Rob “Wolfie” Walker wants to help. I know that he wants to provide every piece of European insight about Oktoberfest that a trumpet-playing singer for Wolfie and the Bavarians can share.
Yet his tongue seems tied — as if by lederhosen. This is a man who performed 38 German-themed shows per week at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Va., as a student in 1983-84. He even moved to Germany in 1985.
Nowadays, his zany band, Wolfie and the Bavarians, performs at Oktoberfest celebrations, including two in Boise this weekend. They’ll even rock Jackson, Wyo., on Oct. 3, making them our city’s only touring German band.
So why won’t Wolfie — er, Walker — give me the inside scoop?
Wait — because he never actually attended Oktoberfest while studying in Germany? Was ist das?
“I went for six months and went to school,” Walker explains sheepishly. “I got robbed! I got mugged in Bologna, Italy, and never made it to October. I actually came home at the end of August.”
Time out. We are having trouble communicating. It’s not the German-English language barrier, either.
“Never made it!” Walker continues, laughing. “That’s on my bucket list.”
Aw, shucks, Wolfie. Who cares if we’re all Oktoberfest amateurs? The festival, from mid-September through the first weekend of October, isn’t so complicated, anyway.
It evolved from a celebration in Munich to honor the marriage of Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen to Crown Prince Ludwig on Oct. 12, 1810, Walker explains. OK, he mentions a wedding, some queen and tells me to look up the rest. Like most Americans, his historical perception of Oktoberfest apparently has been clouded by stein-hoisting waitresses wearing low-cut dirndl dresses.
“Well, I can tell you this,” he says, sounding authoritative, “that Oktoberfest has now kind of changed.”
This, I believe. While Boiseans dance to authentic German music (Boise Edelweiss Band) or wackier takes (Wolfie and the Bavarians), millions from around the globe are descending upon Munich for a massive beer party. It includes a huge dose of traditional Bavarian culture — but also American musical influences, Walker says.
“They’re listening to, like, John Denver songs and Rolling Stones, things like that. It’s been Americanized. ... Other than that, it’s kind of freeform. There’s just a lot of techno.”
Walker, 52, who has led Wolfie and the Bavarians for more than a decade, takes a tongue-in-cheek approach while playing the Wolfie role here in America. “It’s more about interacting with the crowd and dancing with them and me singing in German,” he says, “which is painful to the audience, I’m sure.”
“It’s all about the fun part of it. I’ve always thought about representing World War II by watching ‘Hogan’s Heroes.’ That’s kind of what it is.”
When Walker took a short-lived summer job at a German factory in 1985, the first worker that Walker encountered was named — yep —Wolfgang. So as a gag, all of the Bavarians band members also are named Wolfie. Except the clarinetist, Helga. And if the accordionist looks suspiciously like Boise jazz pianist Chuck Smith, well — have another beer and move on, party pooper.
Wolfie and the Bavarians will gig from 6-10 p.m. Sept. 25 and 26 at Tres Bonne Cuisine (details, page 23) and from 3-4:45 p.m. Sept. 26 at Old Boise’s street-closing Oktoberfest (details, page 25).
So go pretend you’re German. There are wurst things. And if you run into Wolfie, try to refrain from bringing up that whole “never-been-to-Oktoberfest-but-at-least-you-got-mugged-in-Italy” thing.
“Bologna in the bathroom,” he gripes. “What I found out was a U.S. passport was worth a lot of money on the black market.”
Michael Deeds’ entertainment column runs Fridays in Scene and alternating Sundays in Explore.