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Mid-summer festival of Juhannus set for June 23-25

March 6, 2017

A member of the Finnish Foreign Ministry staff in Washington, D.C. has fondly remembered her visit to Michigan’s Copper Country during FinnFest USA 2013 since the moment she departed from the U.P. nearly four years ago. So, when she had her choice of officials visits on which she could accompany Ambassador Kirsti Kauppi, she wasted no time in making her preference known.

Juhannus 2017 PosterThat’s why she’ll be traveling with Ambassador Kauppi this June to take part in a festival aptly named Juhannus ’17, a three-day, four-site event that will celebrate the Upper Peninsula of Michigan’s enduring Finnish culture in communities that are among the most distinctly Finnish enclaves anywhere in North America.

While Ambassador Kauppi’s official itinerary isn’t yet finalized, what’s known is that she’s been eager to visit the Copper Country since she assumed her post as Finland’s Ambassador to the United States several years ago. Since she first heard about the possibility of a Midsummer festival in the Hancock area, she’s had this region of western Upper Michigan on her must-see list.

She ought not be disappointed. The community leaders who brought FinnFest USA to the Copper Country four years ago have committed to create a festival that’ll combine many of the elements that made that FinnFest a lasting positive memory for nearly all of the 8,000-or-so people who took part during that wonderful week in 2013.

Juhannus ’17 gets under way on Friday, June 23 at the Hanka Homestead in Äskel. From the time the Finnish flag is raised early in the afternoon, through to when the last note fades into the wilderness from the tanssilava (outdoor dance floor) this restored Finnish immigrant farmstead will be abuzz with cultural activity, ranging from music, re-enactments, and plenty of tasty treats. It’ll also be the first official Copper Country stop for the Traveling Sauna, which is Finland’s North American mascot for its centenary celebration.

Festival goers will see demonstrations of how immigrants earned a living and sustained their homes in the early part of the 20th century. There’ll also be a segment of the 2017 Finnish Folk Music Camp, through which interested musicians can get instruction from experts in traditional Finnish folk music. While specific instructors haven’t yet been assigned to specific camp sites, it can be revealed that famed Finnish fiddler Arto Järvelä is on track to be part of the Music Camp, as well as other aspects of the festival.

After the fun at Hanka, the festival pops up at the Finnish American Heritage Center, on the Finlandia University campus in Hancock. At the Center, patrons can enjoy a small ceremony as the Finnish flag is raised, adjacent to the Center’s Juhannussalko (Midsummer pole). There’ll be a tori inside the center, as well as the regular Hancock outdoor tori on Quincy Green immediately east of the FAHC. The Finnish-American brass band Amerikan Poijat will be on hand to provide music for the event, and the Kivajat Dancers will showcase their skills. There’ll also be another segment of the Finnish Folk Music Camp at the Chapel of St. Matthew on the Finlandia campus, less than one block from the Center, as well as another opportunity to see (and perhaps use) the Traveling Sauna.

Later that day, guests are invited to Agate Beach, near Toivola, where that community’s residents will be celebrating the village’s 125th anniversary, as well as the time-honored tradition of the Juhannus kokko (bonfire) along the shore of Lake Superior. Along with food, fun and fire, the Toivola segment of the festival will include more Music Camp opportunities, as well as two enactments of an original play, written and performed in honor of the community of Toivola by local actress and radio personality Kris Kyro (who many remember as the lead in the FFUSA 2013 opening ceremony). Amerikan Poijat will also be on hand to provide music to which patrons can dance the Midsummer night away. If they need to be re-invigorated from all the dancing, the Traveling Sauna will also be on-site.

Then, on Sunday, June 25, the festival concludes with a full day of programming in the Finnish-American village of Bruce Crossing. Situated at the crossroads of U.S. 45 and M-28 in Ontonagon County, Bruce Crossing boasts a long and storied history of Finnish-American activity, much of which is centered around the Settlers’ Co-operative, which still operates today. Settlers’ is celebrating its centennial this summer, and as part of Juhannus ’17, filmmaker Kristin Ojaniemi will premiere a documentary on the history of the co-op. The Traveling Sauna will be on-site, and there’ll also be a performance of Melvin Kangas’ stage production “A Gala Day in the Co-op Store,” slated to be performed inside a recently restored barn on a Finnish-American man’s family farm. Other activities include more Music Camp opportunities, as well as a tori market and plenty of live music and merriment.

As specific times and sites are confirmed, they will be announced on the festival’s Facebook page and Web site, both of which are currently in development. Anyone with interest in the festival in the meanwhile is encouraged to call the Finnish American Reporter office at 906-487-7549 or the Finnish American Historical Archive at 906-487-7302.

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