Just a good ol’ time with Ole Olsson’s Oldtime Orkestra

Bruce Bostrom playing the mouth harp at Ole Olsson’s Oldtime Orkestra’s performance before the Relay For Life at the Almelund Threshing Show grounds Friday night.  Photo by Derrick Knutson

Bruce Bostrom playing the mouth harp at Ole Olsson’s Oldtime Orkestra’s performance before the Relay For Life at the Almelund Threshing Show grounds Friday night.
Photo by Derrick Knutson

Valssi Jokkmokista, Gluggjen, Skrapvalsen: No, these are not characters from a J.R.R. Tolkien book.

Those who have some northern European heritage might have correctly identified the aforementioned phrases as hailing from Scandinavia. In fact, they’re songs played by Ole Olsson’s Oldtime Orkestra.

The band treated those who stopped by the Relay For Life at the Almelund Threshing Show grounds Friday night to an array of Scandinavian music.

The group is comprised of Art Bjorngjeld, fiddle, accordion, guitar; Mary Abendroth, vocals, pump organ; Paul Wilson, 2-row button accordion, guitar, vocals; Char Bostrom, fiddle; and class of 1970 North Branch High School graduate Bruce Bostrom, munnharpe, spoons.

Bruce Bostrom is also a pediatric hematology-oncology staff physician at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

The band has played at Scandinavian festivals and other events across the country and even a few times in Sweden.  Photo by Derrick Knutson

The band has played at Scandinavian festivals and other events across the country and even a few times in Sweden.
Photo by Derrick Knutson

When he’s not working at Children’s, Bruce Bostrom and the band travel the upper Midwest and sometimes to areas much farther away to share their unique talents. The group has played in California, New York City, and even a few times in Sweden.

From dancing to playing

Initially, Bruce Bostrom didn’t have a music role in the band.

“Char (his wife of 37 years) is the real musician in the band; she used to just bring me around to carry things,” Bruce Bostrom quipped.

Even though he didn’t play an instrument when he was younger, Bostrom had a talent for Scandinavian dancing and employed that skill to get the crowds at the band’s shows more into the music.

“When we’d go out and play events, I was supposed to go out into the audience, find women and get them up to dance,” Bruce Bostrom said.

Bostrom explained he gradually “worked (his) way into the band” by taking lessons on the mouth harp and learning how to play spoons.

“Spoons I pretty much taught myself; that’s just a rhythm thing,” he said, adding, “You have to have good rhythm to dance.”

Bruce Bostrom jokes that the band is probably more of a source of expense than profit for him, but he finds a great deal of enjoyment in traveling across the state, country and to other nations with the band.

The musicians got to know one another in the 1980s when Scandinavian music and dancing events were held Sunday nights at the Good Templar Hall in Minneapolis.

Ole Olsson’s Oldtime Orkestra wasn’t officially formed until 2003, sans Olsson, who isn’t actually a real person in the band.

The band’s had some fun with the name, even developing a back-story for this mysterious Ole Olsson.

“Folklore has it that he once owed someone a musical favor, so he was forced to scour the entire state of Minnesota looking for musicians to make up a band,” according to information on the group’s website. “In the end, he managed to put together this all-star cast. Olsson was quoted by ‘Lutefisk Today’ to say: ‘Ya, dey sure can play dose old time dance tunes, and dey work real cheap too.’”

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