Our Performers

 

Our Performers

FinnFest USA always presents a program rich in music, dance, poetry, and other performances, both traditional and modern. Read on about the talented performers you'll meet at FinnFest USA 2013!

 

Ameriikan Poijat

St. Olaf, Minnesota
The brass septet Ameriikan Poijat (Boys of America) has performed at ethnic festivals, regional tours, and music conferences since 1990. Based on founder Paul Niemistö’s contact with traditional Finnish brass players, Ameriikan Poijat has evolved around the beautiful charm of the old music and dance arrangements, and has enjoyed popularity among Finnish Americans. Although the septet had a limited existence among Finnish communities in the U.S., Ameriikan Poijat’s repertoire is quite familiar, drawing largely from pieces widely played by accordion or salon orchestra. These brass players find the repertoire to be both meaningful ethnic art, as well as musically attractive to all listeners. Members of Ameriikan Poijat are Finnish American musicians and teachers from Minnesota and Michigan—a region rich with Nordic heritage.
 

Casey Aro

Zim, Minnesota

Casey Aro is an entertainer, musician and story teller with over 25 years of experience as a member of an “old-time” dance band.

 
 
 
 

Josef Aukee

Sausalito, California
Josef Aukee is the author of the poetry collections Town and Country, Where Bright Stripes Go and Hill People. His work ranges from meditations and satirical commentary on contemporary urban life to the poetry of place. Josef often colors his live performances with vocalists and instrumentalists who provide dramatic voices and experimental musical backdrops. He received an M.A. in English: Creative Writing from San Francisco State University and lives in Sausalito, California.
POETRY READING: Western Tempos
 

Courtney Clisch

Pelkie, Michigan
Courtney Clisch is 17 years old and is currently homeschooled. She began entertaining audiences at the age of six and has recorded two albums. Courtney performs for local churches, extended-care facilities, talent shows, fundraising, cultural, and patriotic events. She enjoys singing in several languages and plays the guitar, piano, flute, and bass guitar.
 

Conga Se Menne

Marquette, Michigan
The musical style of Conga Se Menne is impossible to pigeonhole, running the gamut of Blues, Funk, Latin, Reggae, Rock, Caribbean beats and ethnic Finnish sounds. Island beat percussion blends smoothly with mellifluous keyboards, sonorous horns and big shouldered guitar work—all mixing with an influence of traditional styles. While the message is lighthearted and entertaining, the musical competence of these fine musicians cannot be disputed. In an era of media-controlled popular music, the music of Conga Se Menne is a refreshing respite for all concerned.
 

Finn Hall

Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
For over 15 years, Finn Hall has been dedicated to preserving and performing the feel and sounds of the old Finn Halls. Their performance remains true to the music of earlier generations, also including mid-20th century dance numbers, such as tangos and humppas. Finn Hall has gone back to the “old country” to learn traditional and contemporary dance music, at the same time deepening their personal connections with living musicians and the places from which band members trace their heritage. Finn Hall includes Al Reko (accordion and vocals), Dennis Halme (accordion), Cheryl Paschke (violin and nyckelharpa), and Ralph Tuttila (mandolin). Gordon Oschwald (bass), and Kip Peltoniemi (guitar) often perform with Finn Hall, and when possible, Johanna Doty joins on violin and Oren Tikkanen on bass or guitar. Prior performances include FinnFests and Grand Fests in the US and Canada and the Kaustinen Folk Music Festival in Finland. Finn Hall was the Finlandia Foundation Performer of the Year in 2010. For more information, visit www.finnhall.com.
 

FinnAire

Farmington Hills, Michigan
FinnAire got its start in 2005 in the Copper Country at the Aura Jamboree and the South Range Eagles, then on to FinnFest in Sault St. Marie. A small group, it consists mainly of members of FinnFolk of Farmington Hills. Roger (Raimo Juntunen) -Hewlett leads with accordion and Steve Niemi and Ron Karvonen accompany on guitar and mandolin and occasionally Joe Kylman with bass. Raimo and Joe have 2 instrumental CDs entitled Melodies of the Northlands and More…Melodies of Northlands featuring Finnish and other Scandinavian tunes as well as a mixture of German, Slovak, and other ethnic tunes.
 

FinnFolk 

Farmington Hills, Michigan
FinnFolk is sponsored by the Finnish Center Association of Michigan. All members are of Finnish descent and have been playing together as FinnFolk (formerly “Soittoniekat”) since 1996, when the band developed from a large jam session that took place at the FCA's 30th anniversary. Some members have been playing in various capacities for FCA since the 1970s, by accompanying the Hoijakat Folkdancers, and in Finlandia Strings. With accordions, guitars, mandolin, flutes, nickelharpa, and vocals FinnFolk performs Finnish, Scandinavian, and Russian folk music and other ethnic music as well. FinnFolk has performed for dances at the Aura Jamboree and prior FinnFests.
 

Finnish American Singers of Michigan

Farmington Hills, Michigan
The Finnish American Singers of Michigan, 20 members strong, are led by veteran director Henry Naasko and accompanist extraordinaire, William Gramzow IV. Sponsored by the Finnish Center Association in Farmington Hills, in suburban Detroit, FASM has an illustrious history of presenting Finnish and English music concerts twice a year as well as participating in outreach concerts, FinnFest USA presentations, and the production of about 3,500 pasties sold to eager consumers. Although some of the singers grew up speaking or hearing Finnish, most did not. However, they all enjoy sharing the history, through music, of Finland.
 

Ilon Kaiku Kantele Ensemble

Hancock, Michigan
Ilon Kaiku- “Echo of Joy” - is a newly formed group of 5- and 10/11- string kantele players, directed by Kay Seppala and sponsored by the Finnish American Heritage Center at Finlandia University. They play traditional Finnish folk tunes in the traditional style; in time they hope to add other instruments to their ensemble, such as larger kanteles, flute, mandolin, fiddle or guitar.
 

Järvenpää Singers

Duluth, Minnesota
The Järvenpää Singers originated as the FinnFest Chorus for FinnFest USA 1992 held in Duluth, with no plans to continue after the festival. However, they found that they not only enjoyed the music that they sang and one another’s company but they believed in the purpose of performing the music of their ancestors. In 1996 they changed their name to Järvenpää Singers, which means “head of the lake.” The kantele is a part of their program, and fifteen of the members now are a performing group called the Kanteleen Soittajat. Their programs consist of authentic folk, sacred and patriotic songs all sung in the Finnish language.
 

Diane Jarvi

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Diane Jarvi, a singer, songwriter, guitarist and kantele player, is a versatile performer of folk and world music. Her five CDs showcase her own songs as well as reflect her love of ballads, gypsy tunes, waltzes, tangos and kantele music from Finland. She has played and taught kantele for almost thirty years. Diane, recipient of a McKnight MacPhail performing fellowship, Finlandia Foundation Performer of the Year, and subject of two film documentaries by Erkki Määtänen, was granted a residency to teach kantele in the town of Cokato, Minnesota by the Minnesota State Arts Board. Diane, also a poet, loves to play tunes with her daughter LiLi.
 

Kaivama

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Finnish American musicians Sara Pajunen and Jonathan Rundman grew up in northwoods cultures of long winters, lakeside saunas, rugged terrain, and solitude. The band is founded on this common ancestry and performs original compositions and inventive, energetic arrangements of traditional folk tunes from the Nordic countries. The name Kaivama stems from the Finnish word kaivaa: “to delve or dig.” Pajunen’s unique prowess on the fiddle and Rundman’s versatility on guitar, harmonium, and piano allow Kaivama to explore a surprising variety of textures. Audiences from performance halls to folk festivals to rock clubs are captivated by this youthful duo’s instrumental skill and fresh approach in creating music.
 

Kanteleen Soittajat

Duluth, Minnesota
The Kanteleen Soittajat is a 16 member ensemble from the Duluth, Minnesota area who play mostly 10 and 11 string kanteles, with a flute and sometimes a guitar added. We love to play and sing a variety of Finnish folk, dance, religious, and humorous songs, with a few other Scandinavian and American songs included, depending on the venue. Most of our music is in the keys of either D-Major or D-Minor. Kanteleen Soittajat has performed since 2002 at over 100 events, including two earlier FinnFests, Salolampi, weddings, funerals, ethnic festivals, nursing homes, and churches, in five states and Canada.
 

Kisarit Finnish American Folk Dancers

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Kisarit Finnish American Folk Dancers from the Twin Cities area was founded in 1972 to promote awareness and appreciation of the Finnish culture in America through Finnish folk dance and music. Since the first performance in March 1973, the group has performed at numerous festivals (including some in Finland), nationality gatherings, business promotions, and other functions.
 

Kivajat Dancers

Hancock, Michigan
The Kivajat Dancers are the children’s Finnish American folk dance group from Upper Michigan’s Copper Country. The children, ages 8–13, learn the basics of traditional Finnish folk dancing, and perform in colorful peasant costumes funded by a grant from Finlandia Foundation National. The Kivajat—or “Merry Makers”—directed by Kay Seppala, are sponsored by the Finnish American Heritage Center of Finlandia University. Starting in 2004, different children over the years have danced as the Kivajat at three FinnFests (Marquette, Duluth, Sault Ste. Marie), participated in the Tanssiva Turku, and have performed at the Festival of Nations in St. Paul, Minnesota.
 

Teija Niku

Helsinki, Finland
Accordionist Teija Niku has performed extensively since the age of seven, and is now a professional folk musician with a master’s degree from the Sibelius Academy Folk Music Department. She has won numerous competitions, including the Konsta Jylhä Competition with her solo band Teija Niku & Grupa Balkan. She and fiddler Kukka Lehto form the folk duo Polka Chicks. Teija has released several CDs and has performed across Europe and in the USA. She is a respected contemporary folk music composer and accordion pedagogue. At FinnFest 2013 Teija is collaborating with the Finnish American duo Kaivama. 
 

Papu and Towhead

Vermont/Michigan
Siblings Don and Carol Reinholm have been playing the accordion for years, originally sparked by dance music of their Finnish heritage and inspired by Ralph Mannisto, Art Moilanen, Viola Turpeinen, and Veikko Ahvenainen. Practicing together is difficult as Carol lives in Vermont and Don lives in Rochester, Michigan. Carol played for dances for several years in Maine. Don currently plays in the Two Talls duo with violinist Hardy Kefes and backs up several singer-songwriters in the Detroit area. Papu and Towhead (their nicknames for years) together made a CD Pohjalat Metsassa in 2006. They are often joined by bassist Joe Kylman. 
 

Jane Piirto, Ph.D.

Ashland University (Ashland, Ohio)
Jane Piirto is a native of Ishpeming, Michigan who now lives in Ohio. She has authored 14 books and 6 chapbooks, literary and scholarly. Literary books are The Three-Week Trance Diet (novel); A Location in the Upper Peninsula (poems, stories, essays); The Arrest (novel); Labyrinth (Novella), Saunas (poetry) and Luovuus (in Finnish with Kari Uusikylä). She is Trustees’ Distinguished Professor at Ashland University in Ohio and has received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Northern Michigan University. Recently she has published poems in The Way North, an anthology of U.P. writers published by Wayne State University Press.
POETRY READING: The Finnishness of My Americanness: A Reading
 

The Revontulet Finnish Folk Dancers

Fitchburg, Massachusetts
Revontulet (the Northern lights) is a Finnish Folk Dance group that has been performing for the past 50 + years in the U.S. and abroad. It is dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Finnish folk dance traditions. The dances, music and traditional dress are examples of 18th and 19th century Finland. Finnish folk dancing originated either with peasants displaying some part of daily life or copied from dances of the gentry. The Revontulet performs at schools, churches, festivals and museums. They performed at the International Folk Festival in Kaustinen, Finland and at FinnFest in Lake Worth, Florida in 2005.
 

Saana Ensemble

Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
Saana Ensemble is a vocal quintet performing Finnish music, often with accordion, guitar, mandolin, clarinet and percussion. Five native Finns who met in Minneapolis/Saint Paul formed the group in 2005 to combine their diverse musical talents and to stay connected to their Finnish roots. Saana Ensemble features Finnish composers and arrangers as well as its own arrangements to accommodate voice types and instruments. The group has released two recordings and the latest On the Bridge (2011) has been reviewed by several Finnish American newspapers. Saana Ensemble has performed at many Scandinavian festivals and FinnFests, as well as at numerous Twin Cities venues.
 

Sámi Jienat

Norway/Sweden/Finland
The choir Sámi Jienat (Sámi Voices) was founded in 2002 and consist of Sámi, the indigenous peoples of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula in Russia. With approximately 50 members, the choir is not only the largest but also the only Sámi choir in the world that works across borders as one unit. Choir singing is not a traditional Sámi music form. Sámi Jienat presents a new genre where the traditional Sámi vocal expression yoik is used in a new setting and becomes choir yoik. Sámi Jienat will perform Rohkos Eatnamii—A Prayer for the Earth, a presentation of yoiks, poems and hymns of the Sámi multi-artist Nils-Aslak Valkeapää. Yoik is the oldest surviving vocal music expression in Europe, traditionally an acapella vocal art and usually performed solo. Sámi Jienat brings the ancient voice into modern times and creates music you’ve never heard before. The choir also performs Christian hymns and contemporary Sámi music.
 

Sattuma Karelian Folk Band

Petrozavodsk, Karelia, Russia

Sattuma has been engaging audiences, in songs and tunes from the Finnish, Karelian traditions since the two youngest members were just children ages 9 and 13, respectively. They have a huge following, both in the Finnish community and the general American population in the United States and in Finland, Russia, Sweden, Estonia, Germany, and the Netherlands. US elementary school children, high school and middle school students love their performances as much as adults of all ages and cultural backgrounds. Sattuma performs with 20 different instruments including violins, clarinet, accordion, bouzuki, 10-string kantele, jouhikko (bowed lyre), traditional flutes, bag pipe, and didgeridoo.

 

Toivo

Trumansburg, New York
Toivo is a Finnish American dance band from Trumansburg, NY, in the heart of the Finger Lakes region. Their Finnish music has traveled through the Koski family for over a hundred years from Finland, to the UP, and to the farm country of the Finger Lakes. Toivo enjoys playing Finnish, Tex-Mex, Cajun, and original music at restaurants, bars, wineries, festivals, and dances in the Ithaca, NY area. The band consists of Richard Koski (one and two-row button accordions), Jason Koski (mandolin), Jim Reidy (guitar), Stefan Senders (banjo), Harley Campbell (upright bass), and Annie Campbell (snare drum).

 

Jimmy Träskelin & Sampo Korva: Reisaavaisen laulu (A Traveler's Song)

Espoo/Kokkola, Finland
Jimmy Träskelin (vocals and harmonicas) and Sampo Korva (vocals, ukulele, and guitar) have been working together in various musical projects since 2003. After exploring Finnish, Irish and American traditional music as well as contemporary folk music, the duo now presents a program which embraces the intriguing cultural heritage of the Finnish American immigrants. Reisaavaisen laulu (A Travelers Song) is a fantasy journey to the historical world of Viola Turpeinen, Alfred J. Tanner, Bobby Aro and other Finnish American artists in addition to contemporary immigrant songs. With an arsenal of harmonicas, ukulele and guitar as well as their able voices, the duo presents a humorous yet emotive take on the tradition.
 

Tuhrulan Isäntä

Joensuu, Finland
Tuhrulan Isäntä started in 2008 as a party band for the annual office Little Christmas (pikkujoulu) party, and since has been performing for other occasions, playing Suomi-rock mainly from the 70s and 80s. Their repertoire includes the music of Juice Leskinen, Hassisen Kone, Tuomari Nurmio and Kauko Röyhkä, and other artists having a great impact on the Finnish popular rock scene of their time, as well as English tunes translated into Finnish (CCR, Neil Young, etc.). Members are Matti Toivanen, Markku Pitkänen, Ari Korhonen, Ari Tolvanen, and Juha-Pekka (J-P) Vartiainen.
 

The Turun Metsänkävijät Wind Band

Turku, Finland
The Turun Metsänkävijät Wind band is the oldest active scout band in Finland. It has its roots in the local scout organization Turun Metsänkävijät. The band was founded in 1927 and is a traditional concert band consisting of both brass and woodwind instruments. There are about 40 players of various ages and both genders actively participating in the concert band and additionally 60 younger trainees in two junior ensembles. The orchestra has a very wide musical repertoire that includes everything from perennial favorites to modern tunes.
 

Vinksin Vonksin

Turku, Finland
The Turku Folk Dance Association’s group Vinksin Vonksin has twenty dancers, both girls and boys, aged between 13 and 18. The group has performed traditional Finnish folk dances for over ten years. As a performance costume, girls wear the national dress model from Punkalaidun and boys wear the model from Säkylä. Vinksin Vonksin has performed extensively domestically and also had the chance to perform abroad in Estonia, Norway and Denmark. Leaders of the group are Miss Niina Kallioinen and Miss Satu Lehtonen, both of whom are folk dance instructors.
 

Bill White

Obenhoff, Michigan
Bill White was born in Hancock, Michigan. His maternal grandparents immigrated from Finland. Although he was away from the Copper Country for about 33 years, he presently lives in Obenhoff, Michigan. His interest in the accordion began around 6 years of age and he is completely self-taught. His musical interest lies in songs of yesteryear, mostly pre-1960. He plays his own style of music and is active in providing entertainment for the elderly and yearly at a St Urho’s day celebration for the Finnish American Heritage Society of South Western Michigan at Coopersville. He doesn’t speak Finnish but is very proud of his Finnish heritage.
 

White Water

Amasa, Michigan
Dean and Bette Premo formed the band White Water in 1984. Their welcoming style invites every audience member (whether in a concert setting or dance hall) to richly experience folk and traditional music whether it comes in the form of a thoughtful ballad or break-neck fiddle tune. White Water often includes “fiddlers” Emma and Carrie Dlutkowski and their mother Susan (piano). Bette and Dean have been activists for U.P. performing arts. They host the long-running Second Sunday Folk Dance series. Bette is on the Pine Mountain Music Festival Board and is Artist Director of the Finnish Folk Music Camp.
 

Wil Kilpela and Friends Band

Marquette, Michigan
Wil Kilpela and Friends band has performed in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Ontario, North Dakota and other venues. They play Finnish and American tunes. They produced a CD, and play many dance engagements. Their band is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
 

G. K. Wuori

DeKalb, Illinois
G. K. Wuori, a Pushcart Prize winner and Illinois Arts Council Fellow, is the author of over a hundred stories published throughout the world. His story collection, the cult favorite, Nude In Tub, was a New Voices Award Nominee by the Quality Paperback Book Club and his novel, An American Outrage, was Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year in fiction. His most recent book is the novel, Now That I’m Ready To Tell You Everything, and a new novel, Infidelity, will be published in the fall. He is vice-president of the Finnish North American Literature Association and associate editor of FinNALA’s literary journal, Kippis. He currently lives in DeKalb, Illinois where he manages a website at www.gkwuori.com.
POETRY READING: The Meaning of Life Revealed