The Finnish American Folk Festival held in July 27th – 29th brought in over 1700 visitors to a little town in Washington state. "The Finn festival committee members are calling this one of our best! Visitors enjoyed the culture, the music, the food, the folk dancing and even learned some Finnish words along the way," writes one of the festival organizers Barb Swanson.
This year’s festival theme was “Finnish 101”, chosen in honor of the 101st anniversary of the independence of Finland. Naselle is also very close to Highway 101, where many tourists travel to get to our festival. Kiitos to Lyle Haataja for this great idea!
In keeping with the theme, our festival was honored to have Dan Karvonen, a Finnish instructor, here to give ‘Finnish 101’ lessons on both Friday and Saturday. The lessons were well attended and people really enjoyed him.
Many people were interested in learning about their Finnish ancestors and attended the Genealogy room where they were assisted by May Saari Adair and Sharon Johnson, as well as members of the Astoria Genealogy Society. A popular attraction indeed.
On Thursday, July 26th, 50 golfers participated in the FAFF golf tournament which was held at the Peninsula Golf Course in Long Beach, Wa. Lunch was included with the fee and raffle prizes were awarded afterwards. All who participated enjoyed the weather, the golf and the fellowship of fellow Finns and Finns for the day. Dave Leeland and Michael Swanson, (chairman of Finn Fest), did a great job organizing the event.
The program performances, organized by Nick Nikkala and Lyle Haataja, were very popular this year and offered a variety of excellent talents. A popular group was a duo called Allotar, two women who performed Finnish folk tunes on accordion and violin along with providing beautiful vocal harmonies in both Finnish and English. They performed already in 2014 and were returning this year to rave reviews.
Performances this year included “Double J”, a country music group, and “Giants in the Trees”, a tribute band with Krist Novoselic from the “Nirvana” fame.
This group was very popular and attracted more of a younger crowd to the Saturday evening program. Krist also had several followers that stayed afterwards for autographs.
The Saturday night crowd gave them a standing ovation and people lined up for pictures.
Another popular group was the “Skamokawa Swamp Opera”, who performed folk medleys during the Friday night program. This group even contained a couple of members from the “Giants in the Trees” band.
Favorite local talents included: The Maypole dancers under the direction of Haleigh See, The Children’s Choir, under the direction of Becky Underhill, and the Naselle Kantele group with Wilho Saari and Karen Nelson. Carl Wirkkala, a well-known country singer, performed on both Friday and Saturday to interested audience members. Another local talent, Gene Quilhaugh, was well received at the Friday night program.
Sue Holway, a FAFF co-founder, wrote and directed a Reader’s Theatre production that honored the story of Wilho and Kaisa Saari. It was very popular.
The “Tori”, our Finnish Marketplace, was bursting at the seams with 29 vendors from all over Washington and Oregon. Visitors enjoyed purchasing Finnish souvenirs, Finnish cardamon bread, performance CD’s, clothing item, book, homemade knives, just to name a few.
The courtyard provided food booths for the visitors. Popular food items included Split pea soup, Finnish meatballs and noodles, homemade pies, prune tarts and the like.
The community dance was held on Saturday night, with live music provided by:
Toby Hansen and the Smilin’ Scandinavians. Young and Old alike enjoyed dancing the Polka, the Shottish, the Chicken Dance and several other group dances! The dance served to attract people of all ages and continues to be a very popular family event.
The Cultural program begin on Friday with an interesting historical documentary describing Finland’s 100th year of Independence. Presentations on Friday and Saturday included Finnish log construction expert Frank Eld and Ellen Jensen, who spoke on the Sami culture.
A special presentation of the Quilts of Valor was held during the Opening Ceremony on Saturday. Ruth Torrpa Miller, a member of the Quilts of Valor Society, lovingly made the Quilts, which were on display on Friday in a classroom.
Twenty-eight Veterans each received a Quilt that was wrapped around them as their name was called. It was a very touching display.
On Saturday after the Opening ceremony, the popular wife-carrying contest and boot toss was held on the football field. Another fun event, the phone toss, was also held.
The Salmon dinner on Saturday was a huge hit, provided by the Grays River Grange. Salmon, potatoes, beets, pickled cucumbers, homemade bread and dessert was a popular meal!
Another special treat was the Pannukakku (Finnish pancake) breakfast, provided by the local ESA chapter (Epsilon Sigma Alpha). The breakfast was offered free to the Veterans attending the Opening ceremony, which was a special honor.
All in all, this year’s Finnish American festival was once again a popular and successful event in our little town of Naselle. People came from all over Washington, Oregon and other states as well, including Texas and Tennessee. We even had visitors from Finland and Germany!
Our hope is that this tradition may continue every two years as the wonderful cultural event that it is. It serves to bring community together as well as brings in new people to our area. It has become an excellent means of sharing heritage, culture and the arts with families of all ages.
We encourage others to join the FAFF organization and help us plan our next successful festival in two years. Feel free to email Barb Swanson (FAFF secretary) at email@example.com if interested in joining. Please check out our webpage at nasellefinnfest.com for more information.
Text by: Barb Swanson