Oktoberfest Dallas is back, and it’s bringing a 10-year history with it.
It all started with some trips to Wurstfest in New Braunfels. Tate Gorman and Adam Meierhofer, The Exchange Club of Lake Highlands’ youngest members at the time, were enjoying the atmosphere, rife with beer, brats and fun music. The two had attended the more than 50-year-old festival a few years in a row.
“We started thinking, ‘How could we do something like that in Lake Highlands as a fundraiser for the Exchange Club?’” says Gorman.
The two also found it “bizarre” that there wasn’t already an Oktoberfest in Dallas.
They pitched starting their own to the Exchange Club and were placed in charge of mobilizing the event. In a month, the first Oktoberfest came together.
A big win for the event was landing Kuby’s Sausage House, a staple German restaurant in Dallas. The owner, Karl Kuby, heard about it through the grapevine and wanted to be a part of it. Kuby’s, about five other vendors and some live German music set up at the Lake Highlands Town Center in the late afternoon.
People couldn’t get enough.
“We stopped early before it even got dark, and everybody wanted us to keep going,” says Gorman. “And then every year it’s grown and grown.”
Oktoberfest has gradually become a concert event, with headliners and bands performing into the night. Past headliners include the Old 97’s, Charlie Robinson and Bob Schneider. Lively traditional music still accompanies daytime events, which include a cornhole tournament and a kids zone with bounce houses and obstacle courses.
Special offerings from Oak Highlands Brewery will be featured at the 2021 festival taking place Oct. 2. There will also be traditional German and domestic beers and wine. Kuby’s remains a cornerstone food option, and Lake Highlands eateries such as Urban Crust and Shady’s Burgers and Brewhaha are also lined up.
In the early years, Oktoberfest had the run of the Town Center; the entire event fit within one open field. But Town Center development forced the Exchange Club to find a new location, which turned out to be blessing in disguise, says club president-elect Carlin Volkmer.
The group landed on hosting at Flagpole Hill Park for the 2016 Oktoberfest. It’s been there ever since, and the Exchange Club anticipates it staying there for a long while.
“There’s a whole lot of green grass out there and we can make it as big as we need to make it,” says Volkmer.
With vendors and activities spanning across Flagpole Hill, parents are known to stop by Oktoberfest a few times. In the day, they might entertain kids between soccer games. In the evening they return without any kids in tow, ready to enjoy some music and beer. This year’s event is expected to run 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
Familiar faces have made their return to the Oktoberfest each year, along with a host of newcomers.
“A lot of the older Exchange Club members, especially who were involved back then, they come out now and their kids are much older and they come out with their grandkids,” says Gorman. “It’s so much fun. We definitely see the same faces year after year. And also, depending on the band, we get in new faces, and it’s grown a lot. In fact, I used to think I knew a lot of people in Lake Highlands and then I’d go to Oktoberfest and realize either I don’t or there’s a lot of people outside of Lake Highlands here.”
About three years ago, the Exchange Club changed its name from the Lake Highlands Oktoberfest to Oktoberfest Dallas. The new name felt more encompassing and welcoming for those coming from outside of Lake Highlands.
“We want those people to walk in and have a good time to be able to celebrate,” says President-elect Carlin Volkmer. “I think that’s the stamp that we’ve tried to put on it to make it our own.”
Money raised through events hosted by the Exchange Club goes toward scholarships and grants for Lake Highlands students and community members. During the past nine years, Oktoberfest has raised about $600,000. One grant helped fund the all-abilities playground at Flagpole Hill.
The Oktoberfest’s 10th year was intended to take place in 2020, but the group chose to delay it to 2021 because of the pandemic.
“It was a pretty quick decision,” says Volkmer.
This year’s event is a bit of a last hurrah for Volkmer, Patrick Brown and Todd Bowen. Each has helped put together an Oktoberfest in past years. They joined together to take on this year’s event and to pass the baton to the next generation of Exchange Club members.
“We were excited about how much it had grown and changed, and we kind of wanted one last hurrah, being able to do it and lead it and, you know, now there’s other guys lined up to take off of that next year and take it in their own direction,” Volkmer says.
“The way it’s organically grown with this supportive club and new people stepping up and bringing their own ideas on how to make it better is part of the story of the event, of how it’s continued to grow and change, and all for the better.”