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FinnFest USA '99 a Big Success in Sunny Seattle

After years of planning and preparing for FinnFest '99, the festival itself flew by too fast! About 3,000 registrants, vendors and volunteers attended the four-day festival at the University of Washington. Several hundred others attended some select festival programs, most notably the Finnish Evening at the Symphony, world premiere musical The Sampo, the dazzling Finnish Fashion Show, and the Moomin Show for toddlers and their parents. - An Art show, Finnish crafts, Northwest historical exhibits and a Marketplace were open to all.

The most frequent comment was that there were too many interesting programs going on at the same time and visitors could not experience everything they wanted. What a compliment to the depth and variety of Finnish culture! The planners kept saying that there was something for all ages and all generations. They were proven right.

Under the theme Roots and Wings the festival offered an extensive program on Kalevala in honor of the 150th anniversary of the national epic and provided tools for exploring the Finnish roots in an extensive genealogy program. Wings brought in information, entertainment and experiences from today's Finland. The highlight was the appearances of two internationally acclaimed Finnish leaders. President Martti Ahtisaari made two virtual appearances at FinnFest: in the Virtual Finland computer room and at the impressive closing ceremony. Mrs. Elisabeth Rehn, the former Finnish Defense Minister who just concluded an assignment in Bosnia as UN Under Secretary General, was there in person. She was the guest speaker at the Festival Banquet, and lectured about the UN Role in International Affairs and Finland's Participation.

Performers and lecturers from Finland, Sweden, Canada and the U.S. provided education and entertainment in classrooms, in performance halls and on the outdoor stage. Evenings were spent on the dance floor doing the famous Finnish tango and other Finnish dance specialties as required by popular demand. "It is not a FinnFest without a polka" remarked one visitor. Among the favorite musical performers were Timo Väänänen, master kantele player from Finland, Pinnin Pojat, also from Finland who packed the rooms and received standing ovations, Barbara Helsingius who delighted the audiences with her ballads. Those who attended the Seattle Girls and the Turku Boys Choirs' joint concert came away with glowing remarks. The members of the Seattle Symphony performed an unforgettable evening concert on Friday night, and Keskilännen Pelimannit from Minnesota delighted all at the Friday night dance with their old Finn Hall style dance music. There was something for every taste.

Post-fest mood in Seattle is high with many great memories and fresh stories of the festival week. Contributing to the good spirits among the planners is the preliminary report from the FinnFest treasurer that the financial outcome of the festival will be positive. On October 9 the FinnFest Board thanked all volunteers by hosting a Volunteer Appreciation Celebration Dinner. It was a joyous occasion with great memories and great company, i.e. the great volunteer team that made this large undertaking possible.

What continues after FinnFest USA'99 has closed is the firm conviction that it made a strong contribution towards raising the awareness and appreciation of Finland's accomplishments in the past as well as in the contemporary world among the large number of participants, whatever their national background.

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