After four years, the Great Northwest Oktoberfest will finally be returning to Depot Park in Whitefish, ending a drought of downtown dirndl sightings that was driven by the combined forces of COVID-19 and construction, which bounced the festival to the soccer pitches of Smith Fields.
Whitefish Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kevin Gartland said he’s excited about the return to Depot Park, saying it’s where the event was designed to be held.
“It’s just a really comfortable atmosphere that we’re eager to get back to,” Gartland said. Certain aspects of the festival, like stein-holding contests and the widespread availability of bratwurst, sauerkraut and beer, remain unchanged. But there will be a few new features and tweaks to this year’s festival.
“This is the first year we’ll ever actually have a band from the Alps playing with us,” Gartland said. The Austrian band Pech und Schwefel will provide music for the festival from Sept. 29 through Oct. 1. Gartland said the band tours pretty much from coast to coast, and that the Whitefish festival is their final stop.
The festival also has a new partnership with Bayern Brewing in Missoula, and will also continue to feature beers from Munich’s Hofbrauhaus brewery. Bayern Brewing has ties to the German state of Bavaria, and brews its beers according to Reinheitsgebot, a 16th century German law concerning purity in brewing.
“I can safely say we will have the most authentic German style beer of any Oktoberfest around,” Gartland said. “You won’t find any Coors Light or PBR here.”
The beer menu will include Bayern’s Oktoberfest, amber lager, St. Walter Hefeweizen, pilsner and Dragon’s Breath Dark Hefeweizen. Hofbrau beers on tap will include its Oktoberfest, dunkel, original lager and hefeweizen.
While the festival is more invested than ever in German beers, there will be a little more variety to the food offerings this year with the inclusion of a variety of food vendors offering barbecue, tacos and other options. Vendors will include 406 BBQ, Tico’s Tacos, The Chef Guys, Piroshki Palace and KnucklHed BBQ. Gartland said that while he’s capable of living off bratwurst and sauerkraut for two straight weeks the variety will probably be a good thing for attendees.
While it’s hard to say exactly what things will look like in an era of loosened COVID-19 restrictions, the Chamber of Commerce is expecting attendance to be within the festival’s normal range of 7,000 to 8,000 people across two weekends.
The festival will kick off Thursday, Sept. 22 with Local’s Night, where Flathead residents 21 and older are admitted for free. That night the Europa Band will provide the tunes, including polka music. A keg-tapping ceremony is on deck, as well as men’s and women’s contests for stein holding, and log sawing. More of the same is on deck for Friday, Sept. 23.
Saturday, Sept. 24, the beer garden will open, and music will be provided by The Bavarian Echoes. There will be a chance to pet a Clydesdale horse, more dancing, a kids chicken dance competition, log sawing, stein holding, and keg hurling.
A similar lineup of events is scheduled for the festival’s second and final weekend beginning Sept. 29. The festival ends on Saturday Oct. 1 with last call at 10:30 p.m. Admission to the festival is $8, and kids under the age of 12 get in free.
“The community looks at it as an opportunity to get out and see each other and relax after an extremely busy, and at times frustratingly busy summer,” Gartland said. “It really is a community-oriented festival.”
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