Considering the roles they've played in keeping Scandinavian folk traditions alive stateside, you might expect Paul Wilson and Paul Dahlin to have aggressive, outgoing personalities.
Instead, they are more like the music they perform and promote: relaxed, content, quietly passionate.
Wilson, who lives east of Brainerd, is the organizer of the Nisswa-stmman, which will be held June 6-7 in Nisswa. Patterned after Scandinavian spelmansstmmens (fiddler's gatherings), the Nisswa-stmman is about as laid-back as large music festivals get.
A first-time attendee "might be surprised that it's paced like a Norwegian festival," said Wilson, who will perform with his group Skl Klubben and in a duo with his wife, Mary Abendroth. "People love the way the day flows. It's not in-your-face, yet there's always something going on. There are no Pepsi stickers, no people selling things. Except food. You gotta have food."
Featuring more than 100 folk musicians from Minnesota and Scandinavia, the fourth annual Nisswa-stmman will open with performances at 7 p.m. June 6 at Lutheran Church of the Cross. It will continue June 7, starting with a fiddler's parade at 10 a.m. downtown and concluding with a dance at 7 p.m. at the American Legion Club. Music will be held on two outdoor stages throughout the day. A smrgsbord will be at 4:30 p.m. Festival admission is $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under; the smrgsbord is $12. Wilson encourages attendees to bring lawn chairs.
Dahlin, who has visited Sweden several times, has performed at all three Nisswa-stmmans with his group, kta Spellmn.
"It's like how they celebrate music in Scandinavia," Dahlin said. "The idea of stmmans is based around the musicians. It's a chance to meet each other and play together. Everybody wants to go to Nisswa."
Dahlin started the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis in 1983. It started as a small fiddling club that played shows and taught classes. Today, the institute plays a major role in bringing Swedish musicians stateside to perform and instruct.
The nyckelharpa is a folk instrument played almost exclusively in Sweden for more than seven centuries. The modern, chromatic nyckelharpa features four played strings and 12 sympathetic strings that resonate and deepen the sound.
Although Wilson and Dahlin play in the traditional Scandinavian styles, they are also open to new innovations in the genre. Event headliner Draupner, an acclaimed trio from Sweden, is among the groups pushing traditional boundaries of fiddle and accordion-based music. (But not too far, of course. The Nisswa-stmman is all about tradition.)
"There's a new wave of men and women in their 20s bringing new things to the music, fusing folk music with world percussion and electric sounds," Wilson said. "It's nice to have younger guys take up the tradition, to show that this isn't something that's stuck in time."
Wilson had attended several spellmanstmmens in Norway, and he dreamed of holding his own event in Minnesota. In 2000, it all came together. A Nisswa benefactor helped with the funding, and there were enough fiddlers in the state -- along with Scandinavian artists anxious to visit Minnesota -- to make the idea viable.
"What's happening is fairly recent," said Dahlin, who operates a fiddle repair shop in Minneapolis. "When I grew up, there were the immigrants playing Scandinavian-American styles. Then there was the turnover when that generation died off. I was in-between generations, but I was still playing. Folks came to me and asked if I would record tunes and teach tunes. People started taking up the fiddle again."
Members of the ASI write new songs in the Swedish tradition and kta Spellmn mixes them into its set.
"We may play a tune that's nearly 200 years old and the next tune will be by one of the young people (in the group)," Wilson said. "You couldn't tell the difference between them."
Some groups at the Nisswa-stmman will have lyrics with their music, and some will feature unique instruments such as the nyckelharpa or the hardingfele. kta Spellmn's only modern concessions are a guitar and bass. Some of their songs are so old they don't even have names. Instead, the song is labeled by the person who wrote it (or the person whom the piece is most associated with).
In some cases, the song is labeled by the mood it invokes, as with "Polska mot trtthet" ("Polska Against Tiredness"), a track from kta's 2002 album.
While most of the groups will play in the Swedish or Norwegian traditions, Finland will be represented only by the tango group Finn Hall.
"You wouldn't think it, but the Finns are big on tango," Wilson said.
One thing Wilson would like to see at this year's Nisswa-stmman is more buskspell (literally, "playing in the bushes"), jam sessions that tend to break out at stmmans in Scandinavia.
"In Sweden, there's more buskspell than on-stage playing," Wilson said. "Last year outside the American Legion Club, there was a huge jam session. It just happened spontaneously."
Friday, June 6
7 p.m. Opening concert with selected musicians Lutheran Church of the Cross $10 adults, $5 kids
9 p.m. Dance featuring selected musicians Pequot Lakes Senior Center $5; free for concert-goers
Saturday, June 7
9 a.m. Gates open to event grounds Nisswa Pioneer Village $10 adults, $5 kids
10 a.m. Musician's parade Begins at south end of Nisswa
10:15-11 a.m. Musician's Allspel (everyone plays together) Nisswa Pioneer Village
11 a.m.-5 p.m. Music on two stages; open dance floor Nisswa Pioneer Village
11 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Ongoing children's activities tent Nisswa Pioneer Village
4:30-7:30 p.m. Smrgsbord buffet Nisswa Community Center $12 adults
7 p.m. Dance featuring selected musicians Nisswa Legion Club Free
Bring blankets and folding chairs for outdoor events.
The Nisswa-stmman isn't just about the music, of course. There also will be coffee, pastries and coldcut sandwiches available, along with the smrgsbord. A dance barn will offer dance instruction, and a children's area will feature Swedish games and dances.
Nisswa-stmman musician lineup
Visiting Swedish groups:
Draupner -- young trio from Hlsingland, Sweden
The Odn Family -- Christer, Lena and Agnes from Sdermanland, Sweden playing slngpolska on fiddles and nyckelharpa
Hjrp Erik -- accordion man from Rttvik
American soloists and small ensembles:
kta Spelmn -- Swedish fiddling five-piece
Karen Torkelson Solgrd -- Norwegian Hardingfele
Kip Peltoniemi -- Finnish accordion playing raconteur
Duane Swanson -- old time accordion
Stanley Berge -- fiddler
Paul Wilson and Mary Abendroth -- folk songs
Carol Ann Sersland -- singer, springar dancer
Sklmusik -- North Woods gammaldans quintet
Bob Gustafson -- Swedish horns
Finn Hall -- Finnish dance ensemble
The Leksand Society -- Roy, Kate and crew
The Leik Ladies -- Langeleik and Gjuvik Harp
Skandilous -- modern oldtime band
American Swedish Institute Spelmanslag
Twin Cities Hardingfelelag
Twin Cities Nyckelharpalag
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