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“Ten Days At Musikfest Refreshes My Soul”

11 August 2011 No Comment

My friend Theresa is a Musikfest junkie. Seriously. The woman schedules a week of vacation for the beginning of August each year, books a room at the Hotel Bethlehem and wanders from platz to platz all day long. The scary thing is, she’s not alone. Musikfest has its own groupies just like many of the bands and artists that play there every year and they all swear it is the best thing to hit the Bethlehem since a now-departed steelmaker set up shop on the banks of the Lehigh River.

“To me, it is all about the music. I love the diversity of sounds that you enjoy at Musikfest,” Theresa says. “You find seasoned singers and musicians as well as sparkling, brand new talent. I most enjoy wandering from venue to venue and experiencing a true cross section of different musical genre.

Musikfest directions

Finding your way around Musikfest can seem intimidating to the first-time visitor but there is plenty of help.

“Each year you can hear music from a vast number of cultures, from Hispanic to Indian to Celtic to Russian to American folk to Rock and Roll. I go there to hear music that I would never find on main-stream radio and that perhaps I would never listen to other than at a magical place like Musikfest.”

In all honesty, it can be habit-forming. More than 300 performers over 10 days, 14 concert venues – most are free – and all the food and beverage you can consume without taking out a second mortgage … who could ask for more.

Now in its 28th year, Musikfest is the brainchild of Jeff Parks and its success is due to the courage of former Bethlehem Mayor Ken Smith, who in 1983 overruled all of his advisors and gave the go-ahead to a brash young attorney who thought the city was the perfect place for a European-style music festival.

Musikfest evolved this year to include several venues on Bethlehem’s South Side at the new ArtsQuest SteelStacks center located on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel. The jury is still out on the divide and despite the draw of acts such as Stone Temple Pilots, Alison Krauss and Steely Dan, crowds have been significantly smaller so far this year – attendance was down 25 percent during the first five days, Parks said Wednesday – but that might also be a weather-related phenomenon. It’s been damp and dreary in the Lehigh Valley for the better part of a week.

The nice thing is that there are shuttles to take visitors from the North Side to South Side venues and the smaller crowds actually make it easier to enjoy many of the acts, which range from polka to reggae.

Steel stacks tower over Musikfest

The imposing blast furnace of the former Bethlehem Steel towers over Musikfest's South Side venues.

“The paid concerts are reasonable and offer a wide range of acts. I usually like to attend a mix of paid concerts and free performances,” Theresa says. “But I think that I take the most joy in finding the hidden treasures. If you have limited time, I would consider Cast in Bronze, Runa Pacha and the Buskers along Main Street as the not-to-miss attractions.”

If You Go: Traffic and parking near the actual Musikfest sites can be dicey but there are several remote lots around Bethlehem and shuttle service is provided, so check out the maps as well as performance times before you go. http://www.musikfest.org/

What To Know: Musikfest runs through Sunday, Aug. 14. Though most of the music is free, you can easily drop a mortgage payment on the concessions and beer stands so bring plenty of money if you plan to spend the day or night. Also remember to drink plenty of water. There is very little shade at most of the venues and the sun can easily dry you out. Remember, beer and alcohol dehydrate you, not the other way around.

Fact: Musikfest lays claim to be the largest outdoor, free music festival in the United States.

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