Party Time

Appleton’s Octoberfest Celebrating 40 Years

by Tim Froberg

Appleton’s Octoberfest is turning 40 and celebrating with a major bash.

The annual community festival is returning to the streets of downtown Appleton September 24-25 following a one-year absence due to the global pandemic.

The event didn’t completely disappear in 2020 but was observed through a virtual celebration. This year it’s back with its original format: a free festival along College Avenue with live bands, cold beer, plenty of great food, and a crowd that could fill Lambeau Field.

The popular License to Cruise car show and parade will kick off Appleton’s Octoberfest September 24 from 6-9:30 p.m. It features 400-plus antique and classic automobiles with live music and outdoor food booths. License to Cruise is a huge part of Octoberfest and draws roughly 50,000 annually. 

The September 25 (Saturday) celebration runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and is massive. It features live music from local bands and musicians, and typically draws 100,000.

The event is more than just a big party. It’s a major fundraiser for area nonprofit organizations who raise money by selling food and beverages. Arts and crafts vendors are also a part of Appleton’s Octoberfest celebration.

“It’s great to have it back and celebrate this milestone (40 years),” said Nikki Voelzke, an Octoberfest volunteer and chair of the marketing and public relations committee for Appleton’s Octoberfest. “For all these years, the community has really counted on it to not only be a celebration, but also a tremendous way to support our local nonprofit community and our small businesses and all the artists and musicians who participate. 

“Based on everything we’ve seen on social media, people are really excited that it’s returning.”

The Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce coordinates the event, which is sponsored by several area businesses.

“The economic impact for the nonprofit organizations involved is astronomical,” said Kate Bruns, vice president of marketing and communications for the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce. “Not having it last year in its true format was a setback for everyone. 

“We worked closely with our hospital partners Ascension and Theda Care and public health departments to keep an eye on the situation. We finally convened with those folks in late spring and were able to make a formal announcement that it was coming back. That’s a pretty short turnaround to plan a giant festival. Things have been full speed ahead since that time since we lost a little bit of time with that uncertainty.”

Bruns said the chamber is still trying to recruit volunteers and nonprofits for the event. 

No special COVD-related restrictions were planned for Appleton’s Octoberfest, at least heading into August.

“As with all Fox Cities Chamber events, people should go with their own comfort level and judgement,” said Bruns. “There’s not a lot you can do in terms of spacing people out. If you haven’t been vaccinated, we would encourage you to wear a mask. 

“But there is always the possibility of things changing at any time. All of our permits are through the city of Appleton, so we would defer to whatever their policy would be.”