Finn Fest opens in Duluth, commits to the city for next five years

Two people smile and laugh
Participants took part in a Finnish midsummer festival in Duluth earlier this summer.
Courtesy of Cedar and Stone Nordic Sauna / Pointed North Photography

Around 2,000 people are expected at a five-day festival celebrating Finnish culture that runs in Duluth from Wednesday through Sunday. Attendees will have the opportunity to sweat in a sauna, take in Finnish music, film, arts and crafts, and even a discussion of international geo-politics.

Finn Fest USA launched in the Twin Cities in 1983 as a way for Finnish-Americans to keep their culture alive.

Since then it’s been held across the U.S., including two previous stops in Duluth, most recently in 2008. About 10,000 people attended that year — the festival’s largest turnout to date.

Initially “It was much more I think exclusive to Finnish culture, people who are actually from there and missing certain things back home but are living in the U.S., so that they could gather together,” said the festival’s Executive Producer Heli Sirvioe.

Today, Sirvioe said, the festival takes a broader, more global, inclusive approach. The target audience is Finns and “friends of Finland,” alike, “people who might have an interest for Nordic food, Nordic music and films."

While the festival began Wednesday with tours around the region, it ramps up in earnest following the opening convocation Thursday evening (featuring Duluth Mayor Emily Larson and Superior, Wis., Mayor Jim Paine), with events scheduled through the weekend.

Most events will be held at the DECC, the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, although some will take place at different venues in Duluth.

Some of the festival’s highlights include:

  • A discussion of Finland’s recent acceptance into NATO, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, featuring Finland’s Ambassador to the U.S., and Philip Breedlove, a former NATO commander.

  • A workshop on how to find “Happiness like a Finn.” Finland is the happiest country in the world, six years running, according to the World Happiness Report. Dr. Erica Tukiaine will explore how to bring Finnish values of work-life balance, support for family and others into American lives. 

  • Lots of music, including a performance by FinnFest’s own Symphony Orchestra (featuring many members of the Duluth-Superior Symphony Orchestra), as well as a concert by Samuli Edelmann, a pop singer with a string of hit albums in Finland who also happens to be a movie star. He starred next to Tom Cruise in “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol”, and also stars in a record-breaking Nordic TV series called “The Reindeer Mafia.” Edemlann will also answer questions following a screening of the first two episodes of the series. 

  • A free Finnish marketplace, or Tori, where vendors will sell Finnish related products, both handmade crafts and commercial imports.

  • And no Finnish celebration would be complete without a steam in a sauna. Festival goers will have the chance to partake in the Finnish tradition/obsession with a sauna session, followed by a dip in Lake Superior.

While the annual festival has been held in 23 different cities, organizers say they now plan to hold it in Duluth every year for at least the next five years.

The commitment makes sense, Sirvioe said, considering that about 20 percent of the people who live in the region say they have Finnish heritage. There’s also strong appreciation for Finnish-American culture.

“So it seems quite logical, and also fruitful ground to want to grow our roots.”