A slice of Nordic America

From concerts to klub, this year’s Norsk Høstfest celebrated all things Nordic in Minot, N.D.

By Gary Erickson

Sunburg, Minn.

Phillip Odden and his wife Else Bigton (not pictured) of Norsk Wood Works demonstrated the art of kubbestol carving.

Phillip Odden and his wife Else Bigton (not pictured) of Norsk Wood Works demonstrated the art of kubbestol carving.

Somewhat like the Phoenix, the mythical sunbird rising from its own ashes, the North American continent’s largest Scandinavian festival, Høstfest [Fall Festival], rose in actuality from floodwaters and mud in Minot, N.D. caused by the Souris River’s destruction of last June. Minot overcame the catastrophic natural disaster with Scandinavian immigrant perseverance, herculean cleaning efforts, and a community brimming with generosity. The ultimate availability of facilities enabled an anticipated 35,000 to 45,000 visitors to return to celebrate their cultural heritage as they had for 33 preceding years.

Attendees were greeted with spacious parking areas for RVs. Vehicles arrived from diverse parts of this continent.  Motel rooms held a premium.  The confluence of two arriving populations, Høstfest attendees and new employees to new jobs in the nearby developing Bakken oil field of northern North Dakota, created a momentary want for motel rooms.  Families in the Minot community opened their homes and spare bedrooms, and with them came a brilliant display of hospitality.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors arrived from Scandinavia as well.  A myriad of Norwegian dialects were in constant use.  Swedish, Danish, Finish and some Icelandic conversations involving Canadians also took place.  Miss Norsk Høstfest, Courtney Johnson, a sophomore at Minot State University, was in constant motion, welcoming everyone to the festival. “In light of the flooding and difficulties in Minot, I was certain this was the year for me to participate in the Miss Norsk Høstfest competition,” Courtney stated.

A framework of entertainment, food, artists and craftsmen, vendors of all ilk, and socialization opportunities performed the heavy lifting for the event.  Daily bunad parades displayed the colorful, regional costumes of all of Norway.  Norwegians’ attraction to American country western music was piqued by performances in the Great Hall of the Vikings by major recording artists such as Trace Adkins, Naomi and Wynonna Judd, and Bill Gaither and his Gaither Vocal band.  As part of the price of admission, numerous free stage acts took place, too, in several venues.   Themes ranged from musical homage, to bluegrass music, to spontaneous jam sessions.  Adbacadabra honored ABBA, Sweden’s immensely talented, musical quartet.  Monroe Crossing, an American bluegrass group of five instrumentalists and vocalists, carried the musical genes of Appalachia, older Celtic music and subtle Scandinavian sounds.

Scandinavian food odors permeated a good portion of the eastern half of the venue.  The source of the wafting odors was Stockholm Hall and its food vendors.  They offered a Scandinavian food palette of rømmegrøt, lefse, klub, fattigmann, lutefisk, ost, pølser, søtsuppe – and hamburgers. Jim and Mary Rolf, Brandon, Minn., traversed nearly 360 miles of interstate prairie to eat a bowl of klub [potato dumpling] floating in melted smør [butter].  Jim stated it was just their first course of fare, with two more of different natures to follow during the day.   Stockholm Hall’s pervasively strong odors of hot, burned butter, melted sugar, cinnamon, lutefisk and scorched bread dough combined to form their own invisible atmospheric layer.

Artists and craftsmen were numerous in their remarkable displays of Norwegian artistic and utilitarian skills.  Kubbestol [log chair] carver, Phillip Odden, Barronett, Wis., demonstrated his facility with carving chisels while the public watched. A two–year carving education in Norway in the 1970s at a Dovre videragåendeskole [post high school institution perpetuating training in folk arts], prepared him for the creation of a body of work that spanned the next 30+ years of his life.  His carvings includes the work “the Last Supper,” in the Gol stavkirke [stave church] in Minot, N.D.  More of his work exists in the stave church at Epcot Center, Disney World, Orlando, Fla., and now, the replica of the Borgund stavkirke at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks, Calif. Three-fourths of the carving has been completed for the portals of that stave church.

Commercial vendors offering Scandinavian clothing, carpeting, wall hangings, furniture, and publications were present, of which many on display came from Norway for trial experiences.  The Norwegian American Weekly provided free copies of its latest issue to attendees. Bob Gustafson of Cambridge, Minn., took the challenge of a Norwegian Ekornes furniture “Stressless” chair recliner, and found its claims to be true. It removed his stress to such a degree he fell asleep in his bunad on the display floor.  Tour planner and master of ceremonies for 33 years at Høstfest, Carrol Juven, Fargo, N.D., continued to bring reality planning to the dream of a trip to Norway, to make it available to any attendee.

In spite of unbelievable impediments nature delivered last summer, the 2011 Norsk Høstfest proved to be a true Scandinavian experience in the best and largest sense of a stevne, in all that a stevne aspires to provide. Planning is in process for Norsk Høstfest 2012.

For more information, visit www.hostfest.com.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 14, 2011 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (800) 305-0271.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.