Ein Prost! A toast to Flagstaff Oktoberfest
By Laura Thompson and Daniel Daw
The smell of freshly made bratwurst was in the air and the beer taps were flowing all-day for a celebration of German culture and a good time.
This past Saturday, the fourth annual Flagstaff Oktoberfest was in full swing with everything from polka bands, yodeling contests, delicious food and root beer for the little ones.
It all started with Debbi Grogan’s, owner of Peak Events and primary planner of the festival, love of festivals. Although Grogan has not visited the original in Munich, she does plan to go with her husband.
“I love festivals — I love planning them, I love working on them and so I decided to start looking at festivals I could own,” Grogan said. “My husband lived [in Germany] for many years and so it’s our goal to go back for the [Munich] Oktoberfest.”
Entry fees and glasses were collected to benefit the Flagstaff Sunrise Lions Club, part of a larger international humanitarian organization.
Tim McPhee of the Sunrise Lions Club was excited about being part of Oktoberfest and all the donated glasses. “ We provide sight and hearing testing for Northern Arizona . . . we got two big boxes full of donated glasses . . . I’ve known the Grogans for years, and they needed a local organization so it worked out.”
Brandon Thalmann, geographic science and community planning major and a former member of the NAU German Club loved the atmosphere at the festival and all of the people dancing.
“I’d have to say all of the people dancing, like I haven’t really gotten around to see how many people are actually German. It’s a great atmosphere — they’ve got accurate music,” Thalmann said.
In the spirit of the festival, polka bands Big Willie and the Polka Meisters and the Polka Katzen performed traditional polka tunes from around the world.
Polka Katzen’s performance was impressive and got many of the festival goers up on their feet to dance. The lighthearted and bouncy nature on the genre was not lost in translation among the audience.
Polka Katzen drummer and vocalist, Gordon Drinen, began playing music in elementary school but left it until the age of 50, it was then he began as a polka musician.
“I went from age 13 to age 50 with no music,” said Drinen. “And a guy named Big Willie, whose name is Randy Mews, invited me to start playing again. I think he heard me singing in church or maybe it was because I was wearing suspenders or something. It’s been a blessing because it brought me back to art and musicians — the type of people that I hadn’t been with for 50 years.”
Josh Lang, a senior music education and music performance major and member of NAU’s Wind Symphony, enjoys the differences between playing with the Polka Katzen and in a normal academic setting.
“It’s especially cool to not be in an academic setting, because these are people that work throughout the week and not practicing all of the time,” Lang said. “What’s cool for me, as somebody who studies music so precisely to come in and have them be like ‘Nah nah nah, it’s got to be more like this’ and just sing it and that’s polka.”
As the day went on more events occurred, yodeling contests, costume contests and even a short contest to see who could do good German accents. One such event was the Findlay Volkswagen Stuff the Bug event where 18 participants ended up in a Volkswagen Beetle, which according to event staff, was three shy of breaking the world record.
Zach Warren, visiting from Nevada, was happy to have taken a part in it even if they didn’t break any records.
“It was a little bit cramped, packed in there with a bunch of strangers, I wish we had another chance so then we could fit three more [people] in,” Warren said. “But it’s a pretty fun event that they were able to put on, I was glad to be a part of it.”
Oktoberfest had everything a perfect fall day needed. A blue sky lined with trees of gold and red, a cool breeze to remind of winter’s near approach, children laughing and dancing in the fallen leaves and of course, the aroma of hot food and cold beer.
While local staples like Fratelli’s, Satchmo’s and Tropical Sno were at the event, patrons flocked to The Wurst Cafe, a German booth which served strudels, bratwurst, frankfurter, kiellbasa and stuffed pork. The line was long, but the wait is worth it at an event like this. More importantly, the brew service did not keep anyone waiting.
Taps of nine different beers flowed for eager customers. If there is one thing to be said about Flagstaff, the people here know their beer. Three German beers, Paulaner Oktoberfest, Paulaner Hefeweizen and Krombacher Pilsner appeased the crowd. One beer from Arizona, the San Tan Brewing company’s Oktoberfest made the cut. Three beers from the New Belgium Brewing Company out of Colorado were also featured: Fat Tire, Ranger and The Hunt for Red Hoptober. Finally an apple cider from Wyder’s brewery in Washington was present along with New Castle Werewolf from England. The beers ranged from the dark and hearty to the yellow and fizzy and were definitely the staple of the festival. While the selection of beers was satisfying, it was a bit of a let down not to see any brews from Flagstaff or Northern Arizona.
Over-all Flagstaff payed a respectable homage to the original festival in Munich, that was appreciated by all who attended.
“It’s a great event a lot of cool people, they’re handling it very well and the beer is amazing.” said Warren.