Monday, July 24, 2017

Weekend Trip through Wisconsin's Finnish-American Heartland

Wow, I know I'll be in Finland in just one week, but I am amazed at just how much Finnish culture and heritage there is right here in Wisconsin. I began my weekend by heading to Pulaski, WI to celebrate a part of my own Polish background in Wisconsin at the Pulaski Polka Days--which was incredible! Overwhelming amounts of beer, bratwurst, Polish pastries, and polka! Lots and lots of polka! They even had two stages per tent, so there was never a lag in music or dance for 12+ hours. Both exhausting and amazing! I polka'd so much that I didn't even have time to book a room for the night so I slept in my car. On Saturday morning I took a trip to Merrill, WI to meet with Rod and June Maki of the Finn Power Band, but as I was leaving town I stopped for some Polish pastries, a quick trip through the arts and crafts tents, and then--in a thrift store on the outskirts of Pulaski--I found this Alvin Styczynski LP on Cuca Records which accurately proclaims, Polaski is a Polka Town! 

After an incredible roadside stop at Doc's Harley Davidson in Shawano County where I saw an incredible muscle car and motorcycle museum (for free) that includes one of the 2 original General Lee's made by George Barris, watched four domesticated alligators feeding on raw chickens, explored a bird sanctuary that included parrots and macaws and pythons, found a pretty amazing and cheap '50s fish sweater in the adjacent antique mall, and looked into dates for the next available riding camp to get my motorcycle license--I made it to Merill, where I met Rod and June at a really cool '50s burger joint called Chip's Hamburgers. After lunch we met up with my colleague Mirva Johnson from the University of Wisconsin and we headed to the Maki residence, easily spotted from the road by the Finnish flag on the mailbox. The Makis were incredibly gracious hosts and I had a blast practicing my Finnish, learning about their Finnish-American heritage and upbringing, receiving some very useful beginner accordion pointers, and also getting a private concert of Kulkurin Valssi, their newly-written Centennial Polka, and several other Finnish dance tunes. Twas great fun and very much enjoyed and I'm really looking forward to meeting up with them again soon. If anyone ever have a chance to see or book Finn Power in concert, be sure to do it! 

From there I went to Brantwood, WI to stay with Jim and Helen Palmquist at their incredible Palmquist Farm, which according to their website has been "Providing Great Finnish Hospitality Since 1949." 

Beyond great Finnish hospitality, I would add: incredible cabins (Jim is an expert logcabin maker), beautiful property, great company, friendly dog, delicious meals, great ski trails... Just everything one could ask for. It was very difficult to walk the property in the morning and NOT think I was in Finland. Birch trees and lakes everywhere and Finnish names on all the signs in the surrounding area... They even had vintage Lotta-Svard Arabia plates which I thought were pretty cool. 

After breakfast on Sunday I went to visit Bill Hoffman in Knox, WI and he has built up an incredible Finnish settlement with two cabins (inluding Maki Talo, for which June Maki of Finn Power has written an original song, and the Pahka Talo), an outhouse, a sauna, and even a forthcoming chapel in honor of St. Urho on the site of the first Finnish settlement in Wisconsin (and next to the old Finnish cemetery). The property is also filled with ski trails and is just beautiful. It is a truly amazing place and should any of my Finnish friends want to visit a Finnish home away from Finland, it's exactly 4,271 miles from Helsinki  and about 2 miles away from this monument dedicated to the Finnish settlers of Brantwood, Clifford, and Tripoli.

After a wonderful visit exploring Bill's extensive Finnish folk art and woodcarving collection currently on display at the Brantwood Credit Union

and a brief visit to the Knox Creek Heritage Center--which was closed but still beautiful to see--

I went up to Little Finland in the very northern tip of Wisconsin for Viola Turpeinen Day--one of the more popular dance and social events of the year for Finnish-Americans in the region. I got lots of practice with my Finnish language for next week, met some really fun and interesting folks, ate some delicious food, and even got to sit in with Finn Power for a few songs! Now I am most certainly looking forward to the calendar of upcoming events in Little Finland!

Just in case I actually got to thinking I was in Finland the entire time, as I was leaving the dance I saw a bald eagle on the side of the road and it reminded me that it is this very regional diversity and celebration of various cultural heritages that makes this country--and the state of Wisconsin--so great. I stopped to take its picture and we nodded at each other and then I continued down the road and back to Madison.

All and all, it was an incredible trip and one I look forward to making again in the near future. My many thanks to my friend and colleague Mirva Johnson who was documenting events via photo and video throughout the entire trip and kiitos paljon, minun uusia suomalaisia ystäviä Wisconsinista!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Melodiya 7" Record Art from the Mills Music Library Collections

Russia's been in the news a lot lately and in honor of Stephen Colbert's Russia Week I figured I would upload some of my favorite Russian 45 sleeve art from our collections here at the Mills Music Library. The Melodiya label--founded in 1964--was the USSR state-run record label and released a wide variety of musical styles and performances throughout the '60s, '70s and '80s. We have hundreds of LPs, cassettes, and 7" 33s here at MML, as well as discographies and CD compilations of Melodiya content (if there's something specific you are looking for, you can search for it here:, but one of the coolest things about the label were the generic sleeves they created to house their 7" 33 1/3rpm records. Check out some of my faves: