Oktoberfest in Germany
The Oktoberfest held annually in Munich, Germany is the largest beer festival in the world. During this 16-day festival, starting in late September, some 7 million people from around the world will crowd the tents of the Theresienwiese in Munich and consume approximately 7 million liters of beer. And Germans take it quite seriously, wearing lederhosen, clinking beer steins and yodeling in pleasant harmony to the oompah bands.
A brief history of Charlotte Oktoberfest
The now defunct Johnson Brewing Company partnered with the Carolina BrewMasters (CBM), a small Charlotte-based homebrewing club to organize a beer festival for Charlotte. From the beginning, the goal was to educate Charlotte residents about the craft brewing movement, and place special emphasis on the growing number of breweries in the Southeast.
These original two Festivals were held at Independence Park off Seventh Street. Bruno Wichnoski from CBM organized the club volunteers, recruited brewers and urged the club volunteers to market the event as best they could with simple flyers. As Johnson's financial problems mounted, it became clear that they were no longer able to be a partner and much of the 2000 Festival fell to the Carolina BrewMasters. While the Festival in 1999 was attended by over 900 patrons, in 2000 attendance dropped to about 500. To many, it appeared that the Festival was going to die young.
Several members of Carolina BrewMasters wanted to see the Festival continue, but lack of funds made continuing the effort a daunting financial and organizational challenge for the small homebrewing club. Jason Randall felt passionately that Charlotte needed to have an annual beer Festival and agreed to lead the effort in 2001. Meca Properties and By Design assisted the effort with sponsor money and Meca Properties secured a spot for the Festival adjacent to the former Southend Brewery. Tom Lockhart helped secure umbrella tents and other items. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 had happened only a month prior to the Festival but despite this, 1400 beer fans attended. A small profit was made, allowing the club to continue the event in 2002 and a donation of $1000 was made to the Charlotte Trolley.
Jason Randall led the Festival for a second showing in South End area, this time assisted by Gaines Brown and the Art & Soul Festival on Camden Street. Attendees enjoyed the advantages a combined Festival, but construction in the area caused problems for Festival organizers. Attendance dropped to about 1100. Approximately $5,000 was left to plan 2003, and the club was able to make a $1000 charitable donation to the Charlotte Trolley.
Todd Bowman took the leadership reins and elevated the event to the next level with his marketing, publicity and leadership skills. The Festival partnered with Steve Emmanuel of the Rheinland Haus restaurant on Park Road to hold the event in the restaurant's front parking lot. Brewer participation increased, and attendance swelled to over 2500 patrons. CBM finally had enough money to effectively plan the next year's Festival without going into debt. Proceeds also allowed the club to make an $8000 charitable donation to the Red Cross.
Todd Bowman continued for a second year as Festival Director, moving the Festival site to North Davidson (NoDa) behind the Neighborhood Theater, with the help of Mellow Mushroom owner Tom Lockhart. Growth continued at a rapid pace as marketing efforts improved in sophistication and variety. Attendance of over 3500 patrons enabled charitable donations of over $15,000 to local NoDa charities, including Habitat for Humanity.
Longtime club treasurer Felton Dengler led the effort in 2005 for the Festival's second year in NoDa. Demand for tickets was overwhelming and the event sold out long before the lines ended. Potential patrons were lined around the block, and the total attendance topped 4500, eventually forcing the organizers to cutoff ticket sales later in the day. It was obvious an even larger venue would be needed for 2006. Charitable giving surpassed $20,000.
Longtime Festival site manager Wayne Fricke led the effort, securing Memorial Stadium for the largest Festival to date with over 5,000 paid patrons. For the first time online ticket sales created the first Festival sold out in advance. The homebrew participation increased dramatically as the Carolina BrewMasters invited all of their fellow NC and SC homebrew clubs to participate and share their creations. Wayne managed the Festival like an astute business manager with excellent results. Charitable giving grew to $30,000. Regrettably, Wayne Fricke died of pancreatic cancer on March 13, 2008. A major contribution was made to the MS Society this year, as well as a designated donation in Wayne Fricke's memory.
Jeanette Smith took the Festival to Metrolina Fairgrounds. CBM rolled out a beautiful, handmade homebrew bar for serving their homebrewed beers. Attendance was at an all-time high of over 6000 attendees. The Festival was hosted in several buildings for a rain safe event. There were advantages to having a weather proof site but glass breakage, fragmentation of the Festival components as well as the highest attendance yet led to critical re-evaluation. $50,000 was donated to three local charities: the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the MS Society, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and A Child's Place.
Jason Randall agreed to return to the leadership role and take the Festival back to Memorial Stadium while reducing the planned overall size slightly. To help celebrate our 10th Anniversary we had a superb entertainment lineup including Southern Culture on the Skids, the Sons of Ralph, U-Phonik. We also welcomed the third year of the Creative Loafing Beer'lympic Village. Our 10th year was a memorable one. This Festival was dedicated to the memory of Wayne Fricke.
Justin Mitchell took over the reins of Festival Director. The planning was running smoothly until a sinkhole was discovered beneath Memorial Stadium forcing the stadium to close 3 months before the scheduled Festival date. After searching high and low for an acceptable location, the Oktoberfest committee rediscovered the Metrolina Trade Show and Expo. We decided to keep the Festival site outdoors to take advantage of the very large grass field at that location. We also decided to increase the size of the beer tents to enhance the Charlotte Oktoberfest experience for our patrons. The new site provided for easier access to beer, music, food, bathrooms, and the Creative Loafing Beer'lympic Village. With attendance of over 5500 patrons, the 2009 Charlotte Oktoberfest was able to raise $60,000 for Victory Junction and the National Kidney Foundation
Bruno Wichnoski, a long time Carolina BrewMaster, led the 12th annual Charlotte Oktoberfest. Once again Metrolina Expo was the site of the Festival. The attendance was capped at 5,250 patrons and the Festival site was expanded to allow for a greater number of activities and more room for the attendees. Great music was provided by Echo Code, Sugar Glyder and BlueMonday. Because of the heat that day, 12,000 bottles of water were provided for the Festival patrons to keep everyone well hydrated. Just after the Festival ended, a heavy windstorm swept through the area damaging several tents but sparing the Festival itself. The Festival raised a total of $55,000 in charitable donations which were split between The Autism Society of North Carolina and The National Kidney Foundation of North Carolina. An additional $2500 was donated to the North Carolina Brewers Guild, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting craft beer in North Carolina.