Home News & Events Folkefest Taps Into Town’s Finnish Roots

Folkefest Taps Into Town’s Finnish Roots

The small town of Frederick, S.D., gave Finnish folk ensemble Kardemimmit a big welcome. Read about how celebrating Scandinavian heritage has been an important part of revitalizing this small community.

Kardemimmit explores the collections at the Frederick Area Historical Society. Photo by Stephen Manuszak.

Measuring two blocks by six blocks, Frederick, S.D., (population 199) was by far the smallest town visited by the world-class Finnish folk ensemble Kardemmimit on its six-state tour of the Midwest during this year’s Arts Midwest Folkefest. And it may have been the most deeply touched.

Frederick, S.D., in 1983 and today. Images from National Genealogical Society and Google Earth.

Frederick is the proud host of “Finn Fest,” one of just a handful of Finnish festivals in the U.S. despite there being 650,000 “Amerikansuomalaiset” or Finnish-Americans, according to the most recent U.S. Census. Frederick started Finn Fest as a creative placemaking project, hoping to attract visitors from larger, neighboring communities like Aberdeen to town for a weekend.

Finn Fest is actually how Arts Midwest Program Director Stephen Manuszak became aware of the town while researching possible venues for Arts Midwest Folkefest. “We wanted to go to Frederick because it has a long Finnish heritage that dates all the way back to the town’s founding,” Manuszak said.

The Town of Frederick hosts a potluck dinner for Kardemimmit. Photo by Stephen Manuszak.

Arts Midwest Folkefest presents traditional musical ensembles from Finland and Sweden for intensive, week-long residencies, featuring public performances and educational activities designed for all ages and levels of musical experience. The program seeks to deepen awareness of Nordic traditions and foster an understanding of global cultures in small and mid-sized communities in six Midwestern states—North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan—all of which experienced a significant influx of Scandinavian immigrants during the 1800s and 1900s.

Together with the program’s primary partner in Aberdeen, Manuszak took an advanced planning trip to Frederick, where he met with Jessica Ringgenberg, principal of the local high school, which draws 158 students from surrounding areas. Over the next few months, Principal Riggenberg approached the city council to build local support and awareness for Kardemimmit’s visit. They scheduled an in-school workshop, visits to the local co-op grocery store and history museum (with a section on Finnish heritage) a community potluck dinner with some Finnish food, and a public mini-concert for the whole town.

“We’ve never had anyone…anyone…visit our school before about anything.”
Teacher, Frederick High School

During the mini-performance on April 7, 2018, the Arts Midwest team noticed an elder Frederick resident singing along to a World War II-era Finnish song that everyone “of a certain age” knows in Finland. Afterwards, she said she loved the song, but hadn’t thought of it in decades.

Kardemimmit’s visit to Frederick was an experience that left an impact that neither the artists, community, or organizers are likely to forget anytime soon.

Arts Midwest Folkefest will return in 2019 with the Emilia Amper Band, one of Sweden’s most successful folk musicians. Emilia Amper is a world champion player of the nyckelharpa, a traditional instrument played in Sweden for more than 600 years.