Words by Stephanie Vicente
Photographs by Chris Snow
They say imitation is the greatest compliment. And if that’s the case, then the Bavarian Oktoberfest, which dates back 200 years, has been flattered time and again. But what of these imitations? Are the spin-offs of Munich’s Oktoberfest worthy of the Oktoberfest name? Let’s think of this of a moment. Oktoberfest, in its most primitive form, is a celebration of agriculture, traditional dress, music, beer, and food. Later came carnival booths, parades, contests, and amusement rides, as well as six million visitors. Oktoberfest casts a large shadow, tough to replicate, and impossible to clone. But god damn, do we ever have a wonderful imitation of its traditions right here in our backyard, in Vankleek Hill, Ontario.
Prepping for Oktoberfest
“It was mid-summer in 2009 when we decided to wing it and dive in. We had two months to plan a festival. We expected about one thousand people to show up and over five thousand came!” said Jordan Bamforth, designer, artist, and beer lover extraordinaire. We were standing in the midway barn where Jordan and other staff and volunteers were preparing for the weekends festivities. Above us were rows upon rows of streamers, and ahead of us were clever carnival games designed to keep the player playing (because I swear they were all near impossible to win). These days, Beau’s Oktoberfest rakes in between ten and twelve thousand visitors every year (talk about growth) over the course of a weekend. Oh, and while we’re speaking of growth, as photographer Chris Snow, and I were chatting away with Jordan, I overheard one outspoken yet hilarious larger-than-life team member about two yards away utter, “Chlamydia would be a great name for a girl if it didn’t make you think of a venereal disease.” I’d never heard anything more succinct in its transparency of truth and meaning. What’s in a name after all? Perhaps he and Shakespeare really are onto something.
Jordan, likely looking onto his wisecracking team members
As Chris and I walked the nearly vacant fair grounds, I pictured thousands of people crowded around the mini ramp, the midway barn, the keg toss, the stage, and the cask tent, and I noticed just how much heart goes behind this festival. Four hundred volunteers and staff, twenty restaurant vendors, and dozens of craft breweries, all pitching in to celebrate beer, music, food, and life.
An uninhabited mini ramp awaits its settlers
Kegs, waiting to be tossed
Within 24 hours these grounds would be pleasantly stuffed with bodies, young and old
On Friday, October 4th, we arrived to set up our tent in the late afternoon to adreary sky. Some of us questioned whether nature’s Mother would be gracious and hold those tears of hers a few days more so us festival folks could enjoy the weekend to its potential. For the most part, she was kind, and we remained dry. First thing first, we headed to the nearest beer tent and tried some brews. I snagged a Mr. Hyde (Rye beer, bloody delicious) and forgive me for not remembering what Chris’s inaugural beer of the weekend was, but in my defense, he tried every single beer (and how the hell am I supposed to keep track of that when I’m under the influence?). After a few beers it became apparent that we needed to get some grub or we’d be making a fool of ourselves in the near future. I had a tough time finding some vegetarian options, but Vert Fourchette provided for a freaking delicious vegetarian chili. Chris ate like the omnivore he is and basically tried every food vendor. Among his favourites of the weekend were Vert Fourchette’s deep fried pulled pork and The Branch’s Smoked Beef Brisket on a bun (smoked via torch right before your eyes), as well as Swiss Pastries’ pretzels.
The cask tent was bumpin’. And I’m not trying to come off as one of those people who uses slang all that often, but in this case, it really was bumpin’. It was the place to hang. Everyone crowded in that tent like they were waiting for the second coming of Christ. Instead, they awaited for the (un)holiest of beers to touch their lips, and cheers their friends to a great weekend. The keg toss had quite the crowd around it, too. One keg tosser on the Oktoberfest Volunteer team, was adequately named, “She-Hulk” by popular demand from the crowd. She had a serious technique about her. And she outdid most of the men. Good for you, miss. Good for you.
Sausage eating contest. **Note the lone female, she appears later in the story
Liam Mooney, of Jackpine.co, holds his stein with pride
The night fell upon us and things got a tad messy. I ate more food, Chris ate more food, I drank more beer, Chris drank more beer, and Ottawa’s The Balconies hit the stage. I’ve seen this band live a few times. And every one of those times they’ve rocked my world. Their confidence on stage gives them that X-factor that a lot of bands lack these days. I kept looking behind me at the faces in the audience who, a lot of which, were first timers at a Balconies show. Their faces lit up with awe as listened and watched the band’s performance blanket over their eyes and ears, like a magical cloak. Their sound is huge. Jacquie’s voice is heavenly and powerful. They’re just awesome and I encourage you to check them out in any capacity you can.
Following the Balconies, was her infamous trucker-mouthed self, Kathleen Edwards, who not once shied away from cursing on stage (but that’s what we love about her). As always, her performance was solid, and her set banter was hilarious. She admitted that close friend and sharer of the stage, Jim Bryson, is over every night at her newly acquired Stittsville home and that her “wine collection is almost empty.” Oh yes, and remember that lone female contender at the sausage eating competition? Kathleen asked that she join the stage because she had a wonderful prize for her. However, the contender never showed face, and the prize (which was a re-gifted unopened panini press) went to the winner of a trivia question in the audience.
Jim Bryson to the left of Kathleen Edwards
The morning after
The next morning was stunning. I don’t think we could’ve asked for a better dew-ridden Saturday to wake up to. The sun beamed upon us like a fierce diva and we found ourselves among tent city. We returned to the fairgrounds and headed for Bridgehead’s booth where we caffeinated and got the day rolling all over again. I kept asking Shep (Chris Sheppard, of Beau’s Brewery, formerly of Kichesippi Brewery, but we won’t get into that) when he was going to get dunked. All weekend I’d be looking forward to seeing him plunge into the 10-month-old tub of stinky beer. And not because I enjoy seeing a friend dipped in something so heinous I want to vomit at the thought of it, but because, well no come to think of it I do enjoy it. Shit, it’s the funniest thing ever. The anticipation. The anxiety. The facial expressions. And the aftermath. It’s all friggin hilarious. Shep said he wouldn’t be dunked until the Unshaven Mavens reached a few grand in funds. So we wandered off to check out some other stuff.
Aaron Cayer, owner of Antique Skate Shop in Ottawa
Watched the stein holding competition (some douchebag actually cheated and had a hockey stick under his shirt to hold his arm up), watched some more keg tossing, and goofed around with some friends. The cask tent was busier than the day before and things were getting seriously congested all around me.
Greg Houston, comic/MC/Herd Launch Party host, enjoys his cask beer
Myself and Sheena Sherwood, manager of Kichesippi Brewery, being knuckleheads
So after some clownin’ around, the dunk tank was in full force. I had a quick chat with the Unshaven Mavens to find out what the deal was. Raffle tickets were being sold to “win your face on 100,000 Beau’s Bottle Caps” and as the sales augmented, each money milestone someone would get dunked. Pretty awesome. The Unshaven Mavens support a cause by the name of Rethink Breast Cancer, based out of Toronto. For the month of October, the Mavens grow their underarm hair and raise money towards the cause. The feminine (though not feminine-esque) counterpart to the men’s Movember.
And finally, the dunk tank shenanigans began, and holy crap it was worth the wait. Below is a series of photos that I feel adequately represent the aforementioned shenanigans.
Megaphone announcement to kick the dunkin’ into motion
Taunting the dunkees
Shep, provokes the crowd, soon to be dunked
Would definitely suck to be splashed buddy. Gun it!
The day was winding down and it was time for us to take off. After all the dunk tank debauchery, I felt pretty satisfied (shamelessly). The sun, the beer, the unshaven babes, the music, the food, the friends. It was an incredible weekend. I’d say Beau’s Oktoberfest certainly is worthy of its Bavarian Godfather name. And even though there aren’t six million attendees, I wouldn’t have had it any other way. See you next year!