Artsquest took on a lot this year, hosting many festivals of varying nature. Oktoberfest was the biggest so far, and the most well-attended. How did it compare to the others and stand up on its own?
I’m sure a lot of people are expecting me to hate on this festival. I’m a vocal critic of Musikfest, Artsquest, and their other endeavors. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy them or what they do for the community and this area. I think they’re a good organization, but that doesn’t mean things can’t be done better or I can’t voice my opinion. With that said: I loved Oktoberfest.
I went in not expecting much after the disappointment that was SteelJam and my reservations regarding the SteelStacks side of Musikfest. The first night was rainy, damp, and not a nice night to go. Still, with Dick Yuengling attending and it being kick-off night, I decided I wanted to be in attendence for this one. With Mr. Yuengling, Artsquest head Jeff Parks, and Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, a cask of Yuengling Oktoberfest was tapped. A band preceeding, the Alex Meixner Band, was playing what I can only describe punk rock polka. I do believe I heard an oompah version of Don’t Stop Believin’ thrown in there at one point. The attendence was fairly light, especially away from the Yuengling Festhalle tent, the main Oktoberfest-style shelter. Bands that were playing in the Levitt Pavilion were playing to crowds of 5-10 people.
The next day attended was the Sunday of the first weekend. Again, it was raining and there didn’t seem to be much going on, let alone any sort of crowd. The main draw here was Jennifer Yuengling, daughter of Dick, was holding a Q&A session as well as an hour full of free Yuengling sampling. They were pouring Light, Premium, Porter, Oktoberfest, and Lager. The first 125 people in the door got wristbands and were able to get in line as many times as their hearts desired. Which, at 12:00 or so on a rainy day, was a lot. Some boring questions were asked, but I came up with one that got an “oooohhhh”. I asked what her favorite beer that wasn’t Yuengling is. She responded that if she’s in an area that doesn’t carry Yuengling, she’ll usually pick a Sierra Nevada or Samuel Adams. Fair enough.
It was time to sample some German food. A knackwurst was procured from Karl Ehmer and demolished promptly with a beer while watching a polka band. I was disappointed that the only place selling German beer (Hofbrau) wasn’t open at this point because I would’ve liked to had a German beer with my German food. Alas. It was getting ranier and uglier out so inside to the Artsquest Cafe it was. In an unlikely occurrence, there were a lot of people sitting in the back watching football on the various flatscreens. This wasn’t the most likely place I would’ve decided to catch a game while enjoying a beer, but I did just that, and it was decently enjoyable. After perusing through the gift shop, it was time to head out.
The next Saturday of the concert was where the event really showed how awesome it could be. I was roped into a keg-rolling competition (took 2nd place), had pitcher after pitcher of delicious Yuengling, saw a fantastic show (Here Come the Mummies), and had a seriously great time. With more people and more events going on (beer stein races, keg rolling, etc.) there was more to do and see. I was decently happy the previous days, even though there wasn’t much to do or see besides bands and drink (two things I heartily endorse). Saturday just made the whole experience even better. The weather cooperated and all was right.
I didn’t mind the prices. Although I had comped tickets for the first two times I went, I think it was still worth the $8 (online, or $10 at the door) to enter. If you were crafty enough you could’ve snagged a Groupon for $8 for two tickets. The sausages at Karl Ehmer were $7 each, which is fair for festival food. 48oz pitchers were $5 to buy, $13 to fill with Yuengling and $15 to fill with craft beer. Believe me, a pitcher full of Heavy Seas Loose Cannon goes a long way.
More events would be welcome, although at the moment I can’t really come up with any I’d like to see. Actual Oktoberfest has some amusement rides, although I doubt that could be pulled off. Having different kinds of beer, specifically different German beers or at least German-style beers (Kolsch, Marzen, Rauch, etc) would be neat and welcome. I understand that Yuengling is a sponsor, but having a few other (more expensive) options to go along with it wouldn’t hurt.
All-in-all, I think the event went very well and the crowds proved that. It garnered a much, much bigger crowd than the previous two new festivals and I can only guess it will draw even more next year. I unfortunately didn’t have my camera with me on the crowded day I attended, so the pictures below do a somewhat poor job or reflecting the atmosphere when the festival was at it’s height. Thanks to Artsquest for a great event and I urge everyone to at least give it a go next year.