Bigger and better Høstfest in “Magic Minot”

Høstfest, with many new attractions, is thriving and driving the future of cultural festivals in America

Photo courtesy of Norsk Høstfest Olaf the snowman also made an appearance at this year’s Norsk Høstfest.

Photo courtesy of Norsk Høstfest
Olaf the snowman also made an appearance at this year’s Norsk Høstfest.

Larrie Wanberg
Features Editor

A different engaging spirit prevailed at Høstfest in “Magic Minot” this year. It reminded me of an extended family reunion, where you meet people that you haven’t seen in a long time and have pleasant conversations at foods tables with people that you have never met before.

Wandering through the maze of food and product vendors, the experience had the traditional heritage of its beginning 37 years ago—as a cultural harvest festival to enjoy ethnic foods—and the packaged feel of shopping and entertainment that was added progressively over the years since.

Usually, I attend Høstfest for the whole week, but this year I was not able to join the crowds until Friday and Saturday—not enough time to take it in.

Traffic of people in a two-way flow through connecting corridors between five “Nordic Country halls”—sometimes shoulder-to-shoulder between entertainment events from the many stages—were often slowed by hugs of two acquaintances who haven’t seen each other since last year.

Most impressive were long parades of school children in ethnic costumes marching through the corridors, suddenly circling-up for a lively song and a round of folk dancing.

I attended the Josh Turner concert on Friday night. I was surprised how many preschool children were at the performance with their parents (and grandparents). The music was beyond special, with a stage illuminated by flashing lights and three huge digital screens for close-ups or visual stories about the lyrics.

Photo courtesy of Norsk Høstfest Josh Turner delighted young and old at this year’s Norsk Høstfest.

Photo courtesy of Norsk Høstfest
Josh Turner delighted young and old at this year’s Norsk Høstfest.

I was seated in an aisle seat in the very back row, when a preschool child emerged from the crowd a few rows in front of me to get a better view of the stage. His shadow began gyrating with the music with a few moves that I could only wish for, and he mimicked the teen crowd in the front rows with his arms flailing with the beat of the music. He gave his own performance in the aisle—one that he’ll always remember and will likely inspire him as an annual returnee.

Even with arthritic knees, I stood in applause for a truly entertaining evening.

The other stage performance that I attended was the Nordic Tenors. Three Norwegian tenors added humor and a wide range of songs that included opera, jazz, pop, and sheer entertainment that brought standing ovations and encores.

So many new attractions were offered this year that I decided to ask people a single question: “What is different about Høstfest this year?”

“More active demonstrations as people are looking to learn about their cultures with hands-on activities, plus this year, much more programming for young people” said Claudia Berg, Expansion Coordinator at the N.D. Heritage Center.

Lauraine Snelling, author of 70 books, told me about “the ‘Authors Corner,’ where writers can meet with fans to tell their personal story and engage in Q&A” (I stood by Lauraine’s booth and overheard two men interspersed in a line-up of women say, “I came to Høstfest to meet the author of the books that I read,” and the other, “I’ve read all your books and am here for the new ones.”)

“Sales are up significantly this year,” said The Woolley Girls, producers of fashionable felt attire.

“We’re deepening our understanding of the amazing similarities between the two worlds of the Sami from Norway and the cultural ways of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Métis,” said “Doc” Brien, whose entire family entertained audiences in music and dance demonstrations in Tromsø Village.

Stina Fagerton, a Sami Storyteller, in Tromsø Village, added, “We are here with 36 people, seeing more children engaging in storytelling and cultural arts, with kids teaching other kids, along with the guidance of a native teacher.”

Viking Village was a big, new attraction this year, with enactments of Viking battles, games, and ancient crafts involving 50 performers and artisans entertaining packed crowds. A special feature was the presence of a direct descendent of King Harald Hardrada, Jarl Gunnar Olafsson from Iceland, who can trace his ancestry back to 632 AD and to the last of the Viking kings from the battle of Stamford Bridge.

Young Norwegian engineer Sveinung Hvammen described the opening this year of an ongoing trade office at Høstfest to promote Telemark business opportunities, including his family’s construction business of log cabins and houses in the traditional old Norse “stav” construction. The permanent Telemark Exhibit, with 45 people this year, displayed renowned artisans with handcraft demonstrations, traditional Nordic cuisine, and ski-making demonstrations by Tarjei Gjelstad, director of the Morgedal Ski Museum. He told the story of Sondre Norheim, father of modern skiing, who is buried as an immigrant homesteader in the graveyard of Norway Lutheran Church, about a half hour’s drive from Høstfest.

“Høstfest University is a big addition this year, with a folk school approach to offering ‘gold medalist’ instructors in hands-on classes,” said Cooper Terners, coordinator of folk school activities, which this year offered two full-day courses and two half-day workshops in cultural arts. Students went home with the personalized products they made.

“Høstfest is the best place in America where everyone gets together and exchanges stories about their roots,” said Haldvor Telle from the Western Norway Emigration Museum.

David Reiten, Norsk Høstfest President, had the last word as he walked the corridors and paused for a curbside comment on “Chester Avenue.” I congratulated him on the many new attractions stated in his “Welcome” in the festival guidebook, and asked him in one sentence what is the best thing about Høstfest this year?

“This is the best year that we’ve had in response to entertainment—everybody seems to love the direction we are going.”

Høstfest, historically the largest Scandinavian in-gathering in the nation, is thriving and driving the future of cultural festivals in America. Next year, I’ll plan the full week to take it all in.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 17, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

Avatar photo

Larrie Wanberg

Larrie Wanberg, 1920–2021, contributed features to The Norwegian American for many years, drawing on eight decades of life experience highlighted by three career recognitions: as a researcher through a Fulbright Scholarship to Norway in 1957; as a health care provider in behavioral science through a 27-year military career and awarded upon retirement in 1981 the highest non-combat medal, the Legion of Merit medal; as an educator, through a 50-year career in college education, culminating in the 2010 Public Scholar award at the UND Center for Community Engagement. Wanberg passed away in May, 2021.