A La Crosse legend will be on stage again for Oktoberfest USA this year.
Karl Friedline, at 93 years old, will be singing the German National Anthem at the Festmaster’s Ball on Wednesday and at Friday’s Tapping of the Golden Keg.
Anyone who knows anything about La Crosse’s Oktoberfest, knows not to miss this. Last year, in front of thousands of people, Friedline did not disappoint.
“ When he got done, the crowd chanted, ‘Karl, Karl, Karl,’” Chuck Roth, the 2015 Festmaster, said. “And it was a very special time for Karl. It was a special time for all of us that know and love Karl, and brought a tear to Karl’s eyes, and goosebumps to many of us that were watching from the crowd.”
Marty Frank, who sang the Anthem with Frieldine — kind of, but we’ll get to that — said it was unforgettable.
“The mic drop he did last year,” Frank said, “when he said, ‘I’ll see you next year.’ I’m like, that was really cool because he had such a great day and he wants to come back and do it again. And we’re going to try and repeat it again this year, because you don’t know how many years he has left.”
Friedline, Oktoberfest’s most senior Festmaster (1991), even alluded to that Monday.
“ Well, at the tapping of the keg, Marty Frank is going to sing with me because, I think it might be my last time,” Friedline said.
But he’s said that before. He said that last year. And yet there he was, singing at the tapping but that was just the beginning of the party.
“ We kind of talked him into going into the big beer tent (after the anthem) and doing a couple Ein Prosits,” Frank said. “And he’s on the stage with the Swing Crew, and he picks the (stand up) bass up and starts playing in key with the Swing Crew.
“And later that day, the Swing Crew and Brian Simpson, and all these people (are saying) this is one of the greatest days that they’ve ever had — and the Swing Crew probably plays 200 events a year. And Karl, later that day, said it was one of the greatest days he’s ever had.”
Singing this year, however, was no guarantee. Just a few weeks ago, Friedline had taken a fall. But he’s all recovered now and Frank said he’s been working like crazy.
“ Him getting prepped for this a month, a week, or two weeks in advance, you can see him getting younger,” Frank said. “We practiced on Labor Day and he’s like, ‘I don’t know if I can do it.’ The next day he was practicing every day and walking so that he could be in shape to be able to sing the song at the Festmasters Ball and at the tapping.”
Frank is kind of like Friedline’s protégé. He’ll probably take over when Friedline gives up the limelight. But he’s not doing that yet.
“ He’s funny,” Frank said. “He jokes with you. He tells you he wants you to sing the song with him, and then he’s like, ‘But I’m the star.’”
Friedline came to La Crosse in 1962, from Pennsylvania. He was going to manage one of the TV stations but, according to historian Duane Moore, it burned down and then he didn’t get the job. That turned out to be a lucky thing for La Crosse.
“ He was a whole lot more important to this town than most people realize,” Moore, who wrote the book, The Fest of Times, said.
Moore went on to talk about how Friedline started TV education programs at UW-La Crosse and Western Technical.
As for the music, Friedline’s been doing that since his high school days, where he said at that time, he was playing gigs three times a week. In La Crosse, he’s played all kinds of acts.
“ In fact, a couple of weeks ago, somebody walked up to me and said, ‘You sang at my wedding 39 years ago.’” Friedline said. “How’s that!?”
And it was this proud tone in which Friedline said, “How’s that?” Knowing he created a memory that’s stayed with that person for that long. Not so different from what he’s done for nearly a decade on stage at the Oktoberfest grounds. And another memorable performance he’ll make this weekend — both for those watching and for Friedline, himself.
“ He did tell us on the way home,” Frank said of last year’s tapping, “he said, ‘This was one of the best days of my life.’”
And that’s what La Crosse fully expects to give Friedline this weekend, as well.