LIKE SO MANY WORTHY CELEBRATION TRADITIONS, the Oktoberfest began as a wedding feast. “The first one was back in, oh, 1810 or so,” says Harry R. Vincent, “when King Ludwig was marrying off one of his daughters. It was in a meadow in Munich, but as I understand it the event became more like a county fair.”
|The Bavarian Barons - A more recent view|
This preserves the German custom of hiring the local musicians for such a performance; as Vincent explains, “Every town in Germany has a band, or ‘kapelle,’ and that’s the group which plays for village functions. They’re very aware of what they have musically there, much the same as it used to be in this country back around the turn of the century.” Although the reputation of the Bavarian Barons is international, the group is based in nearby Nassau.
Vincent himself plays many of the instruments featured in a brass band, specializing in cornet, fluegelhorn and euphonium. He was an active band member while in the service and had a dream of starting his own swing band when he got out.
“I worked on that for a while,” says the former Juilliard student, “but as rock ‘n’ roll became more popular there was less and less call for the big bands.” The Barons were born when Lowenbrau was looking for oom-pa bands to feature at an exhibition during the 1964-65 World’s Fair in Flushing.
“We weren’t sure what to call ourselves,” says Vincent. “It didn’t seem, back then, that the war had been over an awfully long time and we worried about resentment to something so German. So we settled on using ‘Bavarian’ in the name. That seemed to be a happy medium. After all, it’s the largest state in Germany.” The two week Lowenbrau stint got the group so much encouragement that they decided to look into the getting other bookings. “We’ve been booking dates ever since.”
Enough so that the Barons schedule up to a year and a half ahead. Especially at this time of year when, as Vincent puts it, “Everybody and his brother seems to be having an Oktoberfest. We just finished a job at Union College today (Wednesday), and this will go on right through October.”
Music and costumes used by the musicians is all native to Bavaria. “The arrangements were written for a 40-piece military band, so we have to pare it down somewhat to suit our eight players.” He likes to enlist more, but refuses to go with fewer. “People wonder if they can economize by hiring just six or four of us, but I explain that it would be like a ball club trying to win a game with four instead of nine.”
Vincent enthusiastically observes that his music preserves yet another aspect of the German culture that nurtured it: “It’s fun. These are people who work hard and play hard. And the parties are very much family events, for young and old. You can just sit and listen to the music, but if you’ve got a German background you’ll get up and dance.”
Schenectady’s Oktoberfest also features other entertainment and a cornucopia of food. A whole roasted pig will be prepared by David Schmidt from Peggy’s Restaurant, while the Carl Co. will be turning out Belgian waffles. Papa Cicco’s promises pizza and gourmet stuffed breads, the Ramada Inn will supply fruit-filled crepes and the Holiday Inn is preparing a barbecue.
More exotic foods include the Indonesian cooking of Yono’s Restaurant, clam burritos from Juhran’s Seafood and Korean food from Song Hee Horn. The traditionalist will find a sampling of sausages and wursts from Center Stage Deli.
A beer garden will feature imported brands and the ubiquitous Bud Light, and Woodbury Vineyards of Chautaugua offers a New York wine tasting.
The entertainment includes Renaissance dance and combat by members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, an Apple Fest by the Mohawk Pathways Council Girl Scouts and Fo’castle Farm, and a Freihofer birthday celebration at the Jay Street Next-to-New Shop.
Also look for clowns, a juggler, a magician, pony rides, and the ever-popular Mr. Bouncy Bounce. The Oktoberfest is sponsored by the Schenectady Downtown Council in cooperation with Nathan’s Distributors and Bud Light Beer.
– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 29 September 1988