If you think only you and the sea gulls will share Ocean City this fall, brace yourself for a another scene -- one in which dancers and singers take the town by storm and sunbathers soak up the rays past Halloween.
Ocean City's beach season doesn't just end with Labor Day. When most people are starting to shiver back home, visitors are still swimming in the ocean as late as mid-October and sunbathing until the first week of November. It's all due to the ocean's warming effect on Delmarva's weather.
Sun worshipers also have a lot of competition for beach space. Fall is the time of year when anglers and kite fliers flock to the beach, entertainers roam the boardwalk during Sunfest and square dancers can be found do-si-doing in the sand.
It's also an older crowd, says Ann Patterson, who manages the box office at the Ocean City Convention Center.
"The college kids have gone back to school, and people who own condominiums and beach houses come back for the fall," she says.
So, instead of rock and popular music, the sounds of big bands, polkas, square-dancing music and ethnic tunes fill the halls of the Ocean City Convention Center in the fall.
The most popular of these musical events is the Ocean City Bavarian Festival, which attracted 8,500 visitors to the Convention Center last year. The non-stop oompah bands and the colorful costumes and energetic movements of German dancers keep the crowds coming back each year, says Mike Wicklein, who started the festival as a one-day event.
This year the 11th annual Oktoberfest family event is scheduled for Oct. 4 and 5 from 11:30 a.m. through midnight. At $3.50 for adults and $2.50 for seniors and youth, it's one of the least expensive ethnic festival of the fall season.
Four bands will play continuous Bavarian music, while two professional dancing groups perform the toe-tapping, knee-slapping, heel-clicking rhythms of the Bavarian Schuhplattler dancing.
"It's a very colorful and dramatic performance," says Mr. Wicklein, an Ocean City businessman who got the idea for an Oktoberfest after visiting Blob's Park, a German park in Jessup. "It brings back the flavor of a Bavarian town during an Oktoberfest celebration."
Visitors can participate in the dancing, enjoy German food and beer and buy everything from homemade sweaters to authentic German imports from dozens of vendors.
Puppet shows will entertain children every other hour after school on Friday and all day Saturday, Mr. Wicklein says.
This isn't the only festival going on this fall, though. You'll also zTC find these dancing and singing events taking place at the Convention Center: Polkamotion-by-the-Ocean, Sept. 12-15; Square/Round Dancing Festival, Sept. 27-28; Big Band Dance, Nov. 16; and the Mid-Atlantic Convention of Barbershop Quartet Singing, Oct. 11-12.
With 14 bands in attendance, Polkamotion-by-the-Ocean has grown into one of the most popular polka festivals on the East Coast, attracting 3,000 polka dancers from as far away as California, Arizona, Kansas and Michigan.
There will be continuous music that weekend as well as dancing lessons Friday and Saturday and ethnic food and drink every day. Even a Catholic Mass at the Convention Center on Sunday (open to the public at 10 a.m.) will feature hymns with a polka beat.
Performers include the Grammy-winning Jimmy Sturr Orchestra that Saturday and Grammy nominee Eddie Blazonczyk and the Versatones on Friday and Saturday.
Clowns will hand out balloons to children, who are admitted free if 13 years old or under.
"It's like giving a big house party. It's a fun festival with very vibrant dancing," says Mary Ziemski, who helped found the festival 12 years ago.
This year, the festival includes a Fifties Greasers Night Out, where participants dress for the era, on Saturday, and a Friday the 13th costume party.
The dancing starts Sept. 12 at 4 p.m. until 1 a.m. and continues Sept. 13 and 14 from noon until 1 a.m. and Sept. 15 from noon until 8 p.m. Tickets are $9 a day Friday and Saturday, and $8 a day for Thursday and Sunday. Call (301) 787-8675 or (301) 388-1998 for tickets.
People who enjoy barbershop quartet music should plan to spend the weekend of Oct. 11-12 in Ocean City when the Mid-Atlantic region of the Society for the Preservation and Encouragement of Barbershop Quartet Singing in America holds its annual contests. Thirty-five groups will compete, and as many as 4,000 visitors are expected to attend the contests.
Even if you don't want to spend the $22 for a ticket to attend the contests that Friday and Saturday at the Convention Center, you can expect to hear barbershop quartet singing everywhere -- on the boardwalk, in the hotel lobbies, on the streets, in the ocean.
Square dancers will take their energetic country dance steps to the beach and maybe into the ocean waves Sept. 28.
While the square-dancing festival starts Sept. 27, Ocean City visitors can get a look at the dance steps when festival-goers dance on the boardwalk at 26th and 27th streets from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Tickets for the festival are $28 for the weekend and can be purchased in advance by contacting Chris Kessler at (301) 747-5266.
Besides the dancing, there will be a workshop in square and round dancing between 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and a Diehard Dance for those who can dance non-stop for an hour, beginning at 11 p.m. Saturday at the Convention Center.
The Convention Center has yet to nail down a big band for Nov. 16, the first in its series of big band nights, but organizers expect to get a well-known band that will play the popular tunes of the '40s, '50s and '60s.
Tickets are expected to cost about $16 a night or $35 for the three-night series. Dates have not been determined for the January and February dances. Call (800) 626-2326 for advance ticket information.
Not all Ocean City happenings have an admission fee, however. The city's most popular festival, Sunfest on Sept. 19-22, is free. Arts and crafts, entertainment and food are offered under big top tents at the inlet parking lot.
The Gold Coast Mall at 115th Street holds its own free arts and crafts show along the center aisle of the mall, Oct. 18-20. Delmarva craftsmen and women will display and sell handmade items, including furniture, jewelry, quilts, stained glass, lamp shades and dried flower arrangements.
Several miles outside Ocean City, the Lioness Club of Berlin will hold its annual Berlin Fall Festival on Oct. 6, which also features arts, crafts, food, and games for the children from 12:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.