Last fall, as Denver prepared for the 28th annual Great American Beer Festival and its first-ever Denver Beer Fest, the grandfather of the brew-ha-has almost expired at age forty. Larimer Associates, which owned and produced Oktoberfest, announced that the traditional fall festival no longer fit within its business interests. If Larimer Associates couldn't find a buyer, it would put the kibosh on the kielbasa.
The move had been in the works for a while, says Joe Vostrejs, chief operating officer for Larimer Associates, which manages Larimer Square, among other properties. "Oktoberfest was really incongruent with what was going on at Larimer Square, from a merchandising mix," he explains. "Oktoberfest people weren't the same as those who were patronizing Larimer Square on a regular basis." In other words, the brats-and-brewski revelers were frightening the much-hipper salumi and small-plates people.
Oktoberfest was shuffled a half-dozen blocks up Larimer to the Ballpark neighborhood in 2007, but by last year, Larimer Associates had decided that even with a change of address, the event just didn't fit with its core business plan. Which a company representative told Westword.
Great American Beer Festival
When a friend of Jeff Suffolk's read the September 17, 2009, Off Limits item about Larimer Associates' plans to sell Oktoberfest or shut it down, "He shot me the article," Suffolk remembers, "and said, halfway jokingly, 'You should buy this!'" Suffolk, who runs a Boulder events production company called Human Movement, was already a fan of Oktoberfest, and decided to look into the possibilities.
"Larimer Associates did a great job running Oktoberfest" — which Vostrejs says has almost always been profitable, sometimes surprisingly so — "and they were really supportive of keeping it going," he says. "They didn't want to see it die."
And so, after reviewing a couple of proposals, Vostrejs picked Human Movement to take over Oktoberfest. Not because they made the best monetary offer, he says, but because they were the "best fit. The objective was to ensure that Oktoberfest was in good hands."
Now Suffolk plans to return the four-decade-old celebration to its roots (though he'll keep the event, which runs September 17-19 and September 24-26, in its current Ballpark neighborhood home). "We want to get really authentic with it," he says, "like how it was forty years ago." That's when Oktoberfest was founded by Larimer Square merchants who included German immigrants Fred and Herta Thomas. "We're sticking strictly with Bavarian foods, and there will be a lot more entertainment that is indigenous to the culture," Suffolk promises.
Fair trade: And if oompah bands aren't your favorite festival amenity, how about chickens? "There are 64 counties in Colorado, and almost all of them have county fairs, but Denver doesn't," says local event promoter Dana Cain. "It's shockingly absent — shockingly!"
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Cain and cohorts Chandler Romeo and Tracy Weil plan to remedy that next July with the first-ever Denver County Fair, set for the National Western Stock Show facilities off I-70. The fair will pay homage to traditional county fairs while adding many modern twists.
"These were invented to celebrate rural communities," Cain points out, "but Denver has no rural. We are all urban. So, for instance, our rodeo won't involve animals. It will be done on skateboards and bicycles." Other activities will include competitive baking, competitive eating, a craft show, an art show, a freak show.
And, of course, chickens.
"The perfect thing about the timing is that chickens just became legal in Denver this year — chickens and goats and beekeeping," Cain points out. "Everybody is knitting and everybody is cooking and everybody is farming in their back yards. And this year, everybody is getting chickens. And it's all going to come to a head next year at the county fair."