The Nisswa-stämman Scandinavian Folk Music Festival held the first weekend in June each year in Nisswa has grown over the years, yet the format remains much the same as that first festival in June 2000.
"I remember that first concert," said Paul Wilson, event founder and artistic director. He was working on the microphones and setup, and when he turned around he was happily surprised to see the venue was almost full.
The 20th annual Nisswa-stämman will take place Friday and Saturday, June 7-8, under the majestic Norway pines at the Nisswa Pioneer Village with more than 150 musicians performing on five stages, day-long dance opportunities, dance instruction, a cultural children's activity and Scandinavian food.
Special events are in the works to celebrate the festival's milestone year, including an additional large tent in the sunny, open area of the village to have another stage for musical groups and to provide shade. There will be more musicians, with one musical group from each of four Scandinavian countries - Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland.
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Friday, June 7
- 6:30 p.m.: Gala Opening Sampler Concert, $15, Lutheran Church of the Cross. No advance ticket sales.
Saturday, June 8
- 10 a.m.-5 p.m.: Nisswa-stämman Festival, $15, Nisswa Pioneer Village. No advance ticket sales.
- 4:45-6 p.m.: Sm'rgåsbord, $20, Nisswa American Legion. Advance tickets on sale at the Nisswa Chamber of Commerce.
- 7 p.m.-1 a.m.: Old-time dance, Nisswa American Legion.
For more information, call 218-764 2994 or email email@example.com.
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After all these years, the festival's main purpose remains the same: to bring Scandinavian and Scandinavian/American folk music and dance to the lakes area in an event designed for the whole family.
"We want families to come, so we have performers and crafts in a kids' area," Wilson said. "It's really a family type event."
Wilson and his wife, Mary Abendroth, are key players who brought the Scandinavian music festival to Nisswa so many years ago. They played Scandinavian folk music and attended several "stämma" - or low-key gatherings of musicians - on trips to Sweden. The couple has many friends who play Scandinavian music; they just needed someone to step up to organize a stämman closer to home.
"One day we were driving through Nisswa. I saw the pioneer village, and it's set up a lot like an historical farm with log buildings in Sweden where these were held," Wilson said.
He learned that Lee Anderson owned the property at that time before later donating it to the Nisswa Area Historical Society, so Wilson sent an email to Anderson.
"He has Swedish heritage and he sent back two sentences: 'Sounds like a great idea. ... I'm looking forward to the smorgasbord,'" Wilson said.
Anderson said the pioneer village property was purchased over time starting in 1943 by his father, Reuben, who was 100 percent Swedish. His parents came to the United States from Orebro, Sweden.
"Paul suggested the idea of a stämman, which I thought would be great," Anderson said. "Over the years I have attended most of the events. I love the people and the children. For many of us, it supports and reinforces our Swedish heritage."
Dick Carlson, of the Nisswa Area Historical Society, recalled Wilson saying all those years ago that the pioneer village property was ideal for a stämman and asking if the historical society would like to participate.
"Saying yes was a no-brainer, and we did," Carlson said. "To this day, it remains as one of the best decisions we ever made."
That first year of the stämman, most musicians hailed from the Twin Cities. A Friday night concert kicked off the weekend of Scandinavian folk music, and a fiddlers' parade along the Paul Bunyan Trail through Nisswa to the pioneer village started Saturday's festivities - just as they do today.
Wilson recalled seeing Anderson going through the smorgasbord line after a day of music that first year.
"He said, 'Next year, let's fly over 10 Swedes,'" Wilson said, so year two featured international musicians. "That's how it grew, because of Lee."
Wilson added: "It turned out that word was getting around in Sweden, so I was getting emails from Sweden from people wanting to come."
A few years later, organizers added workshops at private homes to the stämman.
"That's grown into quite a big part of it," Wilson said.
In 2009, the Swedish ambassador to the United States visited the festival, and Wilson was honored with the Swedish Council of America's Award of Merit.
The event has evolved from one main stage and a tiny tent to two main stages, a dance barn, a kids' area and a more intimate musical gathering in the village's Summer Kitchen.
Since year two, musicians have come from Scandinavian countries to perform. Most stay with host families in the area. Wilson said the Nisswa-stämman is unique in that very few places in the United States offer such an event.
This year's events were made possible with grants from the American Scandinavian Foundation, the Minnesota State Arts Board (made possible by the voters of Minnesota from the state's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund supported by the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment) and the Swedish Council of America.
For more information on being a host family or to volunteer for the 20th annual Nisswa-stämman Scandinavian Folk Music Festival, contact Paul Wilson at 218-764-2994.
Instrumental, singing and dancing workshops for those interested in learning to play or dance to Scandinavian folk music will run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Friday, June 7, at several homes in the Nisswa area.
There will be workshops in Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish and Danish fiddling, Danish singing, Norwegian style harmonica and ensemble workshops where all instruments are welcome to participate. Old-time couple dances also will be taught and no partner is necessary.
These workshops all require advance registration and there is a fee. For more information, go to www.nisswastamman.org/stamma/workshops19.html or email or call Janet Hill at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218-259-4090.
Paul Wilson, 67, became interested in Scandinavian music in his late 20s, during the folk revival taking place in the United States and Europe. He was playing Bob Dylan on his guitar, and enjoyed international folk dancing as a recreational hobby.
He has Swedish and Norwegian heritage and started thinking about his roots. He later taught himself to play the fiddle and accordion.
He and his wife, Mary Abendroth, played in a five-piece group called Skålmusik, which eventually grew to a group called Skål Klubben. In addition to performing music, they share their love and knowledge of Scandinavian music and culture at schools and libraries across the region.