Vintage Band Festival brings more than 50 concerts to Northfield this weekend

Vintage Brass Band Festival
Performers at the 2013 Vintage Band Festival in Northfield, Minn.
File Photo

The Vintage Band Festival, now in its 16th year in Northfield, features bands from all over the United States as well as local favorites.

Host Cathy Wurzer talks to festival founder and artistic director Paul Niemisto ahead of this weekend's festival.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] CATHY WURZER: That, friends, is the Minnesota State Band which has been around since 1898 playing Georgia on My Mind. They sound great. They're one of the Minnesota bands playing in the Vintage Band Festival in Northfield this Thursday through Sunday.

Paul Niemisto is the festival's founder and artistic director. Paul's on the line. Welcome to the program. How are you?

PAUL NIEMISTO: Oh, hey, hi. Good to talk to you, Cathy. You've been a part of my routine every morning for as long as I can remember.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you. I appreciate that, Paul. It's kind of you. I have heard about the Vintage Band Festival, never been, so tell us all about it.

PAUL NIEMISTO: Well, in short, I'll define vintage from our standpoint, perhaps just the best way to start. My idea of vintage is that it's not necessarily old. It might be. In some cases, there are Civil War over-the-shoulder type instruments and old 19th-century type town bands, but vintage is also, it can be ethnic or it can be regional. So we have mariachi bands and we have German bands and all kinds of different varieties of things.

And so the idea is to get variety and to get quality and to do it in a historical setting. And that's our theme or that's our purpose.

CATHY WURZER: Well, Northfield is a perfect setting.

PAUL NIEMISTO: Absolutely. The whole town is a museum.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, no kidding. That's why I think it's a perfect place for this. See, tell me. Why do you love vintage music, especially vintage brass band music?

PAUL NIEMISTO: Well, I'm Finnish American. And early on in my academic career-- I just retired from St. Olaf, I got involved in learning about the Finnish American band music that was from up on the Iron Range and that got me started. And then from there on, I realized that there is a certain quality to bands playing on, in most cases, authentic instruments from the period, which have a different sound. They're softer. They're more refined in some ways than the modern versions that are used in a modern concert band.

So it's kind of ghostly. My greatest experience is when we had about five or six over-the-shoulder tubas playing in a mass band situation, about 10 or 15 years ago, and I stood behind them. And it is a sonic experience that I'll never forget.

CATHY WURZER: Wow. I can only imagine. So I want to play some more music if that's OK for folks. We're going to play a Celtic fusion band. This is called Brass Lassie.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

They got a big sound. Wow. They're playing tomorrow at 6:30, I understand. Is that right, Paul?

PAUL NIEMISTO: It's tomorrow night. I guess that's right. Their founder or their leader is Laura MacKenzie, who herself is a famous Minnesota Celtic artist. She's actually a Northfield native. And there's a lot of things with other Irish and Celtic musicians both from across the pond and also from the area.

CATHY WURZER: So the festival has been around for some 16 years, what are the other bands that you're excited to see or to listen to this year?

PAUL NIEMISTO: Well, because of the COVID situation, we have a whole class of bands that just aren't here. It's a high risk to try to buy airline tickets for European groups to come over here. We don't know whether the flights are going to go or not or how it's going to be. So we've expanded the American scene a little bit more.

But it's always fun to hear the bands coming in from the other parts of the United States, such as Newbury's from the East Coast and the independent solo bands from Illinois. These are classic old bands who really cherish the old traditions and try to keep it going. Dodworth band also from Ann Arbor is superb in that regard.

CATHY WURZER: I have had the chance to listen to one of the bands playing, Malamanya. So I want to listen a little bit to them right now. They're making their first appearance this year at the festival.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Malamanya. Oh, I love them. They're great. See, Paul, I understand it was a four-day--

PAUL NIEMISTO: [INAUDIBLE]

CATHY WURZER: Go ahead. Go ahead.

PAUL NIEMISTO: I was going to say that they're part of a-- I think it's Friday night, which is a Latino night. There's going to be two-- a mariachi band and a banda, which is an amazingly loud sound, and then Malamanya. Malamanya is Afro-Caribbean or Afro-American. So we tried to have a representation of these ethnic groups as much as we possibly can and we're really happy to have them.

CATHY WURZER: So last year's festival if I'm not mistaken was just a day. It's a four-day festival this year, which is the first since the pandemic, right?

PAUL NIEMISTO: Right. We pull that off about every three or four years. The board of directors is all volunteer, amazingly capable people. But it takes about three or four years to amass the momentum to get another four-day festival in place. But the community here will not put up with us, not having anything. So on the off years, we have a one-day festival. And there's always Minnesota bands that will come and play and everybody's happy.

CATHY WURZER: Now, Paul, do you play an instrument?

PAUL NIEMISTO: I am a trombonist originally and I play euphonium and I am in the Finnish American septet called Boys of America, which is also going to be playing this weekend.

CATHY WURZER: And what does Finnish American brass music sound like, just generally speaking?

CATHY WURZER: Polkas, Scottish waltzes, tangos.

CATHY WURZER: Tangos?

PAUL NIEMISTO: Mazurkas. Oh, there's a whole story. How much time do you think I have?

[LAUGHTER]

It come to something called the deep Arctic of Finland. The tango came and it changed the personality of the entire population. They are tango freaks. They're shy, receding, quiet until there's a tango on, and then they are animated and erotic and otherwise totally different.

CATHY WURZER: There is a story there, I'm telling you. Paul, I appreciate your time. I think this is going to be a great festival this weekend. I wish you well. Thank you.

PAUL NIEMISTO: Hey, thanks for having me on. I really appreciate it.

CATHY WURZER: Absolutely. Paul Niemisto is the founder and artistic director of the Vintage Band Festival in Northfield. It's this weekend. Actually, it's starting tomorrow night, and it is free. Check out their website. You can also find out more information by going to exploreminnesota.com.

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