As a resident of Bethlehem, PA, I had yet to make a post in the “Where You’re From” category. It’s not that there is no music scene here, of course. There are loads of live music venues and a number of universities that draw touring bands, but our close proximity to both Philadelphia and New York results in most of the quality local acts migrating out of the Lehigh Valley.
But given that it’s Musikfest, the 10 days in every August when the population of the Lehigh Valley converges on the streets of downtown Bethlehem and police look the other way as we drink lots of beer, spend too much on food, and enjoy hours and hours of free music, I feel obliged to make a post.
If you were actually planning on making your way to the Christmas City this weekend, I recommend these guides by The El Vee and Lehigh Valley with Love. I’ll assume instead that you’ve never heard of Musikfest and let a quick outline suffice.
As a fire needs heat, fuel, and oxygen to ignite, Musikfest requires, in ascending order of importance: music, food, and beer.
Beer: We drink our beer out of 24 oz. Musikfest mugs. They cost $9 this year ($12 for the ones that have blinking lights built into them), but you don’t need to buy a new one each year. So you can tell who’s been coming to Musikfest for the longest time by the style of mug they’re carrying. Bourbon street rules temporarily go into effect and we drink our beer outside, on the sidewalks, streets and under bridges. Despite the best efforts of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, likely the most dickheaded Liquor Control Board in the country, the best place to get your mug filled if you’re a beer snob like me is in a local bar instead of at a tent, where you’ll have to use Musikfest tickets to pay $6 for an MGD, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I recommend the Bethlehem Brew Works (who are apparently also selling half gallon growlers with sweet carrying pouches this year, what?) or the Starfish Brasserie, which currently has Stone IPA on tap.
Food: The food is really good and ranges from a pickle-on-a-stick and German sausage to Hogar Crea kabobs and Kenyan masala wraps, reflecting both the diversity and the appetites of the Lehigh Valley.
Music: You will hear some polka music at Musikfest; that is a given. You will probably dance to it. Apart from that, however, there are two basic kinds of concert at Musikfest, the nightly big-name concert that you must buy tickets for and the free concerts that set up everywhere else. Of that first variety, the groups are usually selected to appeal to children and their parents (and their parents). This year’s big draw is Adam Lambert, but Norah Jones, Counting Crows, Martina McBride, some incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd and some incarnation of Sublime were/are making an appearance. I usually don’t make it to these concerts, but several years ago I made it to Alice Cooper and it was unconditionally awesome.
Of the second variety, you can see this years full schedule here, but it’s a mixed bag. Folk, jazz, and rock are usually pretty well represented though not by their most glamorous or talented representatives. The Red Elvises (Russian surf-rock) and Los Straitjackets are perennial favorites. One corner of Main Street features Native American music and dance. This year the Wildflower Cafe, a delicious vegetarian live-music venue on Bethlehem’s Southside, put together an interesting lineup that included Emily and the Similars and this jazz/blues cellist named Trevor Exter. You can usually find at least a few acts that will surprise you by being good.
Things Musikfest doesn’t need, but has:
- born-again assholes!
- some weirdo who wears a bird mask and travels around with a medieval 4-ton church bell piano thing called a “carillon” playing music that is like Christmas but way scary!
- human/police-horse altercations!
- arts and crafts to buy! for example, leather belts and candles!
- platzes! (the various stages/areas of Musikfest are given names like Americaplatz, Festplatz, Volksplatz, Lyrikplatz, etc. “platz” is German for “place”)
Seriously, it’s a good time.