After nine years of lederhosen, keg hurling and stein holding in Whitefish’s Depot Park, the Tenth Annual Great Northwest Oktoberfest will move a few miles down the road to Smith Fields.
Construction in Depot Park has caused the multi-weekend event’s relocation while crews resume the project following an intermission during the busy summer tourist season.
The Whitefish Chamber of Commerce teamed up with Project Whitefish Kids (PWK), a youth sport nonprofit that operates Smith Fields, to host this year’s Oktoberfest, about two miles south of downtown Whitefish.
“We take it on the road and make it work,” said Kevin Gartland, the executive director of the Whitefish Chamber of Commerce.
Since Smith Fields doesn’t normally host an event of this scale, it didn’t have the appropriate power system to accommodate the lights, sound system and beer refrigerators required for Oktoberfest.
This led the chamber to team up with PWK for a permanent new service and split the cost of a line extension, totaling around $12,000. The new power system will connect to the Smith Fields future maintenance building, benefiting the facility in the long term.
“I think it gives us an opportunity to give more exposure to Smith Fields,” said Gartland. “They fundraise every day of the year, every year, all year round and people don’t know who they are or what they do.”
While Oktoberfest’s new location removes the convenience of walking home after an evening of Bavarian drinking games for downtown Whitefish residents, the chamber will offer a free shuttle service. The shuttle transports Oktoberfest-goers to and from The Firebrand Hotel in Whitefish and Smith Fields every half hour during event hours.
Smith Fields also offers 500 parking spaces in their lot, easing traffic and congestion.
Gartland says Oktoberfest sees a steady increase in attendees every year, but this year’s turnout is hard to predict because of the new location.
The chamber still expects similar numbers as last year’s Oktoberfest, which had 7,500 attendees over two weekends.
The number has grown significantly since the event started in 2010, which had 1,300 attendees over one weekend and four days.
After the first three years of Oktoberfest proved to be successful, the chamber extended the weekend into two weekends.
Gartland says multiple weekends spread the event out and prevents excess congestion. “It keeps the small town feel,” he said.
In addition to crowd reduction it also gives a higher economic benefit. Gartland says the chamber pays the same amount in hard costs, like tents and stage equipment, whether it’s one or multiple weekends.
Both weekends include traditional Oktoberfest competitions like keg hurling, stein holding, log sawing and kids chicken dance contests.
The Europa Band will return for its seventh year to headline the first weekend of Oktoberfest where it will play traditional German music. The Western Senators will also return to headline the second weekend for its 10th year, and the Bavarian Echoes will play in the afternoon on both Saturdays.
Piggyback BBQ will offer traditional German food like pork loin, sauerkraut and bratwursts, and they will also debut their vegetable based, meatless bratwurst. Great Northern Brewery, Stiegl and Hofbräu will provide plentiful beer.
Oktoberfest’s first weekend begins Thursday, Sept. 26 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and will feature “Locals Night.” Flathead residents get in free with an ID. Festivities will resume Friday, Sept. 27 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and again on Sept. 28 from noon to 11 p.m.
The second weekend will begin Wednesday, Oct. 2 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Firebrand Hotel, Thursday, Oct. 3-4 from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. and will close on Saturday, Oct. 5 from noon to 11 p.m. Visit whitefishoktoberfest.com.