White ma with gray hair and glasses smiling holding a huge mug of beer with a woman who is wearing a German-looking corset and frilly top

Your first experience at Columbus’ Oktoberfest is the sensation of being gouged on parking at the fairgrounds. Your irritation will be soothed in the coming minutes by the pleasant surprise of no admission fee, but you don’t know that yet so you say “seriously, ten dollars? What do they have in there, fucking golden pandas?” And your wife asks why they would have pandas at Oktoberfest, and you explain that it is figure of speech, and she gives you one of those looks.

So you walk in, and are greeted by runners staggering through the Oktoberfest Meiler Vier, a four mile run in which 20 percent of participants are wearing lederhosen or other Bavarian alpine gear. If you miss them, don’t worry – you’ll find them later at the biergarten tossing back mugs of Bitburger.  From the looks of it, most of them chugged a couple before the race even started.  

At this point they hand you a menu, and you may hear a lively discussion about the merits of cabbage and noodles. This will end with an authoritative “as long as I get a dunkel I’m good.” This is fine advice, and you should probably take it.

The Columbus Oktoberfest is an annual tribute to the volksfest (people festival) held in Munich during the last week of September to commemorate the 1810 marriage of the Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig to Princess Therese. Practically speaking, you go there to drink 32 oz. beers, eat sausages, sauerkraut and pretzels, and then dance badly to oom-pah and polka music because you’re all intoxicated and fat and happy. There are other reasons, but I don’t remember what they are – it's entirely possible they sell mountain hats to drunk people.

Don’t worry, you aren’t being treated to an episode of the Lawrence Welk show. The Oktoberfest oom-pah and polka acts are straightforward and simple. While it isn’t exactly correct to say that they deliberately appeal to the lowest common denominator of the listening public, it isn’t exactly incorrect either. Bands with names like the Klaberheads and the Polkaholics power through tunes like Frankie Yankovic and his Yanks' “She's Too Fat for Me” (“I don't want her you can have her, she's too fat for me”). Some acts borrow lyrics from Old McDonald to jump start dumbass singalongs (“EIEIEIO!”) while others fearlessly mine college party idiocy (“we're not leaving 'til we're heaving!”).

Everybody covers Jaromir Vejvoda's “Beer Barrel Polka” (“Roll out the Barrels, 'cause we've got the blues on the run”). Nobody cares that the last band played that one too. I doubt people would care if that was the only song the band played.

It's all just totally awesome, and if you walk in with the right mindset you’ll enjoy the shit out of it. You’ll be trashed and reeking of kraut. You will be exposed to the limitations of your elementary school dance instructions while dodging others misexecuting twirls. Some a-hole will start a bunny hop line, and you’ll have to either join it or get run over. To quote Jerry Lieber, “don't you be no square, if you can't find a partner use a wooden chair!” Wipe the mustard off your face and dance!

If you're too cool for school, stay home. I assure you that members of the opposite sex are not down there looking for vintage ray-bans on the wallflowers. Sit on your couch and count your Facebook friends.  

If you're lucky, the polka bands you see will have a tuba instead of an electric bass. While musically functional, the bass sort of ruins the spectacle of visual absurdity.  Worse, it can potentially dig up your  deeply repressed paranoia from high school about popular kids hiding behind the schnitzel stand, waiting to jump out to take pictures and drunk-shame us. Get that negative energy out of your mind – play the tuba and we’ll all get plastered.

Unfortunately, this year's Oktoberfest did not have all polka bands all the time. Also playing were classic rock act McGuffy Lane, jazz act Anna and the Consequences, and cover bands the Reaganomics and MegaBeth. I've got nothing particular against these acts, but I fail to see what any of them have to do with german folk festivals.

I get it – festival organizers are trained to book familiar, inoffensive middle-of-the-road stuff which is adequately loud but doesn't scare grandma. And that's fine for the county fair or a mall opening. But it's a real shame to see this homogenized stuff at a festival where the real-deal-beer-fueled-replica is just killing it. And don't tell me they did it to fill time slots – I've seen the Polkaholics, and trust me those dudes can play all night. 

When the cover bands come up, view it as an opportunity to go look at the mountain hats. The one I bought was very nice.  

Happy Oktoberfest!


Thoughts can be directed to edwardrforman@yahoo.com

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