He’s the man who rolls out the barrels for America’s largest Oktoberfest: This month’s Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati. He also puts the foodstuffs into the yearly Taste of Cincinnati, the music into the Union Centre Bash and a host of other monumental events.
He’s Todd Bucher, the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber’s director of the Downtown Council.
“I’m going on 10 years,” observes the ebullient Bucher of his involvement with the legendary Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati.
Now comes a critical question for Bucher: Why the heck is Oktoberfest held in September? And why isn’t it called Sektemberfest?
“There is an historical answer to that question. It’s tied to the original Oktoberfest in Munich, which is traditionally held the third full weekend of September,” Bucher explains. “The Munich Oktoberfest goes back to 1810 and the wedding celebration of Prince Ludwig.”
Munich’s beer blast starts in September and goes for two weeks, so it stretches into October and heralds the fall harvest. That’s actually why so many American Oktoberfests are held in the “S” month, because they are trying to be as authentic as possible, he adds.
And what about the bad rap many Oktoberfests take, that they’re merely an excuse to guzzle beer? Times they are a changin’, apparently. In an attempt to lose the tawdry image as a massive brewfest, Oktoberfest is catering to the entire family with kids attractions.
“We offer a lot for families,” Bucher notes. “There’s all the food, 40 some food booths, rides, and entertainment.”
That said, even Bucher’s colleague — Raymond “Buz” Buse III, public relations manager for Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati — concedes that at the original Munich bash, “They drink like fishes.”
“The really funny thing there is the most popular song at Munich is ‘YMCA,’ sung in English,” Buse laughs. “In America, we go to great lengths to get German music for our events. In Germany, they’re singing ‘YMCA’.”
Go figure.
So how did Bucher get into the business of throwing citywide festivals and rock concerts (he also helps coordinate the Party in the Park live music series)?
As Bucher recalls, “I actually started off as an intern here at the Chamber. I liked it so much that I stayed on. That is to say, they offered me a job.” With a background in marketing and business at the College of Mount St. Joseph, the marriage seemed like a neat fit.
Bucher’s Oktoberfest heads the Bavarian cream of the crop in the region: Other prominent fests in September include the MainStrasse Village Oktoberfest in Covington, the German Village Oktoberfest in Columbus, and the Dayton Art Institute’s Oktoberfest. (Think about it: sauerkraut meeting still-lifes, reubens meeting Rubens. Who’d have thought this combination could work?)
This year, entertainment at Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati includes everything from polka to pop. Past celebrity guests have included Bengal Chad Johnson, emcee “Mini Me” (actor Verne Troyer from the Austin Powers movies), singer Tony Orlando, Weird Al Yankovic and the Monkees’ Davy Jones. Often, the celeb emcee is charged with heading the annual kazoo symphony and chicken dance, where tens of thousands of free kazoos will be handed out by Bucher and his troops.
You’ll find lots more to enjoy at Bucher’s Bavarian blast this year, which is ranked by USA Today as the world’s second largest Oktoberfest (after No. 1 Munich), and attracts 500,000 revelers. The edibles include mettwurst, bratwurst, sauerkraut balls, sausages, potato pancakes, Limburger cheese, cream puffs, strudel and other low-cal fare. You can then try working off those “kalorien” by yodeling or doing the polka at the various entertainment stages throughout the night.
Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati takes place from 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday, Sept. 22, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23. The action is located on six blocks of Fifth Street and Fountain Square. Admission is free. Call (513) 579-3194 or consult www.oktoberfest-zinzinnati.com for details.
Or, want to check out where it all began? Head to www.munich-tourist.de, the Munich Oktoberfest’s web site. Even if you can’t travel to Germany, you can participate in a virtual sort of way with the 7 million visitors from across the world who spend two weeks each year partying in the Bavarian capital.
For the record, there will be 16 — count ’em, 16 — beer tents at the Munich fest (sponsored by the city’s breweries, including Lowenbrau, Hofbrau and Paulaner). Organizers expect to serve 14 million liters of beer, more than 300,000 pairs of pork sausages, 600,000 roasted chickens and 84 whole oxen.
Music is almost continuous around the clock, from German polka and brass bands to American rock.
And that’s a whole lot of oompah-pah.
­— FELIX WINTERNITZ