The Economic Geography of Regional Festivals
Gerlach, Jerry, Focus
Beer Drinking and Small Town Mississippi River Festivals
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, ethnic and city festivals became very popular in the U.S. The original goal of these festivals was either to stress the uniqueness of an area's ethnic makeup or of its economic traditions. Local pride was the prime stated emphasis of the festival. Examples include the Maifest, October-fest, Czech Days, Honey Days, William Tell Fest, Contraband Days, and so on. The aim was to promote an area by introducing visitors to the local customs, food and dance.
The festival's potential as a moneymaker for the area was recognized very quickly. Profits from festivals could be used to finance a variety of civic, humanitarian, or other causes. Almost all groups share a common desire to celebrate at these festivals, and they primarily use beer as the intoxicant of choice. In some areas of the country, the moneymaking at many festivals shifted, over time, to emphasize alcohol, primarily beer. Beer could be sold at inflated prices by civic groups and the money could be used to defray the cost of money-losing activities at the event. The beer came to be sold in beer gardens - a tent, or fenced-in pavilion.
In the early stages of these festivals, beer was sold in nearby taverns as well. Control of beer sales was loose; the festivals could not control the crowds they attracted and were forced to move the beer sales to areas that could be more easily policed. Even so, control became a problem. This should have led communities to make the obvious decision and drop alcohol sales from such events. Greed, however, has overruled common sense in most cases. Beer sales continue and so do the resultant behavioral problems.
The purpose of this article is to examine behavior at small town festivals on both sides of the Mississippi River border between Minnesota and Wisconsin. By selecting this area, we can compare differences in legal approaches to alcohol control. In Wisconsin, there has been a long history of lessened alcohol beverage control, associated with the largely German origin of the population. Wisconsin had a law allowing 18-year-olds to drink beer long before they were able to do so in Minnesota and other states. Wisconsin has much lower taxes on beer and alcohol than does Minnesota; it is less of a sin to imbibe in Wisconsin than across the state border. In Wisconsin, reduced-alcohol (3.2%) beer is not sold. So-called real beer and alcohol can be sold to off-premises customers on Sundays, in Wisconsin.
Minnesota's population is influenced by its Scandinavian origins. Scandinavian society has never placed the emphasis on drink found among Germans, and this remains true today in the countries of origin as well as among their Americanized relatives in the U.S.A.'s upper midwest. Based on these cultural differences, I hypothesized that community festivals would be more closely regulated for their alcohol consumption on the Minnesota side of the Mississippi, and that Wisconsin festival beer-drinking would be not only less regulated but also have more of the problems that come from large numbers of non-residents coming to celebrate. After all, according to tourism experts Mathieson and Wall, "hedonistic behavior is commonplace when people leave home" - people go away from home in order to behave in a less-inhibited fashion. The festivals studied include those from both sides of the Mississippi, with an emphasis on those near the writer's home in Winona, Minnesota.
The operation of the festivals
On both sides of the river, the festivals are operated by community service groups such as the Lions, Jaycees, or Chambers of Commerce. Ethnicity of the state culture has had little effect on the group sponsorship. Food is often a focal point of the festivals. In Arcadia, Wisconsin, the festival is held in honor of the local broiler chicken industry. Open tents sell locally-produced chicken delicacies, in hopes that people will come to town for the festival and afterwards buy Arcadia brands as a result. …