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Ooompah! Oktoberfest Comes To Tampa Bay Downs

Considered by many to be the biggest and most authentic, the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber's annual Oktoberfest happens now through Sunday.

For the past 17 years, the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce has worked to bring a dose of authentic Oktoberfest to Tampa.

And this year is no different. Scheduled for Oct. 18-21, The Top of the Bay Oktoberfest promises to be a massive German fest featuring log-sawing, barrel rolling, stein holding, games, carnival rides, German food and plenty of live music.

"Everything we do is about making it as German as we can make it," said Jerry Custin, president of the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber. "It's a big Munich-style tent, which seats about 750 people in there. When they're all in there they're just rocking."

Custin's son-in-law began organizing the event, which had for years been held at R.E. Olds Park. It is now held at Tampa Bay Downs, 11225 Race Track Road.

"We outgrew that venue," Custin said about the park. "The main limitation with the park is it didn't have any parking. Here with the Downs we have acres of service parking."

Through the years the event has gone from a small gathering to what many consider the largest Oktoberfest celebration in this region, chamber officials say. The live music is a big draw. This year music will be provided by many acts including Alex Band.

To go along with all the music, the Daytona Beach Maiglockchen Folk Dancers and Gulf Coast Emzianer Schuhplatter Dancers will perform tradition German dance.

The Top of the Bay Oktoberfest had been held the last month of October, but this year that weekend was already booked at Tampa Bay Downs.

Custin expects this weekend to be attended by between 17,000-18,000 people.

The event serves as a major fundraiser for the chamber.

"We do three events annually, this is one of them," Custin said. "It helps us keep our membership rates among the lowest in the area."

More than 300 shifts of volunteers had to be staffed. Custin said the chamber and community have shown ample support for the event. 

Because of the alcohol served, Custin said several off-duty Hillsborough County police officers will be on hand. The festival has never had problems with unruly behavior, Custin said.

"We want first of all for everyone to have fun and for it to be authentic," Custin said. "But the other thing is we want it to be a family event."

Want To Go?

What: Top Of The Bay Oktoberfest 2012

When: Oct. 18-21

Where: Tampa Bay Downs, 11225 Race Track Road, Tampa.

Fee: $5 admission to get in, children 12 and under are free. Parking is free of charge.

For more information and a full schedule of events visit this Chamber's website.

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