Participants say the Cannon River in Northfield will see its first big folk event this year.
Amy Boxrud grew up with grandparents who listened to Finnish records every afternoon and went out dancing to Finnish-American bands a couple nights a week.
It wasn’t until she was 30 years old that Boxrud picked up a fiddle. But she credits this early exposure as one of the main reasons she joined up with a Scandinavian folk group at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.
“That’s my heritage,” the Northfield resident said. “So to me, it feels more authentic than playing American bluegrass.”
When Boxrud moved south to a place with a sleepy-town motto, “Cows, Colleges, and Contentment,” she worried she would lose that connection to a rich music scene. Soon, however, another Northfield resident announced that she planned to start a Scandinavian folk jam.
That was twelve years ago. Boxrud and the others still gather every Monday evening for “Nordic Roots” sessions at the Contented Cow in downtown Northfield, where they play traditional songs such as hambos, or schottisches, or more modern Scandinavian compositions.
The group is among those lined up for the first ever Cannon River Roots Festival, on Saturday — a riverfront event, taking advantage of Northfield’s pretty surroundings, that is projected as an annual thing.
Ann Mosey, executive director of the Northfield Arts Guild, said that organizers hope to replicate the success of the Vintage Band Festival, a recent addition to Northfield. Now in its fourth year, the festival features more than 100 bands from all over the world and draws over 15,000 people to town.
The vintage festival makes using of the riverfront green space and has Civil War bands “volleying” songs back and forth across the river. Similarly, this week’s roots festival will be held in the downtown Bridge Square area, and spectators are encouraged to bring blankets and chairs to spread out in the lawn between the square and the river.
Mosey said that organizers hope to keep the roots festival going in upcoming years, but to do so, they will have to find a way to keep it a free event, either by securing additional grants (a National Endowment for the Arts grant helped fund this one) or getting donations from businesses.
“The city of Northfield doesn’t have an outside venue that is conducive to having tickets yet,” said Mosey. “We need an outdoor venue where we can sell tickets.”
Mosey said community members have recently tossed around ideas, such as a floating outdoor performance space on the Cannon River or a venue at the old rodeo grounds.
Hutenanny is a group of rotating players on instruments such as a Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, a 1930s mandolin, a harpeleik (a Norwegian chorded zither), even a tin whistle.
The name is an old country word for a folk music party. Their weekly venue is a dark and cozy place that has the feel of a traditional English pub, with kids goofing off and eating popcorn in the booths, watching their parents perform.
“Nobody’s a professional here,” said Mark Heiman, a fiddle player who graduated from Carleton in the early ‘90s and now works in the college’s IT department. “We never know who’s going to be here on a given night.”