The 42nd annual Oregon Alpenfest got off to a bit of a slow start Thursday, Sept. 26, but fest-goers were full of joy and fun all weekend long despite inclement weather.
“Everybody had a rousing good time,” Alpenmeister Chuck Anderson said.
Fewer than 30 people and no band took part in the opening procession down Main Street in Enterprise on Thursday.
Alpenmeister Chuck Anderson said the band from Joseph Charter School decided not to participate in the procession because of the threat of rain. The skies did remain overcast in Enterprise, but the precipitation held off.
“It looked like it was going to rain,” Anderson said of the missing band. “It didn’t rain here but apparently it was raining in Joseph at the time.”
Anderson welcomed an enthusiastic crowd of about 60 to the gazebo at the Wallowa County Courthouse without the aid of a loudspeaker, noting that it was defunct and hadn’t been replaced.
But by the time the procession made it to the gazebo, the sounds of the Alps rang out as accordionists, a yodeler and alpenhorn player Bruce Coutant, of Enterprise, gave samples of the music people would hear throughout the weekend.
Coutant, who is the only alpenhorn maker in North America, Anderson said, blew his wooden horn – also known as an alpine horn – that is several yards long and tapers from about an inch in diameter to several inches. With neither reed nor valves, it’s played much like a bugle, he said.
Coutant said his horn breaks down into six pieces “so you can put it into a backpack” and climb a mountain with it.
He said the horn dates to the 16th century in the alpine regions of Switzerland and surrounding countries. There, it was used for a means of communications in terrain so rugged that personal contact was difficult.
“It was kind of like early texting,” he said.
It wasn’t simply the sound of the horn, but the notes or blast it emitted that conveyed a message.
“You could say everything’s alright or I need help now or tomorrow” with the alpenhorn, Coutant said.
His performances drew enthusiastic applause from all who heard him all weekend long.
Also performing traditional alpine instruments were Alicia Baker-Strata, originally from Portland, who sang and played the accordion; and Shelby Imholt, of Hillsboro, who played the accordion and yodeled.
In addition to the opening in Enterprise, the accordionists played at Terminal Gravity Brewery and Pub in Enterprise, the Wallowa Valley Senior Living Center in Enterprise and the Rotary Club in Enterprise before shifting venues to Joseph, where they and Coutant performed at the Joseph Visitor Center and Wallowa Lake State Park. At the latter location, they were joined by the Polkatones dance band and the Tirolean Dancers.
At Terminal Gravity, Anderson welcomed a packed house and got Hans Boehm, of the Portland German-American Society, to take the first taste of Alpenfest Ale.
“They make it just for us” in a limited quantity, Anderson said. “They’ve been doing it every year since 2012.”
When Boehm, a native of Stuttgart, Germany, got up to make the first official taste, he gave the traditional German, “prosit” toast.
As he appeared to down nearly the entire stein, someone from the crowd hollered, “It’s supposed to be a taste!” a comment that garnered laughs and applause from the crowd.
Alpenfest traces its origins to 1975, when the original festival was held at the old Eldelweiss Inn at Wallowa Lake, Anderson said. The festival continued until 2008 when a lack of volunteers and dwindling attendance led to its being discontinued.
When it was revived in 2012, the retired Anderson was voted alpenmeister and the festival continued at the Edelweiss through 2018. However, the nearly 100-year-old building has become so run down, it wasn’t suitable to continue to hold the festival there. Anderson said he’s unsure of the building’s future.
This year, organizers decided to move things from the inn to the parking lot at the Wallowa Lake Marina. There, organizers erected a 20-by-40-foot food preparation tent and a main tent measuring 40 feet by 60 feet to house musicians, other performers, a dance floor and festival-goers. Numerous vendors also had their tents set up nearby in the parking lot.
About 150 people filled the main tent Friday evening to hear the Polkatones belt out their renditions of traditional Swiss/Germain airs as “Du, du, liegst mir am Herzen,” “Ach, du lieber Augustin” and the multinational “Beer Barrel Polka,” while the Tirolean Dancers and members of the audience danced.
The Polkatones were, by far, one of the most-enjoyed attractions at Alpenfest.
Band spokeswoman JoDee Etcheberry, originally from Tillamook, said coming to Alpenfest is like coming home.
“We love it here. We’ve been coming here over 30 years,” she said. “Alpenfest is my third family. It’s the only time I get to see some of these folks.”
Last year, Alpenfest offered free polka or waltz lessons with Randy and Ashley Thull from Wisconsin, but the Thulls weren’t here this year.
“They weren’t able to come this year,” Anderson said, but the Tirolean Dancers offered to tutor anyone who’d come up and ask for a dance.
Attendance at the events at Wallowa Lake was down from previous years, counting between 400 and 425 paid admissions for all events. Anderson was fairly certain of the causes.
“One reason was the weather. The prospect of snow kept people who were going to come and it kind of scared them off,” he said. “The other thing was the size of the tent. It’s smaller than the Edelweiss Inn.”
He didn’t have the numbers for the Alpine Breakfast held Saturday and Sunday by the Wallowa Lake Tourism Association, but Anderson was certain they were well attended for a feast of blueberry pancakes, sausage patties and eggs. Sunday was an all-you-could-eat affair.
“A lot of people came out for both breakfests,” he said.
Anderson said that while organizers are still tallying the proceeds, he’s sure they made enough to continue next year.
“We’ll definitely have Alpenfest next year,” he said. “The main reason we have Alpenfest is for everybody to come out and hear really good music, eat really good food and have a really great time.”