We kick back at the Blackbird Woodfire Pizza and enjoy an above average pizza and desert. We are exceedingly weary and prone to a bit of reflection. The street is being swept and cleaned as we look out the window and enjoy our meal. In no time at all, the tidiness of this city will once again be complete. The artists disassemble displays and tents scurrying off the to the next venue somewhere down that long lonesome highway.

Tonight, my wife and I are celebrating eighteen years on the road with our artisan craft and business, the Buffalo Billfold Company. We exhibit at juried art festivals throughout the nation. Today might well exceed our day ONE THOUSAND! Many people attend a festival each year, perhaps one, two or three? For better or worse we see festivals fifty to seventy five days each each year.

We have seen perhaps hundreds of communities and their festivals. These are communities putting their best foot forward and inviting the pubic to come and enjoy what they have to offer. The offerings include the artists, artisans, craftsman and various other amenities. Those amenities might include amusements, rides, antiques, music, art workshops and various entertainments that attracts the public. These festivals are far flung and varied, a few years back we attended a rattlesnake festival! A rattlesnake wallet, rattlesnake checkbook cover and rattlesnake guitar strap may have come out of that experience!

This weekend we have traveled only five hours to Fargo, North Dakota, it seems a rather short distance because we often times travel much further attending four to six shows in the course of four or six weeks.

The city of Fargo is celebrating their fortieth year of this event. Their volunteers have come forth and they are well versed in their responsibilities. The festival director knows her stuff and takes the brunt of everything a festival has to throw at her. Tens of thousands of people show up to have a great time and be entertained. The community leans forward and provides for this event. I suspect many generous people and businesses provide the currency necessary to make this work. Those that don’t provide currency, provide volunteer labor. All of these folks are to be admired, because they are doing the work that most people think “just happens”.

In the art and artisan world of gypsy travelers, information is shared and discussed regarding festivals throughout the nation. We first became aware of this festival because some artists told us that it was a very good festival, yet they did not continue attending because of the long hours and at times the wickedly hot weather that can occur in July. True to form, the weather was at times rather hot. A sprinkling tent was positioned within the event site to lower body temperatures and provide a soothing, refreshing spray of water.

We have enjoyed all of these communities from our curious viewpoint. We meet the organizers, we meet the local citizens, we meet the students, we meet people from the surrounding trade area. Fargo offers an interesting day “ONE THOUSAND.”

The microcosm that we see in Fargo is indicative of many communities across the United States. Fargo is a University town, it has bright and educated people from all over North Dakota, including many other parts of the MidWest. Interspersed in this curious mix happens to be people seeking education from China, Egypt, Japan, Korea and many other countries. The community of Fargo exhibits that midwestern ethic of being profoundly respectful of others. The international communities that exist within this community seem to thrive and also assimilate.

I write this with a viewpoint that is not unfamiliar with diversity. My own community has a wealth of immigrant population. While in Fargo I happen upon a group of Sudanese men that call this city their home. They are from the White and Blue Nile region of the Sudan. A place called Malakal four hundred miles north of Juba, the city that borders Kenya. They seem well adapted to this northern prairie community and speak of Fargo with pride and appreciation. I am a student of history & geography and I know of the region from which they have come. Fargo is a vastly different from their homeland. A Sudanese friend is fishing for king crab in the Bering Sea. What a profound change their lives have seen, enduring the wild swings of climate & temperature of the sub-arctic tundra!

We have finished “take down” and are comfortably back at our campground. We have decided not to travel home during the late night hours. It is no longer necessary to arrive home at 3 a.m. We will stay camped along side the Red River of the North. I am inclined to pay attention to watersheds. If we elected to jump in this river we would slowly drift towards the Hudson Bay in Northern Canada. It has been a long day and that doesn’t seem a necessary adventure. I am headed toward the Mississippi River watershed, Southern Minnesota!

The sun is fading and the music in our campground is rather festive and loud. We don’t find the music particularly annoying, yet I can’t quite recognize the ethnic origin of the music. I resign myself to wander over to the loud and celebratory group of people. To my enjoyment and surprise, they are Bosnians! They are Fargo-Bosnians! and they are a proud group of new found citizens in this curious city. As I visit I try to search for words from that area of the world. I stumble out the words “dobro utro and dobro den”! (good day and good night) The man that I am visiting with, broadens his smile and says “thats pretty close!” It is the language of our people. He confides in me that there may be a thousand Bosnians living in Fargo. I am heartened by the warmth, I am heartened by a community that allows such generosity, for all will be rewarded.

What I find in Fargo is a gleaming example of America’s new found wealth. The wealth is comprised of (not only) middle age white guys like myself, but people that are willing and understanding to accept the new immigrant population. This immigrant population is their new salvation. That salvation is coming from all over the world to replace that waning demographic of people that are my age. They have come from all corners of the earth. Some come to labor, some come to study and learn and be educated. They have come appreciating the promise that is held in this community.

I have been attending the Fargo Art Fair for perhaps six or seven years. We camp in a local campground and bicycle to the event site that is a mile or two away.

It breaks up our long day and it affords us some pleasant scenery as we pedal the well placed bike paths. Fargo has recognized what attracts and maintains its citizenry. It is more than strip malls and buildings. They have put together parks and pathways that connect much of their community. They have done it long before other communities realized the importance.

The Fargo Art Fair might just have been another art fair in our one thousand days of festivals, yet… This city embraces the arts and humanities, this city embraces education, this city enjoys the interconnectedness of the world.

As I leave festival number one thousand behind (in my rear view mirror), I will look forward to a return visit.
FARGO – Keep On Continuing!

Bill Keitel

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