Bluff City Oktoberfest celebrates fall with bluegrass and beer

The Bluff City Backsliders will perform at the Bluff City Oktoberfest Saturday afternoon.

The Bluff City Backsliders will perform at the Bluff City Oktoberfest Saturday afternoon.

The Bluff City Backsliders will perform at the Bluff City Oktoberfest Saturday afternoon.

The Bluff City Backsliders will perform at the Bluff City Oktoberfest Saturday afternoon.

Devil Train will perform at the Bluff City Oktoberfest.

Devil Train will perform at the Bluff City Oktoberfest.

Bluegrass music, a beer garden, a kids’ burger cook-off and a bratwurst-eating contest with a $500 prize are among events planned for the inaugural Bluff City Oktoberfest Friday and Saturday along Riverside Drive in Downtown.

“Just as Memphis in May begins the summer, our festival is just an exclamation point at the end,” said festival founder Brooks Monypenny, who is also the president of the board of the Samaritan Counseling Center, one of the event’s beneficiaries.

Monypenny, who was involved with Arts in the Park and the upcoming River Arts Festival, is one of the organizers of the Southern Hot Wing Festival, which is held during the spring and benefits the Ronald McDonald House of Memphis.

He said he persuaded Hot Wing Festival founder Paul Gagliano to move the festival from South Main to the Bluff City Oktoberfest site on Riverside Drive from Jefferson, including Jefferson Davis Park, South to Beale Street.

Watching the Hot Wing Festival revelers gave Monypenny the idea to do the Bluff City Oktobefest.

“(I) was watching the sunset up there and all those people in the street. I could see everybody having a good time and the music was blaring. I like happenings. That was a happening. We can do that and make a little money.”

The Riverside location is perfect, he said. “That space down there is awesome. The opportunity to grow in that space is absolutely fabulous. When you think about it, people are naturally drawn to the river even when there is nothing else going on down there.”

And there’s plenty of room to park, he said. “In that space, there are nine parking garages.”

There is no admission fee to Bluff City Oktoberfest, and there will be food vendors. “I like events where I don’t have to charge a gate. I want people to come down and enjoy themselves and spend their money. We can make ends meet and everybody has a good time.”

Monypenny purposely held the festival in early October. “I love the first weekend in October. I think it’s awesome. It’s beautiful most of the time. The Dragon Boat Races will be going on, so they’ll be across the harbor. That thing draws 18,000, 20,000 people. We’ll get some overload from those people. When they finish the competition, they can sit and watch the sunset and have something to do.”

Some of the proceeds will go toward the Samaritan Counseling Center’s new outreach program, Hope for Heroes-Tennessee, which will provide counseling support for returning military veterans and their families. He was on hand for last Sunday’s Jazz & Pasta fundraiser for the center at Memphis Botanic Garden. That event, which drew 250 people, was their largest turnout to date, Monypenny said. They raised $35,000 to $40,000, he said.

The other beneficiaries will be Memphis Food Bank, Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) and Tennessee Community and Court Services.

Monypenny was going to have a barbecue cooking contest, but didn’t get a good response. The beer garden is still on and will feature sampling of high end beer, including hard-to-find exotic beers, from breweries around the country as well as Memphis. Craft beer is the focus. “Memphis has become the hotbed of the brewing community.”

As for the music, Monypenny wanted to concentrate on bluegrass. “Bluegrass is part of our roots. And, at the same time, nobody else is doing it. We’ll see how it works.”

The music stage, which will be at the foot of Monroe, will be curated by the Memphis Bluegrass Association and the Cedar Grove (Tenn.) Opry.

Randall Morton, who plays banjo in Devil Train, Friday night’s headliner, is excited about bluegrass being highlighted. “I think that it’s good to focus on another form of music,” he said.

James Ray, Devil Train guitarist, said it’s a bonus for Memphis musicians as well as the audience. “I’m excited because there are a lot of bluegrass pickers and nobody knows about it,” he said.

Bluff City Oktoberfest

Where: Riverside Drive between Jefferson and Beale Street

When: Friday, 3 p.m. until sunset; Saturday, 10 a.m. until sunset.

Admission: Free

More information: bluffcityoktoberfest.org/

Music lineup

FRIDAY

5 p.m. Cypress Creek Bluegrass Band

6 p.m. Devil Train

SATURDAY

11 a.m. Le Tumulte Noir

Noon: Papa Tops West Coast Turn Around

1 p.m. Bluff City Backsliders

2 p.m. Eric and Andy

3 p.m. Side Street Steppers

4 p.m. Dandy and the Lions

5 p.m. Fatback Jubilee

6 p.m. Uncle Tony’s String Band

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