Lederhosen? Bratwurst? German flags, Bavarian costumes, and steins?
Nope. The Hyde Park Oktoberfest on Saturday, October 9th was German in name only. Though there were pumpkins, corn stalk decorations, and a beer garden, the festival on 53rd Street was anything but traditional.
The converted festival area between Dorchester and Kimbark looked more like a small market than the expected German festival. Vendors sold imported goods and crafts, and local restaurants served jerk chicken, fried fish, and funnel cakes from tents. I looked for bratwurst pretty diligently, but instead I wound up with a hand-woven bracelet and Steve, my new hermit crab.
A stage set on the far west end of the festival consumed the street; the emcees were from Chicago’s smooth jazz station, WLFM 87.7. When I first arrived, I heard the expected up-down rhythms of polka and saw a man, a woman, and two children in traditional German clothes dancing in front of the stage. But after about five minutes, the emcee proceeded to play several jazz tracks, followed by a few funk cuts and some Michael Jackson.
The vendors in the tents at the beer garden were an event all of their own. Free T-shirts, bottle opener key chains, pens, suspenders, and a flat-tire repair kit were amongst the merchandise give-aways. I even managed to find some babysitters for Steve at the Beck’s tent. Local blues man L.V. Banks entertained with reverbed, muddied licks and lyrics about mean-spirited women; Chicago reggae act Akasha followed. The crowd responded well to both of these bands, despite their different cadences.
Hyde Park’s Oktoberfest didn’t come close to recreating the German festival experience–no one cared. The party was for the community and very proudly of the community. Like my grandaddy always told me: “Andere LÃ¤nder, andere Sitten.” People do things differently in differently places. (Jake Jordan)