A Month of Festivals: German Alps Festival

The German Alps Festival in Hunter, NY, is circled on the calendar every year for a number of reasons. Do I go to see 18-time Grammy winner Jimmy Sturr and the Jimmy Sturr Orchestra? Sure. Do I go to get sauerbraten? Yeah, kind of. Do I go to see what musical freaks of nature they have brought over "direct from Germany"? Absolutely. And, while we're on that subject, if you will permit me to brag for a moment, it is because of the promoters of the German Alps Festival that--brace yourself, hipsters--I have actually seen German pop sensation Heino live and in person. Oh, I don't remember much about it because I was a young lad at the time, but when you see a guy like this, you don't lose the memory entirely.

Now that I've spent the last 15 minutes looking at Heino clips on YouTube, I've forgotten what my point was...oh, yeah, now I remember. I do my best to get to the German Alps Festival for all the reasons mentioned above, but also because of the memories of summers in the Catskills and the festivals at Hunter Mountain. Though there are now really just two festivals still running at Hunter Mountain (the Celtic is the other), and they are operating on a much smaller scale than the glory days, there used to be a summer full of festivals at Hunter Mountain, from the cultural ones--Italian, Polish, American Indian--to the music-based ones--the Country Music Festival (split into two parts and with lineups that I was generally indifferent to then but now readily drool over...though I did see Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson there) and Rockstalgia (added at the end of the glory days; I think that's the one where I saw Carl Perkins).

But the crown jewel was always the German Alps Festival, which at its peak ran for an entire month and seemed to always have, in addition to a large brass band with a name like Stadtkapelle Gundelfingen (sadly, not on YouTube), this lunatic named Tony Marshall, whom my mom was quite fond of, as the headline act.

Must...not...look...for...more...Tony Marshall...clips...must focus...

And there would be lots of oom-pah music, the fantastically named appelflappen (which I think is actually Dutch, but no matter) dessert, a guy playing a zither in the ski lodge, someone playing either the saw or musical glasses (or both) in a side tent, at least a few Chicken Dances a day (my mom had--and probably still has--her own Chicken Dance hat), and plastic souvenir cup after plastic souvenir cup of Dinkel Acker beer (I didn't drink it, but it sure was fun to say), generally full for only a short period of time before they would be stacked high on the checkered-tablecloth-covered tables in the main tent, which was pretty enormous and almost always close to full. And there was another big tent full of tchotchkes, German or otherwise, for sale, which always pretty much had the same vendors in it but nevertheless was good for at least an hour's worth of wandering every year. The whole thing, in fact, didn't change all that much from year to year (except for the year Heino and Hannelore came...that was a big deal), but it was the reliability that made it great. I don't ever remember having a bad time at the German Alps Festival, or any of the festivals at Hunter Mountain.

But things are different now. Several years ago, they stopped putting up the giant main tent in the parking lot and instead set up a smaller tent closer to the ski lodge for the entertainment. The big tchotchke tent, as well as the one or two smaller ones, went away, too, and there were now only a handful of vendors in the ski lodge and in the area around the music tent. Neither Tony Marshall nor Heino were in the budget anymore. No one played the saw or glasses. And, worst of all, there were no more plastic souvenir cups and no more Dinkel Acker (replaced by Warsteiner, which is fun to say, too, but not as fun as Dinkel Acker).

Still, I go. For the good times had and the good times still to be had, even if it's not 1988 anymore. After all, Jimmy Sturr's still there, they're still making sauerbraten, and, as this video I took last year and will now repost for your entertainment shows, the Germans still know how to party.

This year, I subjected not only my mother to the gem├╝tlichkeit (look it up...it's good to learn new words), but also two retired journalists and their sons. But, of course, first we stopped at Sweet Sue's in Phoenicia and I ate this (or most of it).

Then after the pancakes were sufficiently digested, we headed to Hunter Mountain. The two retired journalists knew what they were getting into, as they are repeat customers. The young boys were a little more taken aback, as will happen to the first-timer. But after some solid rock-wall climbing, they seemed a little more at ease, though I did capture the older boy in a pose struck by every first-time attendee: The What Exactly Is All This and Why Am I Here? stance.

If the Enzian Bavarian Band did "Rucki Zucki" this year, I missed it. I did hear another band do it, but it wasn't as strong. Oh well. At least I got to see some of the Schuhplattlers. What are they, you ask? Maybe these photos will refresh your memories of "National Lampoon's European Vacation":

If the Schuhplattlers stop coming to the German Alps Festival, I might have to stop going too.

Sadly, the boys were dragging and a little lemonade-drunk by the time the first notes of "Also Sprach Zarathustra" were struck, which is, of course, the signal that the Jimmy Sturr show is about to begin. So we headed out and, after stopping to get their things together at the Family Compound, they headed back home...but not before they dropped me back at the festival for the nighttime portion of the show.

I stopped in to see my boys in the Enzian Bavarian Band do their final set of the day, a mainly low-key affair that I'm pretty sure featured "Edelweiss," only because I'm pretty sure every set I've seen them do features "Edelweiss." I must admit, after 25 years I think I'm starting to warm up to the song.

Then I went back to the main tent to see my fellow Ithaca Bomber Alex Meixner kick some polka ass with his quartet. We attended school at the same time and, though I knew of his polka heritage from an article in the school newspaper, I somehow never sought him out and became his best friend ever as we sang Frankie Yankovic songs and debated the merits of the oberek. Alas, a missed opportunity. But I've seen him several times after college, and he's quite good. Anybody who can play the trumpet and accordion equally well really deserves your respect. And if not for that, then at least give him props for stage clothes.

After Meixner came the second Jimmy Sturr set, which is generally the looser and decidedly less traditional set of the day. There are almost never any straight polkas in the evening set. It's mainly oldies, which Mr. Sturr can do because most of the tour buses full of older people of German heritage have departed for the day. In my observations, the Germans don't care much for modernity when it comes to their polka music. Last year, a gentleman at my table stood up during Sturr's early set and yelled, "Play some German music" in that vaguely menacing German accent that makes everything sound like someone might be killed soon if heed is not paid. I get the impression that the older German folk aren't huge Jimmy Sturr fans. Hey, they've been wrong about other things in the past, too (don't mention the war). I still like Jimmy Sturr, though, even during the rock set.

Then, because I'm 33 years old, my mom came to pick me up from the concert and we headed back to the Family Compound, another German Alps Festival in the books.

Auf wiedersehen, Hunter Mountain.

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