It’s the last weekend in September, and in Appleton that can only mean one thing: Octoberfest. College Avenue will be closed to traffic and open to thousands of beer-guzzling, fried-food-eating revelers for the city’s biggest annual celebration.
The festivities begin tonight with License to Cruise. As many as 600 classic cars will line the avenue, their engines roaring over live music from two stages. This year’s featured car is the Porsche 911, in commemoration of its 40th anniversary.
License to Cruise will begin at 6 p.m. and end at 10 p.m., with food available from 17 vendors throughout the evening.
Octoberfest itself begins Saturday at 9 a.m. and lasts until 6 p.m. The cars will be gone and food will be the main attraction on College Avenue. If it’s battered, fried, or on a stick, you’ll find it among over 100 stands sponsored by local non-profit organizations.
This year there will be five live music stages, including one in front of the conservatory, featuring bands like Buffalo Stomp and Burnt Toast & Jam.
The action will stretch from the railroad tracks all the way to campus, where you will find more food, a children’s area, and over 200 arts and crafts booths.
The arts and crafts booths on campus will showcase original work ranging from jewelry to paintings. Because the turnover rate for such vendors is around 50 percent, each year brings fresh talent.
Paul Shrode, associate dean of students for campus activities, is Lawrence’s representative to the Octoberfest Board. As such he has coordinated all on-campus events. According to Shrode, arts and crafts and commercial food vendors (who are working for profit, unlike those on College Avenue) pay a fee for the right to sell on college property. Some of that money, in turn, goes toward student programming and activities.
Shrode is quick to point out that the benefits to Lawrence are more than monetary. He feels that Octoberfest is invaluable for the university’s relations with the community. It provides exposure for the school’s facilities and services to a wide public and may even entice new students to apply to Lawrence.
For Nancy Day, the festival’s director, the collaboration is mutually beneficial. “Lawrence has been a really vital partner of Octoberfest as long as we’ve had it,” says Day. “We could never do it without them.”
Day hopes that, with good weather, this year’s event could draw as many as 150,000 people. It is the biggest Octoberfest yet, extending a block farther than last year, with more food vendors and an additional stage at the west end.
The official website at octoberfestonline.org offers entertainment schedules, maps, and volunteer information, as well as an answer to one burning question: Why is Octoberfest in September?
The answer: “The weather on the last weekend in September is usually sunny and pleasant. People seem to enjoy sunny, pleasant weather, so Octoberfest is that weekend.