I was tempted to observe today that in Wisconsin, any excuse for a party will do. A party with beer. A party with loud music.
But whether one thinks such a party is in good or poor taste, I must say that Octoberfest in any number of Wisconsin communities is truly a reason for a party.
Now, Octoberfests are obviously not limited to Wisconsin. Germans, Swiss, Austrians, Czechs and other European countries have made an art for centuries of celebrating the harvest. It was from those countries the Octoberfest found its way into this country. My own German ancestors may have celebrated their own version of it, but coming from the sterner, more near-Scandinavian area of Schlesweig-Holstein’s Frisian Islands (that’s way up north) I can only hope they knew how to have fun.
I’ve discovered that communities around this country have taken to giving their Octoberfest celebrations special take-offs of their own names. My hometown of St. Joseph, Mo., held its Oct”Joe”berfest last weekend. And on Sunday, we attended what I hope to be an annual “Oak”toberfest at The Oaks Golf Course in Sun Prairie, Wi.
We’re not new to these celebrations although we hadn’t ever discovered one outside of Europe until we moved to Wisconsin. For several years we have made the drive to a community on the north side of Milwaukee and their Heidelberg Park (thanks to Steve and Gay for helping us with this discovery). Even better than the flowing beer, heavy German food, and Alpine hats on sale for an exorbitant price (yes, I have one), was a band that apparently plays there every year and for how many years I don’t know. The Freistadt Alte Kameraden band was originally composed of musicians from the Wisconsin community of Freistadt. Many of them were and still are related although living in several of the state’s villages and cities. They are as authentic a German polka/oompah band as we might find in this country, outfitted in lederhosen and playing a very high quality performance for both listening and dancing enjoyment. Alte Kameraden can be translated “old friends.” Imagine my pleasure, then, when I discovered they had added an Octoberfest venue to their schedule that included our own backyard!
I couldn’t help but think of my parents when we walked into the tent as the band was playing this past Sunday. My folks thought the music of my day was too loud. But this band was putting all they had into the quality and the volume of the music they performed. Some mothers and fathers were busy putting earplugs into their youngsters’ ears. We took a bit of refuge by retreating to the far back of the tent. Plus, there were some rather nice cushioned chairs back there from which we could listen while we imbibed in German Spaten and ate pork sandwiches. As the afternoon progressed, the crowd grew, the music played, the beer coursed through the attendees, and the party evolved. People were having a really great time, something we have attributed to this particular group of musicians.
Now, most of the members of the band are not spring chickens. Some have played with the group for decades. One of the clarinetists, DuWayne Wanasek, emerged from the restroom during one of the band’s quick breaks and quickly headed for a comfortable lawn chair. He was a hoot. One joke after another (I wish I could remember jokes but I never can). He may not have been the youngest celebrant in the room but he and his dirndl-wearing wife Patricia were as much the life of the party as anyone.
There were several times during the fest that the band members, as they are wont to do at any of their performances, come out into the crowd. While some tables at other festivals are sturdy enough for them to climb upon, this time they had to be satisfied with just staying on the floor, serenading the crowd, and especially the ladies who rushed up to stuff dollar bills and even five dollar bills into their knee-high socks.
Then there was the obligatory toast with song:
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
OANS! ZWOA! DREI! G’SUFFA!
Roughly translated that would be:
A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times
A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times.
ONE! TWO! THREE! DRINK UP!
But then there was something really special that happened. It’s not unusual to have what the big bands would call a “girl singer,” and the Alte Kameraden had one too. At first, I only noted she was singing and that she was singing “Eidelweiss.” But it seemed as though it hit everyone at once. This voice was exceptional. The crowd softened its tone and its partying a bit, seeming to hang on to her every word. Those of us in the rear physically hoisted ourselves off of our comfortable cushions to stand and get a better view. Her voice was sweet and clear. We could understand every word even if we hadn’t known them all by heart. When she finished, the crowd came to its feet with applause. I watched as she smiled, took a bow, and then walked to the side of the band and picked up a young lad who I assume was her young son. The first thought that came to me as my eyes welled with tears was, “What beautiful lullabies that child must hear as he drifts off to sleep at night.”
I expected a loud oompah band for Octoberfest. I was overwhelmed with gratitude at the sheer beauty of Kelsey Odorizzi’s voice.
When I found out this young woman was the daughter-in-law of a close friend of mine, I was even more blessed. I knew her husband could sing beautifully. Kelsey’s voice came out of the blue and into many a heart.
Then the family left and the party went on.
Gemütlichkeit that ends the toast can mean good cheer, but the word isn’t adequately addressed in the English language. There is a sense of well-being attached to it, a sense of family, of gathering, of the goodness of life, a sense of spirituality, of Shalom.
We experienced Gemütlichkeit at “Oak”toberfest thanks to a fun crowd, an excellent band, and a beautiful voice.
24 The Lord bless you and keep you;
25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. – Numbers 6:24-26