Karl and Pam Loritsch weren’t about to let their German heritage miss out on Kilgore’s Oktoberfest Saturday – after taking it all in downtown, they’re ready for more.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” Pam said, gesturing expansively under the tent of the downtown Beer Garden. “We plan on coming next year again.”
The local festival has grown steadily in its four-year run, and this weekend’s activities included some fresh appeal in addition to tried-and-true Oktoberfest staples.
While a wider selection of beers waited alongside bratwurst and sauerkraut, a new Root Beer Garden and more children’s activities kept the event family-friendly. Meanwhile, added performances featured local and cultural entertainment as additional challenges and other attractions kept a warm day moving and drew 2,000 people or more to Kilgore’s Main Street District Saturday.
The turnout beat prior years, and “We want it to grow and get bigger,” said returning guest Glenn Breazeale, visiting Kilgore once more in authentic lederhosen with his dirndl-clad dance partner, Ruth Tullar, in tow. “Ruth and I make all the Oktoberfests and German fests that are within driving distance.”
From his experience at similar festivals elsewhere, the former Ore City mayor says Kilgore’s event is headed in the right direction with its talent show, added vendor spaces and expanded activities.
“Involve the people. That brings them out,” he said. In the end, amidst the entertainment, “It promotes the whole city.”
Saturday’s event once more featured oompah music from Bier Nutz brass ensemble as well as handful of accordion players in addition to the Harvest Moon Bluegrass Band and a slate of walk-up entertainers in the Kilgore’s Got Talent competition.
Spearheaded by local volunteers, downtown merchants and City of Kilgore staffers through the Main Street Program, the event also turned visitors toward downtown restaurants and shops throughout theday.
“It was a steady flow of traffic all-day,” said retailer Julie Beck of J&Co.
At the event’s Beer Garden sponsored by AMBUCS of East Texas, sales more than doubled last year’s fundraising take, according to charter president and treasurer Sonya Rigano.
“I think people are there for a good time,” Rigano said. “I also think we got a different group of people from the year before: last year we couldn’t give away the Oktoberfest (brew) and the Shiner Bock, this year it’s what they wanted. It was a different demographic of people.
“I think the event’s growing.”
In addition to changing up the brew-options this year, AMBUCS added commemorative etched steins for visitors. More changes are in store next year, Rigano said, once the volunteers have a chance to catch their breath.
Initially, at least, “Next year I’d like to see more food vendors,” she noted, building up the German flavor of the local event and of its participants. At AMBUCS, “We’re here to help people with special needs. Oktoberfest to us is more of a visibility thing; even though we raise some money, it’s putting our name out there.
“The money that we raised will go to buy the Amtrykes. We don’t charge the families for them, so the money we raise helps purchase these to give.”
Danny and Susan Gutierrez also returned for a second round of Kilgore’s German-themed event.
“We had to,” Danny said with a grin, stein in hand and an Alpine hat on his head.
It was an incredible festival experience, said Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck, who spent most of the day in lederhosen, part of it with a baritone in his hand.
“We learned a lot this year about how to attract and keep a crowd,” he said. “I think many of our vendors were extremely-pleased with the turnout. The food and beverage vendors saw their stock sell out much faster than they thought they would.
“We’re looking forward to next year for opportunities to further grow and improve the event.”
Getting an accurate tally on the crowd is difficult, Selleck added, because it was such a lengthy schedule.
“We saw people from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. We had pretty high turnover due to the heat, but I think to give a number of point-in-time counts, I think an estimate of 2,000 to 3,000 would be realistic,” he added. “This is our second year where we have really turned into a full Oktoberfest experience, and for next year we intend to take that even further.
“Ultimately, our goal would be to make this one of our key festivals.”