Students in field

Festival Ruska bringing colorful Nordic culture to Copper Country

September 4, 2018

Every year, Mother Nature provides the Copper Country with one of the most awe-inspiring displays of fall color anywhere in the world.

And at the same time as the leaves start turning, Finlandia University’s Finnish American Folk School provides an equally awesome lineup of cultural programming, this year featuring two remarkable artisans and a pair of Finnish-themed concerts.

Festival RuskaThis year, events get under way on September 5 with a one-night-only performance by the up-and-coming Finnish band Steve ‘n’ Seagulls, who’ll energize the crowd at 7 p.m. at Michigan Technological University’s Rozsa Center with their unique style of playing American hard rock songs with a bluegrass sound. The band rose to fame after being discovered on YouTube, and has since developed a worldwide fan base that enjoys their quirky stage presence. Tickets for this concert are available by calling (906) 487-2073 or visiting finlandia.edu/seagulls. This concert is sponsored in part by the Finnish American Chamber of Commerce Upper Peninsula Chapter.

Two weeks later, the Folk School welcomes noted birchbark weaver John Zasada to the Finnish American Heritage Center for a two-day workshop creating a bread basket. A retired U.S. Forest Service employee, Zasada has devoted much of his adult life to the use and management of birch in northern forests and is eager to share his expertise with would-be artisans of any skill level. The class takes place Friday, September 21 and Saturday, September 22 at the Finnish American Heritage Center (FAHC), with personal instruction from Zasada, who has taught many similar classes at the North House Folk School in Minnesota. Space in the class is limited to eight students, so early registration ($150 per person) is encouraged. All materials will be provided. To reserve your place in this workshop, call (906) 487-7549.

Then, in early October, the FAHC will provide a pair of programs that will satisfy your ears as much as the area’s colored leaves will satisfy your eyes. The international performers of the traveling ensemble Beethoven and Banjos will lead a Nordic folk music workshop at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 6. Any musician who plays a stringed or other folk instrument is encouraged to join the workshop; for only $10 per person they’ll receive hands-on instruction from talented Nordic musicians who specialize in fiddle, nycleharpaa, banjo and much more.

Later that evening, the Beethoven and Banjos ensemble will take the stage at the FAHC for a 7:30 p.m. concert. They encourage you to “come as you are, pay what you can” and enjoy this stop on this group’s annual Upper Peninsula tour. Headlined by well known and longtime U.P. musicians Evan and Laurel Premo, the group also includes musicians from other parts of the U.S., as well as Norway and Sweden.

Finnish American Folk School programming concludes its Ruska season with a four-week class in Finnish-style boat making, held in conjunction with the woodworking class at Calumet High School. Led by veteran boatmaker Alex Comb of northern Minnesota, the class will include several Calumet High School students, but is open to the general public as well ($400 per patron includes all class sessions). Comb will provide direction into the art of building a Finnish-style rowboat, similar to that seen at the Salolampi Language Village in northern Minnesota. For more information about how you can be a part of this unique opportunity, call (906) 487-7549.

Festival Ruska is Finlandia University’s annual celebration of the fall color season in Michigan’s Copper Country. Finnish American Folk School programming is sponsored in part by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation, and is managed by the staff of the Finnish American Heritage Center. For more information about the center and its mission to preserve and promote Finnish culture in North American, visit finlandia.edu/fahc.

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