Generations ago, this land was tended by that most stoic of creatures, the German farmer. These were people not too long removed from the Old Country, a proud people who still spoke the language of their birth, read an evening paper printed in that weird Fraktur script and meditated on the subtle nobility one enjoyed after a backbreaking day in the field. Sounds fun -- so fun, in fact, that at the end of the wheat harvest (around the first weekend in August), they jammed the streets of Columbia, Illinois, to celebrate, imbibing with fervor the liquid fruits of the past year's labor and dancing drunkenly to sweet accordion and brass bands. They called it "Strassenfest," which if you don't know, you may assume to mean "wheat-fest" or "summer-fest", but this is to ignore the cold practicality that is the cornerstone of the German intellect. The party's in the street: "street-fest."
The Strassenfest came to St. Louis in 1972 and has developed into one of the largest celebrations of German culture in the Midwest. It proudly displays the best German engineering money can buy with its Volkswagen shows and many sausage stations, and it celebrates the spirit of German Gemütlichkeit, or "sociability," with music by Brave Combo, along with classic oompah and big-band performances. This is a free festival whose whole purpose was originally to reunite the farmers with the townspeople, to bring the families from way out in the open land back into the city -- a goal achingly familiar to downtown development teams. So come "Hear the Music" (this year's unofficial theme) at Memorial Plaza (Market Street at Tucker Boulevard, 11 a.m. daily Friday, August 1, through Sunday, August 3, 636-225-1730, www.strassenfest.org). -- Mark Dischinger
Rhymes With "Shtick"
Weird Al keeps the jokes comin'
Weird Al Yankovic might just be the smartest, most subversive, most visionary talent America has produced since Thomas Jefferson. Who first discovered the polka link between accordions and heavy-metal cover songs? Who else could get a show on MTV that makes fun of how lame MTV is? Who recognized the talent of a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards? (Check out the film UHF.)
Weird Al has defied conventions and shattered the conception that novelty-song artists have an infinitesimal shelf life. His career has outlasted those of some of the "serious musicians" he's parodied. (Has anyone heard from Coolio lately? Does anyone want to?) Al's new album Poodle Hat is not groundbreaking or innovative; more polka medleys, more goofy parodies, more so-unfunny-they're-funny jokes, but it meets the high standard of silliness Al established back in the '70s with "My Bologna" -- and he shows no signs of slowing down. Weird Al brings his unique brand of comedy to the Pageant (6161 Delmar Boulevard, 314-726-6161, $27-$32.50, 7 and 10 p.m. shows). -- Paul Friswold
Down With the East Side
Many of us here in the Lou probably think of East St. Louis as the land of 24-hour liquor and lap dances, but in its heyday the only flesh for sale was actually at the cattle auctions and meat-packing plants in the National Stock Yards. In his book Made in USA: East St. Louis, Andrew Theising documents the rise and fall of the salty industrial suburb on the other side of the Eads Bridge and puts its existence into perspective (the book has tons of neat-o historical photos, too). If you've ever wondered how the East Side got "that way," you should swing by Left Bank Books (399 North Euclid Avenue, 314-367-6731) at 7 p.m., when Theising reads from his work. -- John Goddard
Train Keeps A-Rollin'
Ten years on and MetroLink is still going strong. Back in 1993, St. Louisans scoffed at the expense and perceived limitations of the light-rail system, but in 2003 MetroLink is an accepted and valued piece of our community. And, like most ten-year olds, MetroLink is experiencing a growth spurt right now (with the attendant growing pains), but this, too, shall pass. And when it does, MetroLink will be bigger and stronger and better equipped to serve the city and its outlying suburbs. So if you've ridden MetroLink, or just want some free cake, take the train down to Union Station (20th and Market streets) for a little shindig celebrating a decade of MetroLink. There will be speeches, a photo display and the aforementioned cake (11:30 a.m., 314-982-1440). -- Paul Friswold
Missouri Black Expo fun
Everything about the Missouri Black Expo is big. The Expo, which turns twelve this year, offers thousands of opportunities for entrepreneurs and consumers to learn, grow and be entertained at the largest African-American consumer event in Missouri.
The business-development workshops, job and health fairs, three days of concerts and more than 500 exhibits happen from Thursday, July 31, through Sunday, Aug. 3, at America’s Center (Broadway at Washington Avenue).
The Festival of Foods, with more than 60 booths, offers samples of restaurant and grocery edibles. An amateur boxing tournament adds punch to the entertainment card, which includes a separate, off-site performance by Boney James (August 1 at the Pageant). Don’t forget the cancer-awareness walk led by comedienne Adele Givens and the slate of seven authors, including Omar Tyree and Tricia Rose, reading from and signing their books and discoursing on the topic, “Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game” ($8 Expo admission, 314-361- 5772, www.missouriblackexpo.com). -- Thomas R. Raber