Thursday, November 2, 2017

ALPENFEST TO EVOKE FOND MEMORIES FOR ITS 40TH ANNIVERSARY

Oregon’s Alpenfest will rely on entertainers that evoke memories of the past as it plans its 40th anniversary festival in 2018. Longtime favorite acts have been invited to return as it launches its theme, “Forty Years of Alpenfest Memories.”

The Alpenfest board of directors, meeting Nov. 1, decided to feature The Polkatones, the nine-member polka band that has appeared here more often than any other, and the Tirolean Dancers of Oregon, the folk dance company that has performed here most often, at the festival Sept. 27-30.

“It was no contest,” said Alpenmeister Chuck Anderson. “Even if we looked at new talent, The Polkatones and the Tiroleans are the best we possibly could find.” While both groups have expressed interest in returning, final details depend on contract negotiations, he noted.

The festival also will invite Swiss yodeler Art Brogli and Enterprise alphornist Bruce Coutant to return. Both have been favorites since the festival was revived in 2012 after a four-year hiatus. Brogli began to sing at the festival after the death of popular Swiss yodeler Lisa Ward.

Oregon’s Alpenfest’s performances will take place in the Edelweiss Inn at Wallowa Lake. For many, the century-old structure elicits memories of its past as a dance hall and roller-skating rink. Now owned by the next-door Wallowa Lake Tramway, the Edelweiss always has been the home of the festival.

The one newcomer that the board said it wants back is accordion virtuoso Alicia Baker. She garnered huge applause this year as the new star of “Accordions at Alpenfest” at Terminal Gravity Brewery on the Thursday before the main festival shows. An international champion of competitions, Baker is 26 and has been playing accordion since age 6.

Traditional free polka and waltz lessons will again be provided by competitive polka dancers Randy and Ashley Thull from Wisconsin.

The Polkatones have been performing since Swiss immigrant Al Schwend formed the band in 1971 in Tillamook, in time for the first Alpenfest four years later. Now the band includes Schwend’s daughter, son-in-law and two granddaughters.

The energetic Tirolean Dancers also were formed in the 1970s. Although members have come and gone, the troupe is in demand to perform Alpine folk dances throughout the Pacific Northwest. Members have said they anticipate Alpenfest weekend as their favorite gig, Anderson said.

The festival ran for 33 years in its Wallowa Lake-only format until it was discontinued in 2008. Three years later, a group of merchants in the nearby town of Joseph formed to revive it. The result is its current format, with events in Joseph and Enterprise as well as the Wallowa Lake performances.

Details and advance tickets are available at oregonalpenfest.com.

Wallowa County’s economy depends heavily on tourism and Oregon’s Alpenfest is an important factor. It contributes an estimated $150,000 to the economy late in the tourist season when there is little else to bring visitors to the area.

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