Oktoberfest Celebrations in the US

Check out these Oktoberfest celebrations in the US.
By: John Briley

It’s tempting to view Oktoberfest celebrations as elaborate excuses to drink excessively every October. But the truth is that Oktoberfest actually starts in September, which shows the perils of jumping to conclusions about other people’s drinking habits.

Oktoberfest’s origins date back to what was essentially a giant wedding reception. In 1810, Prince Ludwig of the German state of Bavaria invited the entire population of Munich to celebrate his marriage to Princess Therese. The centerpiece of the day was a horserace, and, by all accounts, the 40,000 people who showed up also downed numerous beers. The revelers committed to do it again the next year, and a tradition was born. It was more than a century later that communities in the US caught on, but now the festivities grow more inventive every year. Here are 5 US Oktoberfest events worth checking out.

The undisputed king of American Oktoberfests, this bash was first held in 1976. Today, it draws half a million people annually and has the odd distinction of threatening 2 of its own world records every year: the largest chicken dance ever and the largest kazoo band. The dance is often led by real-life rock stars. One drawback: while the German version runs for more than 2 weeks, Cincy packs it into 2 days (Sept. 17-18 this year). However, there’s a “sneak peek” day on Sept. 16, with the traditional Running of the Wieners race (entry fee includes a hot dog bun costume). The party is in the historic Fountain Square district in downtown Cincinnati. Aside from ample beer tents, the fest includes live German music on 7 stages and more than 30 food vendors.

Wisconsinites are no strangers to German influence. The state is among those with the highest proportion of German Americans in the US. The Oktoberfest lineage in La Crosse, WI, dates back to 1961, and while it’s grown, the fest has preserved a laid-back vibe. The 2011 fest kicks off Sept. 23 with the Festmeister’s Ball, in which the final member of the Oktoberfest Royal Family is announced, and runs through Oct. 1. Other events include multiple parades, a craft beer night, heritage night (celebrating La Crosse’s Teutonic roots), a photo contest (no theme) and the Miss La Crosse/Oktoberfest beauty pageant.

I wouldn’t have guessed it, but the Bay Area of California is home to 17 German clubs, all of which are represented at Oktoberfest by the Bay from Sept. 30-Oct. 2. Headlining the packed oompah music bill is the 21-piece Chico Bavarian Band, a Blaskapelle (traditional Bavarian brass band). Another draw: fall weather in San Francisco is typically sublime, with sunny days in the 70s and pleasantly cool nights.
You don’t need us to tell you Vegas knows how to party. But you might need this tip: Hofbräuhaus in Las Vegas kicks off Oktoberfest Sept. 17, and drives the party clear through to Halloween. The Vegas Hofbräuhaus is a reproduction of the world-famous Munich beer hall and to live up to that standard, starts every Oktoberfest weekend with a celebrity keg tapping. Siegfried & Roy are among the many stars who have done the honors in the past. Vintage Bavarian dress, music and high spirits dominate throughout. Other properties hosting fest events include the Golden Nugget, Gordon Biersch brewery and O’Sheas Casino because, you know, Ireland and Germany are both in Europe.
This little community located 40 miles south of Portland, OR, with architecture, farmland and countryside starkly reminiscent of Bavaria, was settled by German pioneers in the 1800s. The town’s Oktoberfest, which started in 1966 as a harvest festival, is now the biggest festival in the Northwest, attracting more than 350,000 people for 4 days of live music, free “Kindergarten” rides and shows, street dancing, arts and crafts, traditional biergarten (and weingarten) and more than 50 food chalets. Dates for 2011 are Sept. 15-18.
Go forth and wear lederhosen, dance oompah, eat bratwurst and, yes, down a few beers. But keep it reasonable: There’s no Novemberfest, so if you forget all the fun you had you’ll have to wait an entire year to relive it.

Travel writer John Briley fondly recalls partying with the locals in Munich.

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