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Omdahl: Hostfest created to stop Norwegian outmigration

By Staff | Sep 8, 2017

The sweet sounds of the hardingfele will soon drift across the prairies to soothe the homesickness of the 300, 000 North Dakota Scandinavians who yearn for a return to the beloved fiords and mountains of the old country.

An ecumenical gathering of Norwegians, Swedes, Danes and Finns, the Norsk-Hostfest will open in Minot September 27 for a 4-day run in the Scandinavian epicenter of America. It has the well-deserved title of North America’s largest Scandinavian festival.

The wars of 1812-14 among the Swedes, Norskes and Danes will be forgotten when Sweden and Denmark made war and forced the loser to take Norway. At some future Hostfest, a peace treaty will be signed.

To bury old grudges with Scandinavian cordiality, the Hostfest is packed with so much entertainment and food that folks will think they’re back in the old country. In fact, that was one of the reasons Hostfest came into being.

A number of erroneous theories about the creation of Hostfest have been offered but the truth is that Founder Chet Reiten noticed that Scandinavians couldn’t adjust from the alpine forests of home to the barren prairies of Dakota and talked about going back.

So he promised them that he would take them back to Norway for few days every year if they would stay. To make good on that promise, he created the Hostfest and saved half of the Scandinavian population in North Dakota.

Even those who had gone back as far as Wisconsin came back when they hear the melody of the hardingfele pouring out of Minot.

The Hostfest boasts five stages, with the Great Hall of the Vikings offering a dozen of national performers through the 4-day run. The Oak Ridge Boys are back. The oaks are gone but they carry on.

Celtic Thunder, a troupe of five young solo singers, will return to demonstrate the tolerance of the Scandinavians. These guys are Irish and only qualified for a Hostfest performance because a Norwegian fog drifted over Ireland in 1341, making them honorary Norwegians as far as the Hostfest was concerned.

In case some wayward Scotchmen drift in, Hostfest offers an endless array of free programs in Copenhagen Hall.

Notably, the Swedish Fiddlers will be there to play in Swedish. Meanwhile, there will be free dancing in the Skien Mezzanine for everyone with liability insurance.

All of this music will be great since up until the nineteenth century Norway had only anonymous folk music. There was very little singing but an awfully lot of humming.

Someone, somewhere is scheduled to play the “dance of the lutefisk.” That will not be without conflict as the organic people, including a few Germans from Russia, have formed an anti-lutefisk society just to picket the performance.

Some Hostfest fans have decided that if the lutefisk can waltz they could do a rommegrot schottische next year.

Most people haven’t heard about the lutefisk riot in Napoleon when Oscar Orvinson opened a restaurant one day with lutefisk as his main menu. The next day, he abandoned his inventory and escaped to Crosby and to Divide County, the North Dakota county with the highest percentage of Scandinavians. However, the streets of Napoleon had to be cleaned daily for a whole month to restore the scent of sauerkraut.

The inclusive spirit of the Hostfest can be seen in the folks being inducted into the Scandinavian Hall of Fame, most notably, Charley Pride, who was probably passed off as a black Swede.

The Hostfest has something for everyone music, food, crafts, and pomp enough to convince any Scandinavian to stay in North Dakota for another year.

Omdahl is a former lieutenant governor and former political science professor at UND.

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