Octoberfest, Chico, CA-Style

I took a break from drawing (and Blogging 101 assignments) this past weekend for Octoberfest 2014 at the Sierra Nevada Brewery. This marked the northern California brewer’s fifth annual event. My friend, Frank, has attended the previous three ‘fests, and he’s returned each time raving about the fun (and the beer). So, this year when he asked if I wanted tickets, I jumped out of my leiderhosen at the chance.

This annual event has become very popular. Tickets (this year, $47.50 for those who imbibed, $30 for their non-drinking designated drivers) became available for this year’s Octoberfest on August 14. They sold-out by noon that same day. Surprising, perhaps, for an outdoor party held during still-toasty, early October in a hop field in remote Chico, CA. Apparently, fans of Sierra Nevada Brewery’s products are that devoted!

And they do know how to party–with many on hand in full Bavarian garb. (I’m not sure if actual Münchner—residents of Munichwould proclaim Sierra Nevada’s offbeat event an “authentic” Octoberfest; but they’d have to commend its attendees’ enthusiasm.) My friends, Frank and Marianne Berghuis, and I dressed lightly in shorts and sport shirts, heeding the low-90-degree temps accompanying the event’s late-afternoon start. But I was surprised at the large number of partiers dressed in in full leiderhosen and dirndls.

The brewery parked a column of beer wagons (several of them converted semi-trailers) along one border of the festival grounds. Several lines 20–30 partiers-long queued up to where servers pulled a selection of six different taps. Along with the brewery’s popular Pale Ale, we chose from a traditional dark brown “Octoberfest” ale, a Pilsner, Flipside India Pale Ale, and a couple other brews. (The event’s admission included a 500ml commemorative beer mug and one free fillup. The brewery offered refills for $4relatively bargain-priced for a half-liter of Sierra Nevada draught beer.)

This Octoberfest’s admission cost also included a dinner of hearty German fare: tossed green salad, steamed bratwurst, pork, brisket, warm German potato salad and sauerkraut. After piling my plate with helpings of each, I never got close to finishing my dinner. (Did I mention that German food is hearty? Fine with me, considering the event charged extra for soft pretzels and dessert.) Along with dinner, Sierra Nevada offered several non-alcoholic beverages, such as iced tea and lemonade. Thankfully, given the heat, organizers also placed several water stations throughout the venue.

I also noted, with some relief, a regiment of port-o-pottieswhich appeared nearly as popular as the beer wagonsextending nearly the length of the venue. (And, despite the event’s sizable attendance and accent on lubricant, attendees I encountered appeared very good-natured, even polite: twice when I inadvertently jostled against others, we each offered immediate, “oh-I’m-sorries.”)

Along with plenty of food, an ample flow of suds and an agreeable crowd, Sierra Nevada’s Octoberfest offered entertainment. First and foremost, three successively boisterous, irreverent and zany costumed bands rocked the front stage throughout the evening. Organizers cleared an area between the guests’ tables and the stage for dancing; during the night, small groups of partiers improvised their own waltzes and polka-swings. Elsewhere, among the rows of tables spread beneath the festival’s main tent, individual dancers spontaneously sprang to their feet as the music or mood moved them.

Meanwhile, in marked contrast at the tent’s opposite end, glassblowers held onlookers’ attention as they gracefully twisted and shaped blobs of molten glass. The craftspeople–most also costumed for the occasiondelicately performed their glassmaking artistry on a platform crowded with glowing furnaces, assorted stands and worktables. Alongside this cordoned-off glassworks, partiersa few holding ironic “scoring cards”whooped appreciatively from bleachers.

Perhaps only in Chico, CA, under the influence of a slightly off-kilter Autumn festival, will you find glassblowing elevated to a spectator sport.








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