The upcoming “Uff Da Fest” celebrates all things autumn in nearby Spring Grove, Minn., Oct. 6-8.
Among this year’s festival highlights this fall are a Norsk talent show and Reader’s Theater on Oct. 6, heritage classes, vendor market, Spring Grove Area Chamber of Commerce open house, live music, and a play called “Nordic Convention 1935”, all on Saturday, Oct. 8.
An old-fashioned barn dance also is Saturday. The event is sponsored by Giants of the Earth Heritage Center. Beth and Jon Rotto of Decorah will share tunes Beth found as part of a Musician-in-Residence opportunity she recently completed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Opening act at the Oct. 8 dance will be Squirrel Tail, featuring local farmer Hannah Breckbill of Humble Hands Harvest. The dance is at 7 p.m. at Ye Olde Gray Barn. Tickets are $5 for all ages.
Sunday’s highlights include an old-fashioned Norwegian Church Service, graveyard tours and a meatball luncheon.
The barn dance is the culmination of some work a local musician has done in archiving Spring Grove-based dance music.
The Sustaining Scandinavian Folk Arts in the Upper Midwest project, under the auspices of the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, recently hosted Musician-in-Residence Beth Hoven Rotto, a Decorah-based fiddler. Beth is a prominent and active musician in the larger Decorah area, having founded the popular old-time dance music band, Foot-Notes, in the early 1990s. Well before that, however, Beth grounded herself in the music of the Norwegian American settlers of that area through an apprenticeship with renowned fiddler, William “Bill” Sherburne of Spring Grove, Minn., and through the friendships she made with women musicians who carried the fiddle tunes of their fathers when no one else did. This was the music of the house parties, “kitchen sweats,” and open-air bowery dances from the turn of the century. It’s the music that aired on local radio and was played at weddings, anniversaries, and Saturday night dances. It was the music that folks played when the neighborhood got together and if you couldn’t play, you danced. Rotto’s residency was focused on this body of music, the unique blend of primarily Scandinavian tunes, popular American songs, and English and Irish melodies that made up the musical landscape of the Driftless area and was shared throughout the Upper Midwest.
This was a notable residency for a variety of reasons. First, it doesn’t often happen that the University selects folk artists for residencies, but opportunities like this are important because they emphasize and place value on artistic expressions that are generated and nurtured in and by communities. Folk arts often suffer from being “hidden in plain sight,” and residencies like this highlight and celebrate the amazing skills, creativity, and rich traditions that exist within all communities, among all people. Another thing that makes this residency remarkable is that Hoven Rotto is not teaching an academic course to students while she is on campus. Instead, she formed the Scandinavian American Old-time Dance Music Ensemble, which meets once a week and is open to both students and community members. (https://folklife.wisc.edu/2022/01/28/scandinavian-americanold-time-dance-music-ensemble/
Rotto has been teaching participants her repertoire of Scandinavian American old-time tunes common to the Decorah area and Scandinavian American communities throughout the Upper Midwest. Ensemble members are learning tunes by ear and performed on campus as a group. Finally, her work on the UW campus was noteworthy because of her work with relevant music collections in the Mills Music Library. The Arnold Munkel Collection, in particular, is a body of largely Scandinavian American old-time dance music from the Decorah and Spring Grove area that reflects the source of Rotto’s repertoire. (https://search.library.wisc.edu/digital/AMunkel)
She has uncovered tunes in that collection that may have not been played for 40 or 50 years and she is actively teaching them to the ensemble she formed here at UW. You might say that the heart of Rotto’s residency at UW-Madison is the act of remembering. Remembering the tunes that made up the musical lives of communities in the Driftless Area, remembering the people who cared for and passed those tunes on, remembering the purpose of the music itself, which is to get people dancing and bring them together in community.
The 2022 Uff Da Fest organizers commented, “Joinus for Uff Da Fest in Spring Grove next weekend for a dose of folk culture AND great music. For complete details about Spring Grove’s upcoming weekend festival visit: http://www.uffdafest.com.