Annual festival brings carnival fun on post
There’s something great about September on Redstone Arsenal – and it has to do with a lot of fun, music and food served up German style.
September means that Oktoberfest is here. With an “Oompah!” and a polka, the Arsenal will open its gates for the 18th edition of a popular festival that is well-established in North Alabama as providing a rip-roaring good time in a safe environment. The festival is set for Sept. 12-15.
“For many people at Redstone and in the community, Oktoberfest is a tradition that they don’t want to miss,” said Stephanie Stone, who oversees marketing and sponsors for Family and Morale Welfare and Recreation, which hosts the annual event.
“I have lots of people tell me they look forward to this every year. It has a reputation for providing lots of fun at prices they can afford.”
Oktoberfest will open on Thursday, Sept. 12, at 5 p.m. The weekend’s Oktoberfest hours are 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday, noon to 1 a.m. Saturday and noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.
Tickets prices are $12 on Thursday and Sunday, and $15 on Saturday and Sunday. That entrance price includes parking, carnival rides and entertainment.
“The value is definitely there,” Derrick Gould, director of FMWR, said. “We offer much better value for the money than anything else offered in the area. We have free parking, all the carnival rides you want for free and free entertainment.”
In Germany, Oktoberfest is an annual festival held in Munich for 16 days leading up to the first weekend in October. More than 6 million people attend the festival. Other cities around the world now offer an Oktoberfest modeled after the one in Munich. In Huntsville, Redstone Arsenal has taken on that task of bringing the experience of Oktoberfest to local festival-goers with the help of local sponsors, such as Papa John’s Pizza, WZYP, Fox 54, WOW! and Miller Lite.
“This is a way for our sponsors to give back to Redstone Arsenal and to Soldiers while also having some fun,” Stone said.
This week, Arsenal employees traveling in the Gate 10, north Patton Road area will see tents, carnival rides and other features beginning to go up in the Redstone Activity Field, located in an area near the Aquatics Center, Community Conferencing Center and Heiser Hall.
“We started bringing in equipment and other things right after Labor Day,” Gould said. “It takes seven to 10 days to get set up.”
Oktoberfest will welcome some longtime favorites – including Terry Cavanaugh and the Alpine Express, the HHGregg/WOW! Sports Pavilion and carnival rides operated by Modern Midways from Chicago.
“Terry Cavanaugh and the Alpine Express have been with us for years. They are an audience favorite with plenty of dancing, humor and audience interaction. And Terry always brings a few surprises with him,” Mark Germonprez, FMWR’s business manager, said.
Cavanaugh is billed as the “world’s most dangerous accordion player.” He is joined by the well-known, high-altitude polka band Alpine Express and young violinist Catie Offerman.
The HHGregg/WOW! Sports Pavilion will offer plenty of on-screen football and NASCAR action during the festival. Its five big-screen televisions will broadcast college and NFL football games as well as NASCAR races.
And no festival would be complete without a full midway of carnival rides for both the kids and adults.
“Our ride vendor – Modern Midways – has a great safety record. They’ve been with us for six years. They bring in top-notch rides that are all in safe condition. They have a lot of experience and they are very responsive to our customers,” Germonprez said.
There will also be a few new offerings this year, including the Craft Biergarten Tent where beer lovers will get a chance to sample a variety of craft beers from such small, independent breweries as Straight to Ale, Blue Pants, Yellowhammer, Below the Radar, Old Black Bear, The Brew Stooges, Ole Shed Brewing and Rocket Republic.
“This is a new feature we are bringing to Oktoberfest,” Gould said. “It gives our customers a chance to try some different beers and to learn about craft beer breweries.”
The experience will leave beer lovers with a new appreciation in the variety of craft beers now available, and they will also receive a souvenir glass, Gould said. Tickets to the Craft Biergarten will be available on site.
For the second year, Oktoberfest will conduct the Samuel Adams Stein Hoisting Competition throughout the weekend in the sports pavilion. The national endurance competition requires competitors to hold a stein filled with water for as long as possible in their hand with their arm stretched out. The festival’s best times will be sent to the national competition. Whoever wins the national competition will receive an all-expense paid trip to Oktoberfest in Germany.
Also new this year will be more variety in German fare for those who love bratwurst and sauerkraut. German pretzels will be on this year’s menu, with different combination prizes for those who like to eat their pretzel with German beer.
“We will also have all the food that people like to eat at a carnival, including cotton candy, funnel cakes, wings, hot dogs and pizza,” Gould said.
For the kids, Home Depot will once again host a kids’ workshop activity that will involve a simple building or craft project.
About 16,000 festival-goers attended Oktoberfest last year, Stone said. FMWR hopes to increase that number to 20,000 this year.
But much of that hope rides on the weather, Germonprez said.
“If we have great weather, we will have a huge crowd. If it’s rainy, then the crowds will be much less,” he said.
Although many festival-goers spend their entire weekend at Oktoberfest, the three FMWR officials suggest that families with small children consider the best time to attend to get the most enjoyment from the fair.
“Typically, the crowds are a lot less earlier in the day and the lines for rides are much shorter earlier in the day,” Gould said. “Families with kids may want to consider coming to Oktoberfest on Thursday night, which usually has a light crowd, or on Saturday or Sunday afternoons. Those are the times when the lines for rides are shorter.”
Festival-goers who do not normally have access to Redstone Arsenal should enter Gate 10 on south Jordan Lane to get to Oktoberfest. They must have a driver’s license, proof of vehicle registration and proof of vehicle insurance. Those who have daily access to the Arsenal may enter with their families at any control access point that is open.
Oktoberfest is supported by a host of sponsors, all of which will be represented at the festival. But it’s Papa John’s Pizza that has been Oktoberfest’s main sponsor for several years.
“It’s great exposure for Papa John’s because we have a great crowd every year,” Germonprez said. “But the reason the company is involved in Oktoberfest is because it’s a way for them to support Soldiers and Soldier families. All the revenue made from this event goes back into programs that support Team Redstone and Soldiers.”
The festival also relies on several volunteers for setup and takedown, and for assisting at festival activities.
“There’s a lot of moving parts. A lot of volunteers help with parking, ticket taking and setup. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Germonprez said.