Minot's Norsk Høstfest is better than a trip abroad to the Scandinavian countries. While traveling overseas is accompanied by high price tags and extended stays, Høstfest features the people and traditions of Scandinavia accompanied by North Dakota friendliness in a budget-pleasing package wrapped into five nights and four days.
It's no wonder that the festival, scheduled at Minot's All Seasons Arena for Oct. 12-16 this year, has grown into North Dakota's fourth largest event. During Høstfest week, Minot's population of 35,000 takes back seat to the 60-to-70,000 people who arrive from overseas and throughout the United States and Canada to celebrate their culture and have a good time. Editor Tommy Hellstrom flew to Minot from Sweden to write about this phenomenon for his Swedish magazine and discovered, to his delight, ''There's more of Scandinavia here under one roof than you see in the real thing!'' But Høstfest is more than a Scandinavian replica, according to Norsk Høstfest Association President Chester Reiten. ''Høstfest is modeled after the great pleasures and memories of a small town on a Saturday night - a time when family values were strong and camaraderie and respect flowed between friends and neighbors. ''People return year after year to H¿stfest because they like the family values, hospitality and friendliness of the festival,'' Reiten added. ''They meet new friends and remain friends.''
Reiten's Mystery Viking provides the impetus for those initial conversations among strangers. Every day ''Mystery Vikings'' roam the crowds, producing $100 bills to hand to the stranger who greets them with ''Hi, and where are you from?'' While the question nets $100 only when it is asked of the unknown Viking, it generates many conversations.
That down-home friendliness may draw people back, but Reiten believes it's the big-scale entertainment, international shopping bargains and unbelievable cuisine that bring in newcomers. Entertainers perform on five stages The 1999 Høstfest, now in its 22nd year, kicks off Tuesday evening, Oct.. 12, at 8 p.m. with a double bonanza: comedian Louie Anderson followed by singer Tony Orlando. A genial Los Angeles-based comedian and Emmy Award winner, Anderson has been a guest on major television networks and talk shows, and has written two books: the best-seller ''Dear Dad: Letters from an Adult Child,'' and the recently released ''Goodbye Jumbo, Hello Cruel World.'' Orlando, of ''Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree'' and ''Knock Three Times'' fame, generally performs at his Tony Orlando Yellow Ribbon Music Theater in Branson, Mo. He has been a recipient of three American Music Awards, a People's Choice Award and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Wednesday the festival moves into full swing, with doors opening at 7 a.m.. for breakfast and festival halls opening at 9 a.m. One day's reserved ticket entitles its holder to enjoy any of five stages that feature ongoing entertainment throughout the day. The ticket also includes a reserved seat for the Great Hall of the Vikings Stage, which this year plays host to all-time greats such as Debbie Reynolds, the Oak Ridge Boys, the Statler Brothers and Willie Nelson. Reynolds, star of more than 30 motion pictures, two Broadway shows, two television series and dozens of television appearances and nightclub acts, performs Wednesday, Oct. 13, with shows at noon and 7 p.m.
On stage Thursday at noon and at 7 p.m. are the Grammy Award winning Oak Ridge Boys, a country-gospel quartet with three platinum and ten gold albums whose hits include ''Elvira,'' ''American Made'' and ''Thank God for Kids.''
Friday and Saturday feature Willie Nelson and The Statler Brothers, who will perform once on each of those days. Nelson is on stage at noon Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday, with the Statler Brothers performing Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at noon. A Friday or Saturday ticket includes one of these performances, chosen by the purchaser. The Statler Brothers have won more than 500 awards including three Grammys, nine Country Music Association Awards, 32 BMI Awards and 46 Music City News Awards. Country singer Nelson has more than 200 albums to his credit and a string of popular songs stretching back to the 1970s.
Other popular performers delighting audiences on an ongoing, daily basis include the comedic duo of Williams and Ree, country singer Charley Pride, Norway's top-selling country male artist Bjøro Haaland (who sings in English and Norwegian); accordionist Myron Floren of Lawrence Welk fame, and nearly 30 other performing groups from Scandinavian countries and throughout the United States.
''To appeal to our younger audiences, we've added some dynamic groups with more energetic sounds,'' said Pamela Alme Davy, Høstfest executive director. ''While mature adults comprise the majority of our patrons, we are seeing more families with children and even three-generation groups choosing Høstfest for a vacation destination. We've responded by diversifying the type of entertainment we provide and concentrating on increasing our selection for young people.''
Entertainment takes on surprising twists at Høstfest. Because the festival is such a safe environment, performers can often be found among the crowds. Last year Charley Pride and Bjøro Haaland joined Høstfest patrons in Oslo Hall to get hands-on instruction on making Swedish marzipan under the direction of master baker Calle Widdell, who spoke no English. Williams and Ree take their comedy into the crowd on a regular basis, and as judges in the annual dessert competition, they turn the competition into a comedic event with a serious outcome - the best dessert maker takes home a new oven.
Food plays a dominant role everywhere. The Dining Hall of the Nordic Chefs features fine cuisine from all five Scandinavian countries. Each Nordic kitchen is under the direction of a master chef, and menus include unusual main course entrees such as Arctic reindeer and Icelandic codfish. More traditional choices include the nightly lutefisk or Norwegian meatball dinners and numerous food booths with samples of everything.
Scandinavian: søt suppe, Swedish rice pudding, potato klub, rømmegrøt, lefse and more. ''The Nordic kitchens provide menus and choices that can only be found in some of America's finest restaurants,'' said Davy. ''Where else would you find so many master chefs, all from different Scandinavian countries and all under one roof, preparing their country's finest dishes?''
Strolling musicians wind their way through the dining areas, and exhibitors and craftspeople provide entertainment by sharing their talents in the Viking Marketplace. This shopper's paradise offers unlimited choices, among them: designer clothing, handmade jewelry, fine cut crystal, porcelain, collectors' spoons and plates, Danish iron, Porsgrund china, fine art, wood sculpture, pottery, hooked rugs, straw plaited items, hardanger and rosemaling.
''This is a wonderful place,'' gushes Ossian Kidholm of Norway, who demonstrates making socks and scarves from Angora wool. ''Everyone here is so very friendly.'' Nearly 30 Norwegian artists have indicated they plan to attend this year's Norsk Høstfest. Among the arts they will demonstrate and sell are stone jewelry (made from Norwegian polished stone), woven items, handspun wool, Norwegian rosepainting, candlestick dolls in bunads, birch bark baskets, traditional children's clothing, rosemaling and toving.
Høstfest events include the traditional Parade of Flags in recognition of the United States, Canada and five Scandinavian countries; a Bunad (Norway's traditional costumes) Show; the annual induction of noted Scandinavian-Americans into the Scandinavian American Hall of Fame; nightly dances and more.
But what makes the Høstfest experience unique is the unexpected. Minnesotan Bob Gustafson, dressed in native costume, wanders through the crowds playing his lur, a five-foot-long Scandinavian horn. Harley Refsal, a college professor from Iowa and editor for the national Wood Magazine, takes people back to the old days as he demonstrates Norwegian flat plane carving. Dressed in metal and ready to do battle, Frederick Gridley gives up his daily role as mayor of Manhattan Beach, Minn., to become a 10th century Viking. ''You have to remember where you came from, that's the beginning of all knowledge,'' he states. ''Høstfest reminds you.''
Heritage and community provide stability. The respected author Victor Hugo once said, ''Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come.'' Reiten says, ''This powerful idea is behind the celebration of our heritage.''
Threaded throughout this year's events will be a thematic approach to the Leif Eriksson Millennium 2000, which recognizes the 1,000th year Leif Eriksson landed in America. The H¿stfest association is working in conjunction with the Leif Eriksson Millennium Committee in Philadelphia and the Leif Eriksson International Festival in Minneapolis to increase public knowledge and understanding of Eriksson's voyage to America. Dignitaries from Iceland and Norway will participate in the Høstfest ceremonies honoring Eriksson.
While the emphasis on heritage gives the festival a solid basis, it's the widespread community support that makes it possible, Reiten said. ''The Høstfest couldn't survive without the volunteers,'' he said. ''People begin working in Minot churches and organizations far in advance of Høstfest, baking pies and rolling lefse and getting ready in hundreds of ways, even preparing their homes to open them to guests.'' About 7,000 Minot area residents volunteer their time during the festival.. Corporate sponsors play a large role in the festival's financial stability, Reiten noted, explaining that Høstfest does not receive any city sales tax monies. The festival operates under the direction of a voluntary board of directors and three full-time and three part-time paid employees. Its economic impact on the city of Minot is estimated at $4.3 million.
Until now, Reiten said, the festival's major criticism has been lack of space due to its overwhelming growth. This year, a new 40,000-square-foot addition will be finished just in time for Høstfest. By next year, the second phase of the 90,000-square-foot expansion project will be completed. Visitors will also want to take in the Scandinavian Heritage Park on South Broadway in Minot. The park has several new additions including the Norwegian-style Visitor Information Center, which houses offices of the Høstfest, Sons of Norway and the Minot Convention and Visitors' Bureau. The park is also home to a 220-year-old house from Sigdal, Norway; a stabbur or Norwegian storehouse; an international flag display; Danish windmill; a replica of a Gol Stave Church; an authentic Finnish sauna; the Sondre Norheim Eternal Flame; and statues of Leif Eriksson and Casper Oimoen. Norheim is known as the father of modern skiing and Oimoen was an Olympic ski jumper.
Make advance arrangements Area motels and hotels fill well in advance of the festival. More than 1,000 Minot homes turn into temporary mini-motels during the festival, and people with recreational vehicles are encouraged to choose that option. For information about hotels and camping sites, call the Minot Convention and Visitors' Bureau at 701-857-8206. For private housing information, call 701-857-0500. Reserved seat admission to the Tuesday evening concert is $28. Wednesday through Saturday admission cost is $30 per day and includes all daily events as well as a reserved seat for the performance by the featured entertainer of the day. Tickets can be ordered through the web site at www.hostfest.com, by calling 701-852-2368 or by writing to Norsk H¿stfest, Box 1347, Minot, ND, 58702.