By Gabrielle Nolan
Crossville’s annual Oktoberfest reached new milestones by celebrating its 30th year of celebrating German traditions in East Tennessee and hosting its largest crowd to date.
The German-themed festival took place Oct. 15-16 and is put on by the Catholic Social Club of Cumberland County, which owns the grounds and buildings where the festival has been held since 1994 off Highway 70 East in Crossville.
Knights of Columbus Council 8152 from St. Alphonsus Parish in Crossville sponsors the event, and profits pay for the festival’s expenses as well as supports various charities.
Attendees flock from all over the state, and several travel from out-of-state for the autumn celebration. The family-friendly event draws visitors aged 9 months to 90 years old.
Many women attend in the traditional dirndl skirts with a bodice, blouse, and apron, while the men wear the iconic lederhosen with H-shaped suspenders and felt hats. Still others don silly hats in the shape of beer mugs or in the white and blue Bavarian colors from an ancient coat of arms.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Denny Roy, the current president of the Catholic Social Club. “A lot of people come year after year, and when they leave they’ll say we’ll see you again next year.”
While the festivals in 2018 and 2019 hosted around 2,000 for the two-day event, the numbers jumped to over 2,400 for the 2021 weekend.
Oktoberfest was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, which may explain the uptick in attendance for this year’s event.
Rita Reali is a parishioner at St. Alphonsus and has volunteered as the publicity coordinator for Crossville Oktoberfest since 2017.
“I think in large part, people were just tired of being cooped up after last year’s fiasco with the pandemic,” Mrs. Reali said. “People are ready to get out and they’re ready to enjoy themselves, and this offered an opportunity for that.”
The festival is made possible because of volunteers, many of whom are Knights and their wives and children.
“It takes a family, it takes a group of great men and their spouses,” said John Peaslee, who is the current Grand Knight of Council 8152.
“I made up name badges for 145 volunteers, and that is just for the ones who were there on Friday and Saturday,” Mrs. Reali said. “There were a ton of others who were there throughout the week.”
It takes the entire week to prepare for such a large event, with preparations including set-up of the 140-foot-long outdoor tent that is assembled adjacent to the pavilion, placing of dumpsters and portable bathrooms, as well as arranging tables, chairs, and the dance floor. The Council of Catholic Women at St. Alphonsus Parish also decorates the buildings and grounds during the week leading up to the festival.
“Those ladies come in and they spend probably three days decorating in the theme of Oktoberfest, which for us is white and blue,” Mr. Peaslee said. “They hang up so much stuff, it’s unreal.”
Festivities kicked off on Friday at 11:30 a.m. with introductions by Mr. Peaslee and an opening prayer by Father Mark Schuster, who became pastor at St. Alphonsus in July.
“He came out there and he’s been very supportive of us,” Mr. Roy said, noting that Father Schuster returned Saturday to celebrate Mass at 9:30 p.m. with the volunteers after the festival had ended.
Local organizations donated to become sponsors for the event at bronze, silver, and gold levels, and TV monitors set up around the hall displayed sponsor advertisements throughout the weekend. Every hour, door prizes were randomly drawn from tickets scanned upon entry. Door prizes donated by sponsors included 12-ounce plastic beer steins, restaurant gift cards, vehicle emergency kits, and books from a local author.
Two German bands, the Frank Moravcik Band and the Rheingold Band, return year after year to entertain the crowds. The two bands switch off every hour from start to finish on both days of the festival.
“There was continuous music,” Mrs. Reali said. “Polka music… there was some Elvis, there was some Johnny Cash, there was the Beer Barrel Polka, the Chicken Dance for crying out loud, it was great. It was just a really festive party atmosphere.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be Oktoberfest without the hearty beverages. The beer selection will have you exclaiming “Prost!” (Cheers!) or “Zum Wohl!” (To your health!).
“We bring in 12 different types of German beer from Germany,” Mr. Peaslee said. “We have domestic beer, we have some locally state-brewed beer.”
If you’re not into drinking beer, the food alone may be reason enough to attend. Entrées like pork and chicken schnitzel, knackwurst, bratwurst, and weisswurst will transport you to Bavaria. Just add a side of sauerkraut, red cabbage, or späetzle, and you’ve got yourself an authentic meal (Don’t forget a slice of the German chocolate cake, too!).
“Oh! It’s just so sinful. Eat one meal and you got to go to confession. It’s just terrific,” Mrs. Reali said laughing.
The larger crowds also meant longer lines in the dining hall and impromptu runs to the grocery store for more food.
“For the past several years I have been in charge of the food services, which includes the grill, the kitchen, and the serving lines,” Mr. Roy said. “This year we ran out of some of the food and we had to go out and buy some more.”
“The line was steady for hours. I’m talking 50, 60, 70 people deep sometimes,” Mr. Peaslee said. “We kept up as best we could.”
Takeout dinners were also available for purchase without paying an admission fee.
Interested in attending next year’s event free of charge? Designated drivers are allowed free entry, as well as children under the age of 12, active military members, and veterans with proper ID.
“It’s a lot of teamwork, a lot of people come together to make this a success every year,” Mrs. Reali said. “I feel honored to be a part of this terrific group of people who, every year, put on this whiz-bang festival that is just talked about for weeks.”
If you’ve never been to the Crossville Oktoberfest before, you just may be missing out on the good time and schnitzel you didn’t know you needed.
“People that come really enjoy themselves,” Mr. Roy said. “There’s nothing there to hold people back, so they’re welcome to dance, they’re welcome to listen to the music, they’re welcome to sit down and eat and chat with friends or others that show up.”
Ready to mark your calendars for next year? The 2022 event will be held on the Friday, Oct. 14, and Saturday Oct. 15. On-site parking is free, and single-day tickets are $8 at the gate or $6 in advance.
For more information visit crossvilleoktoberfest.com.