Try 1 month for 99¢
Matt Johnson

Vernon County Broadcaster editor Matt Johnson

VIROQUA — Mid-afternoon on Sunday I hopped on Facebook, and this was a status update from a friend: “Just went through La Crosse and based on the way people are walking and the fella sleeping on the sidewalk, I would say they’re still enjoying Oktoberfest.”

Early Sunday morning, there were people tipping over cars near the city’s campuses.

La Crosse, the city where kids wander off drunk and drown in the Mississippi River, needs to take a long, hard look and rethink its tradition of ushering each October with everyone drinking until they puke.

Oh, sure, there are responsible festgoers. People enjoy the parades and the food. But alcohol is at the center of this fall festival, and every year it’s the same thing. Police are overwhelmed because people get too drunk and out of control.

It can be argued that this year’s carnage — not yet fully estimated because Oktoberfest runs for nine days — is the reason to end it all. Property owners were keeping their eyes on the street. Police were swarming the area. And, on top of all the monitoring and vigilance, drunks still outflanked everyone and caused tens of thousands of dollars in property damage.

“Ha, ha, ha! Watch us! We’re flipping over cars!”

Tap another golden keg.

Reading the comprehensive coverage in the La Crosse Tribune last week about all the things La Crosse had done to prepare for the onslaught of drunken revelers was enlightening. Especially telling were the photos of police undergoing training in riot gear. Nobody can say they were unaware this could happen. In fact, you could say it was expected. And if such behavior is expected, why is it tolerated?

Do we really want to have a festival where everyone is going to get drunk and destroy a bunch of property. Who approves of that?

The city of La Crosse has more than twice the population of all of Vernon County. Each year Vernon County’s biggest event is the annual fair, which attracts about 20,000 people to Viroqua over five days. The Vernon County Fair is not perfect, but compared to Oktoberfest it is rated G.

Why? No booze.

The Vernon County Fair doesn’t sell alcohol on the fairgrounds and doesn’t allow it to be carried in. Yet the stands fill for the demolition derby and tractor pulls, the midway is full of people, vendors make money, kids are entertained — and there are no obnoxious drunks tipping over cars.

The old joke about hometown festivals is that people who live in town leave as soon as they begin — nobody wants to deal with the crowds, parking nightmares and rude people.

In La Crosse, if you live near the festgrounds or between Third Street and the campus, you have to stay home to watch your property so it doesn’t get stolen, destroyed or vandalized. Yet, even watching property doesn’t work.

“We no longer have Oktoberfest. We have Drunkfest,” Pamela Strittmater, president of the Apartment Association of La Crosse, is quoted as saying in Monday’s Tribune.

Readers might be surprised to know that Oktoberfest in La Crosse began as a three-day family festival in 1961.

The festival grew and grew as those who sell alcohol raked in the cash. It evolved into nine-day drinking binge, with several streets closed off to allow for wobbly walkers and public urination.

This wasn’t limited to the festgrounds, but at parties throughout the community, especially house parties around the city’s campuses.

In 2005, the La Crosse Mayor’s Task Force to Review Alcohol Ordinances, Infrastructure of Riverside Park, and Community Attitudes and Readiness asked to have the festival reduced. After much debate, next year, Oktoberfest is to have just one weekend of partying.

It can be argued that’s still one weekend too many.

Sign up to get each day's obituaries sent to your email inbox

Matt Johnson is editor of the Vernon County Broadcaster.


Digital news editor

Digital news editor

(42) comments


Some people drink some don't. When I lived in Minneapolis everyone knew Lacrosse and the UW-Lacrosse as a drinking town and a drinking college. If you don't like the drunks and their behavior don't go. I quit going when my son was 5 and a swearing, drunk college "child" spilled his beer on my son. The police did nothing, so I don't go-its not an event for everyone. I don't argue one way or another its just my opinion-like everyone else commenting it really doesn't mean much. The town and college have their reputations in other states and our comments will not change that.


I live in the city. I tapped the golden keg and got a cab home. I took my step-daughter to the parade and drank water. no problems and no complaints. it was a good time. I saw sober people and drunk people. I talked to both of them. if you don't like this wonderful tradition, don't go. the good people by far out number the bad. unfortunately, we only hear about the "hooligans".


Part 3...The bottom line is that Matt Johnson and others make sensational claims to sell a story or further their own agenda. No one wants to hear that an individual is responsible for their own behavior. It's always easier to blame a faceless organization. The city of La Crosse has little to offer other than festivals, conventions and tourism. The bars, hotels, restaurants and associated businesses are happy to take the money but no one chastises them for the specials they run. No one is taking Kwik Trip to task for parking trailers full of beer at their stores to supply the campus with extraordinary amounts of alcohol. Again, Oktoberfest closes at midnight and uses their own security. Let's look at why the city can't put a program in place to manage the bars, businesses and house parties away from the Oktoberfest grounds and manage those people who never even come to the grounds instead of laying the blame on the easy target of a big festival.


Part 2... For those that don't know, Oktoberfest closes down at midnight - a full 2.5 hours before the bars. On top of that, how many college kids are willing to pay $3 or $4.50 per drink when downtown and house parties offer drinks for significantly less money. Oktoberfest is being used as an excuse/scapegoat by many other local establishments and college houses to go all out and party without limits.
Does anyone remember the Coon Creek Festival? That took place in Coon Valley but the bars made it very attractive to come back and party in La Crosse at night. A squad car was left in the middle of third street and started on fire by a man from Illinois who was just in town to party. The fire department was called out to hose back the crowds. The next year a group of people stood on Pearl Street chanting "hose us". Coon Creek went away. It wasn't the fault of the festival, but rather the inability of the City to impose any limits on the bars or maintain effective control of a crowd.


I can't begin to say how many wildly inaccurate claims are being made by Matt Johnson and others about this. I have attended Oktoberfest for more years than I care to admit to, all the way from being a college student to 20+ years later. As I attended Oktoberfest this year, I was there at a variety of times, including the end of the night. Perhaps I missed the pockets of debauchery, but I have yet to see anything in easily the last 10 years that you don't see at any festival that serves alcohol. The actual festival itself has been doing many things to make the fest more socially responsible and those of us who have attended regularly for years have seen the changes. No festival is perfect, but it is not the festival's job to take care of the festgoers. We each have a personal responsibility to know our limits and to know how to behave.

Deadwood subscriber

The Vernon County Fair will never be perfect so long as it is dry.

Mind of Minerva

Don't you think that maybe Matt should take a trip down to Hippie Joe's in Esofea and have couple and chill out? :)


Hey Matt get a life.

We should stop driving cars because people get killed also.


Way to go, now that's on his radar too.


Matt if this is how you feel about Oktoberfest, I can just imagine how you feel about Badger Games, Packer Games (& tailgating), etc and any other events within this state that may involve drinking. The Oktoberfest generates a lot of income for this area. Maybe you should stick to Viroqua and your non-drinking peaceful living.


"The festival grew and grew as those who sell alcohol raked in the cash. It evolved into nine-day drinking binge, with several streets closed off to allow for wobbly walkers and public urination."

Right, that's why the Oktoberfest Committee takes that money and distributes it plenty of local family friendly organizations. Can you say the same about Wild West days?


"Do we really want to have a festival where everyone is going to get drunk and destroy a bunch of property. Who approves of that?"

No one does. That's why the police are investigating.


"La Crosse, the city where kids wander off drunk and drown in the Mississippi River, needs to take a long, hard look and rethink its tradition of ushering each October with everyone drinking until they puke."

I think someone's jealous of our river...


"Readers might be surprised to know that Oktoberfest in La Crosse began as a three-day family festival in 1961

Rignt, a family festival modeled after the 2 week long German Festival held since 1810.

Mind of Minerva

They need to go on YouTube and start looking at videos of the festival in Munich before they start judging LaCrosse's festival as a "drunkfest".

Suddenly La Crosse Oktoberfest doesn't look so bad, huh?

Mind of Minerva


"The festival grew and grew as those who sell alcohol raked in the cash. It evolved into nine-day drinking binge, with several streets closed off to allow for wobbly walkers and public urination."

Right, Viroqua doesn't waste their time with small time crime. They go straight to tying people to chairs and torturing them.


".. Do we really want to have a festival where everyone is going to get drunk and destroy a bunch of property. Who approves of that?"

You do. It's called the town of Bud.


"...and there are no obnoxious drunks tipping over cars"

Right, so where again is the Viroqua College Campus?

Mike Hammer are basically a weenie.

The Oktoberfest is here to stay. What needs to change is the way it is managed. And it will.

Meanwhile enjoy the festivities at the Vernon County Fair where Barney no doubt is the Festmaster.


Hammer: " are basically a weenie."

Only a weenie would qualify the word weenie with the word basically. Passive voice and all that.

Mike Hammer

My apologies.

Napoleon, you are absolutely a weenie.

Mike Hammer

Or if you prefer the more grammatically correct:

Napoleon, you are an absolute weenie.


Matt Johnson: "Especially telling were the photos of police undergoing training in riot gear."

Yeah, that's some festive event we have here. Drunks vandalizing cars, students on an alcohol and drugs binge. That's some festive event we have here.

Shut the godd_mn thing down before someone you care about gets hurt!


These events I think are great for the community and the city it is held in as long as people are cooperative. An alternative to this is doing it all at home. Home brewing is becoming everso popular. They are even creating a home brew bot on kickstarter. But that will be real expensive once it is out. I personally have been home brewing for 5 years using Mr. Beer. If it lets met check this link out.


Home brewed beer has bugs in it. Or so I hear.

Buggs Raplin

Bugs in it?

Comment deleted.
LAX Liberty

Bwahahaha! I was trying to find the words. Thank you.

And why in the world is some sissy from Viroqua telling La Crosse what to do?


lf you put two colleges next to the fair things would be a little different if you don't like the Oktoberfest don't go there Stay in Vernon County

Comment deleted.

Mr. Johnson must be tired of being ignored by his Vernon County audience that he feels a need to write about La Crosse's Oktoberfest.

There is no indication in his drivel that he has ever attended Oktoberfest...instead gets his "news" from Facebook and regurgitating selected negative comments from other naysayers.


Comment deleted.
Redwall the City steps in and tries to destroy it. Amazing.


I was born and raised here,my mom would take me to the fest as a child,it used to be in the area of associated bank downtown. Back then it was a great family fest,as i got into my teen years I began to see a huge change,open drinking all over the place,drunks,as a young teenage girl,guys were hurling obscenities about our body parts etc,was bad then and is bad again now. I have to look back many years,to my childhood days to see Oktoberfest the way it was meant to be. LaCrosse tells college kids to drink less and yet has fest after fest that promotes getting drunk,My husband and I no longer attend the fest,the idea of a drunk throwing beer on us,etc is not something we care to attend. We are no prudes and drink socially,but it has gotten out of control. I am glad it will be a 4 day fest again,it was that for years,the 2 weeks is way to much!


The problems occur on the first weekend. Shortening the fest will help nothing. The campus neighborhood is where most of the problems are and a major increase in police presence and TICKETING is the only hope. We know the city will not start the fest on a Sunday or move it to the end of August which would really help. As for getting rid of the fest, never punish the majority for the actions of the few.

Mind of Minerva

Matt, I'm betting that you lost a majority of the readers at: "I hopped on FaceBook".

People that get their news from social media posts should never be trusted to drive public opinion.

My prediction: Next year will bring the last Oktoberfest to LaCrosse as cutting the length in half without cutting back on what drives up the costs (two parades) will not help it financially. Their only saving grace will be if local business organizations band together and pool their money to "bail out" Oktoberfest yet one more time. I just wonder how many local businesses enter into "the black" for the year during the week of Oktoberfest...I guess we will find out in a couple of years, huh?

Mind of Minerva

Concentrating the fest to just four days may just as well concentrate the problems related to drinking all that much more as well. I guess we will wait and see.

Just a few short years ago. I fested at both grounds one night and took the drunk bus to the north side from the south side. What I found was a much more mellow crowd with a higher average age....and they eliminated the alcohol from the north side grounds? All that did was concentrate it to a mob on the south side grounds beer hall!

All La Crosse has done to date is cause more problems for itself than it has solved regarding the revenue maker to local businesses that Oktoberfest has been through the years. It's your town, so you can do whatever you want to it...just don't complain when you have less and less choices for entertainment, and a diminishing local economy due to less and less outside money that is sure to go along with it!


OK? La Crosse picks a fest that is all about beers by tradition (Only beer conforming to the Reinheitsgebot, at a minimum of 13.5% Stammwürze (approximately 6% alcohol by volume) may be served at Oktoberfest. The beer must also be brewed within the city limits of Munich. Beers meeting these criteria may be designated Oktoberfest Beer.) And than complain about drunken fools?


NSP did you grow up here because Oktoberfest never used to be to the drunken riot it is now. I know far many people that leave than stay in town for this garbage event


NavyVet-Octoberfest us a german festival that is about breeing & drinking beer. Yes I did. I reamember running a beer to uncles in the smoke house as a child who theu got thanks for the job they did. They walked tall in pride just as my grandfather did with the WWll troops. I as a child and my children n theres still care for this event that gives pride to everyone in this parade. There is a tighter grip today than when we were sitting on a curb. People just rebel n its wrong. They need to be kicked out of school n put in jail. Now they can only drink on the southside. Its always the college kids but we have 3 main colleges here. Do the math on all that youth here n you know why its them every year. Do what you will blaming the town when it pumps the town full of college kids away from mommy & have know self control. Not the good folks.


Brewing& drunkung beer.

Mind of Minerva

NavyVet, Oktoberfest only results in the fraction of criminal arrests that it had just 10 or 15 years ago. That trend of high arrest volumes went well back into the decade of the 1980's, if not well before that. I am betting that you have to go back into the early 1970's or back into the 1960's before you can recall Oktoberfest as anything less than drunken debauchery.

Ironically it seems to correspond greatly to the tightening of drinking laws like legal age and drunken driving. The first is what has led to the increase of binge drinking in my opinion, while the latter has spurred responses like greater police presence and concentrating the drinking to more and more specific locations like the fest grounds, or downtown. The drunk bus is there to relocate those binge drinkers from on party to another. Sure, it is better than them driving, but the only behavior it has changed was to increase the binge drinking and concentrating it more geographically.

Mind of Minerva

..and I forgot to mention that those two legislative crackdowns probably increase drunken foot traffic between downtown and campus as well!


Whats wrong with you. Did you grow up here? Being at the fest was & is a great event. The young & old get visits by the fest commities. Charities benifit aswell. So dose the local economy. Every were theres a few bad apples that put things in a negative light. One bad event throws it all down hill. Sorry ur not filled with any hope for good anymore.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

Thanks for reading. Subscribe or log in to continue.