremont district. First of all, this just feels more like an adhoc festival. One of the first things that I see when I arrive is a naked woman riding a bike in full body paint dressed as a silver unicorn.
The others just seem to have a more machine like precision as well as way more corporate booths / sponsorships in general. I didn’t see anyone trying to see life insurance here.
And, of course, there’s the parade. Believe it or not, despite being a life long resident, I don’t remember ever seeing the parade before.
So, I expected nudity. I was not disappointed. The parade was started by well over a thousand bikers, skaters, other wheeled devices, runners, and walkers, all in various stages of nudity.
Nearly all were in body paint, that depending upon their specific goal, either concealed or highlighted body parts that are normally not seen in public. Superheroes were a popular theme. There were various forms of Ironman, Batman, and The Incredible Hulk. There were blue men and red women. I’ve already mentioned the aforementioned silver unicorn. There was a naked guy on a long board with his bulldog riding calmly along with him.
Just as a quick cultural observation, I’d guess that over 90 percent of the men were nude. I’d guess that maybe, at best, 50 percent of the women were. The rest were almost all topless but with some kind of undergarment on. Modesty among naked bike riders? There were several women who used this as a vehicle to assert their right over their bodies, including a couple of women calmly walking the parade route, absolutely naked, with no body paint. The message of freedom and control was pretty clear.
It was also interesting to me from a historical perspective. I’ve lived in Seattle my entire life, and the naked bike riding has been a thing for pretty much as long as I can remember. It must be a tradition well over 20 years old now. It first started as a complete rebellious act. It would be a small number of bikers and they were strictly prohibited. In fact, it would take some planning to somehow interject themselves somewhere on the route and then have an escape plan defined beforehand. The police, on their side, would seriously try to crack down and arrest them. Many of the city folk expressed outrage at the naked bikers, claiming that they’re ruining a family outing like a parade.
My how time changes things. Ten years ago, gay marriage was unthinkable and it was pretty much suicidal for even a Democrat politician to advocate it in most places. Now, it seems retrogressive to even think of rolling it back. So it has become with naked bike riders. The police were front and center in directing it to keep the bike riders safe. Little kids lined the streets holding out their hands so that a naked bike rider could high five them as they rode by.
The parade itself was maybe 90 minutes, of which the first half of it was exclusively the naked bike riders riding up and down the parade route.
The parade itself was pretty amazing. Being Fremont, the organizers do not allow written words or motorized vehicles by any of the entrants. So, the floats were necessarily modest in size and pushed by people. One entrant was devoted to the homeless, with people pushing shopping carts and carrying large paper mache heads mocking Ed Murray and basically accusing him of being a fascist.. Yes, that is our gay, liberal mayor being accused of being a totalitarian despot.
There was a fun anarchic quality to the parade. At the Solstice, there was also a brass band festival going on. Apparently randomly, a brass band would just be casually walking along the side of the parade, busting out some song or another.
My favorite was the tribute to the inflatable beach ball. It was a group of people bouncing around, yes, a bunch of beach balls. They had one beach ball that much have been at least eight feet in diameter. They would grab random people from the crowd, line them up laying down on the street, and then pass the ball over the line, with the people using their arms and legs to move the ball along.
What a great way to start a summer!