Over the next few days, don't be surprised if you hear resonant shouts of "Prost!" emanating from the Spokane Convention Center. An Oktoberfest celebration is returning to Spokane after a hiatus of more than three decades.
The three-day event, called Oktoberfest at the River, is being realized through the auspices of Vision Marketing in partnership with the German American Society of Spokane. It's modeled on the widely renowned 16-day Oktoberfest that has been held annually in Munich's Theresienwiese fairgrounds since 1810 — with a little bit of regional inspiration thrown in for good measure.
"We had gone to Oktoberfest Northwest in Puyallup last year, saw what they did and how many people they had come, which was tens of thousands, all having a great time, and so we duplicated it here in Spokane," says Tom Stebbins, co-owner of Vision Marketing.
Emceeing the event is Manuela Horn, a multitalented actress, singer and dancer with a long international résumé in theater and entertainment. Though German-born, she's known as the "Austrian Amazon" on account of her 6-foot-2 height.
"She was taught to yodel by her father, was on America's Got Talent, and was the swing girl at Oktoberfest in Puyallup," says Stebbins. After the organizers there discovered she could also sing, Horn went from being a swing girl to the festival headliner. Because of her stage presence and popularity, Vision Marketing was keen to have her headline in Spokane.
"She comes on at 9 o'clock on Friday and Saturday night with her band. She'll yodel and sing to rock songs and get the crowd going. She'll be up on a swing hanging from the ceiling, where she'll make announcements, and throughout the event she'll be onstage making appearances and doing different things," says Stebbins.
Horn and her band are far from being the only scheduled entertainment. Before Oktoberfest at the River makes the shift to 21+ after 7 pm, the event is geared toward families and will feature activities like all-ages sing-alongs, arts and crafts, and root beer gardens. The AlpenBand is coming up from California to play German folk music over all three days. On Friday the German American Society choir will sing classic German songs. The Oom Pas and Mas, longtime veterans of the Deutschesfest in Odessa, are scheduled to perform sets throughout Saturday as well.
That music and dancing will be augmented by fun competitive activities like wiener dog races, Hammerschlagen (a contest of driving a nail into a log), cornhole games, and a 2-mile run called the Stein Chase. There will be plenty of TVs, too, so sports fans won't have to miss watching their favorite collegiate and pro teams play. For food, the local German restaurant Das Stein Haus will provide affordable and authentic dishes like Wurst (sausages), Schnitzel (breaded meat cuts) and Spätzle (plump egg noodles) as well.
And let's not forget the beer. In keeping with Oktoberfest tradition, Mayor Condon will kick off the celebration by tapping the first keg on Friday evening as part of a big opening beer procession, which prominently features popular German beer Paulaner.
"We're going to have an Oktoberfest lager and a Hefeweizen," says Stebbins. Volunteers from the German American Society — many in dirndls and lederhosen — will be helping to pour. For registered designated drivers there's unlimited free root beer, and there's an arrangement with Uber to drive anyone who's indulged too much.
Stebbins hopes that the free-flowing drinks and ample food, the lively atmosphere, the volunteer involvement and the exotic novelty of the event will make Oktoberfest at the River a time for community building as well.
"When you go to a German beer hall, there are long picnic tables with tablecloths on them. It's not like a four-top table where it's just you and a couple of your friends. You're there to be social and interact with other people, so when you sit down, you're going to be meeting your neighbors."
"Ultimately we're throwing a big party and we hope people come," says Stebbins. "I've got my lederhosen. I'm going to get in the theme of it and have some fun." ♦
Oktoberfest at the River • Fri-Sun, Sept. 25-27 • $10 per day, $15/all three days, $5/Sunday • Spokane Convention Center • Additional pricing info and schedule at oktoberfestattheriver.com