Monday, June 14, 2010

Nisswa Stammen

Nisswa is a little town ten minutes north of Brainerd, nestled in the midst of a galaxy of lakes, most of which are rimmed by second homes and cabins. A decade ago it began to host an annual Scandinavian music festival on the grounds of its pioneer village, a grassy sward dotted with old log cabins and towering pines. It may be the best entertainment value in the state. A ten dollar admission fee gets you seven hours of music, performed outdoors, with artists hailing from Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway as well as places closer to home. A core of enthusiasts had arrived from various Twin Cities ethnic societies, many of them in costume. Another, and perhaps larger, contingent, is made up of locals who drop by the hear the music. Everyone seems to be lugging Hardanger fiddles and nyckelharpa this way and that. Those with a hand free are likely to be holding Swedish meatballs on a stick or little bowls of potato-dill soup.

We showed up on a lark and were tremendously impressed with the congenial setting and the first-rate music. We took a few dancing lessons in one of the cabins but never did seem to get that twirl worked out.

Among the performers, the Danish trio Faerd was outstanding, performing songs from the Faroe Islands among other places. The Norwegian trio Geitungen seemed to be composed of teenagers, but they knew their chops. And the winsome Finnish duo The Polka Chicks covered a wide range of songs with guitar, fiddle, and accordion accompaniment. A Swedish folksinger and a Nyckelharpa orchestra were also in the mix. You could wander from stage to stage, taking in the sounds, in a gentle drizzle that did little to dampen the general enthusiasm.

We returned to our motel in Brainerd just in time to see the replays from the US-England World Cup game, then returned to Nisswa for the smorgasbord dinner at the community center, after which we wandered a block up the street to the dance being held at the VFW.

Come next year, we’ll have mastered that twirl.

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