Musikfest: A Trip Worth Taking
Welcome to the Fest!
If you’re going to be anywhere near the Lehigh Valley in Northeast Pennsylvania during the next few days, you might want to make a stop in Bethlehem to visit Musikfest. In its official guidebook, the 10-day Fest bills itself as “the largest FREE music festival in the nation.” Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find another festival that offers over five hundred free performances during its ten day (August 3-12) run. Musikfest is, in fact, unique in that it's venues are situated throughout both the North and South sides of Bethlehem, on both sides of the Lehigh River. Venues on the North side encompass most of the downtown area, including the Historic Industrial Complex, and those on the South side can be found at Steelstacks, the recently refurbished former home of Bethlehem Steel Corporation. (If you happen to be scouting out colleges in the area: Moravian College is on the North side of town, while Lehigh University is on the South side.)
From its humble beginnings twenty-eight years ago as a local festival with limited venues and vendors, Musikfest has grown into its current extravaganza of countless free performances, a variety of paid performances featuring well-known artists, a plethora of food vendors and craftsman, and even activities to please the younger set. This year, Musikfest offers its own free app for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This is almost a necessity if you plan to navigate your way around the festival, which runs from 1:00 P.M. to 11 P.M. daily on the North side and from 5:00 P.M. to 11:00 P.M. on the South side.
Peeps & Company Sponsors Banana Island
Pick a Platz
Each venue (or “Platz,” which is German for “place”) has a sponsor. For example, PNC Bank sponsors Sands Steel Stage at PNC Plaza Steel Stacks ( which hosts the paid performances), Aetna is the sponsor of Americanplatz at Levitt Pavilion Steelstacks, PEEPS and Company sponsors Banana island, and Wells Fargo Bank sponsors Festplatz, where diehard Festers can be found dancing through the evening. The Downtown Bethlehem Association sponsors both Liederplatz (literally, “place of songs”) and Main Street, Yeungling presents the PNC Series at Musikfest Cafe, the Morning Call newspaper sponsors Plaza Tropical, TD Bank is the sponsor of Community Stage at Air Products Town Square, and the Pennsylvania Lottery sponsors Volksplatz, or “people place.” (Figure that one out!) There are various other sponsors for the Franlk Banko Alehouse Cinemas and for each of the paid performances. You really do need either the official guidebook, which is available at no cost at the Fest, or the Musikfest app to figure out the logistics of Musikfest.
Some of the paid performances so far this season have been Huey Lewis and The News, Joe Cocker, Young the Giant, MGMT, and GooGoo Dolls. On tap for Firday (August 10th) is Sheryl Crow, followed by Daughtry on Saturday and wrapping up with Boston on Sunday. The free performances are far too numerous to mention all of them, but here are just a few: Live wire, the Chris Beard Band, John Stanky and the Coalminers, Funky Fontana, The Hoppin’ John (jazz) Orchestra, Donovan Roberts, AJ Silverberg, Independence Drive, and Avi Wisnia.Those are just a few of the many performances on deck for Friday (August 10) alone. They run the gamut from Rock, to Blues, to Family, to Jazz, to Country, to Classics ad infinitum. If you’re a music lover, you’re more than likely find yourself in a dilemma over which venues to choose.
And now, a look at Food Fest....
Of course, walking from one venue to the next tends to make you hungry and thirsty. It would be an understatement to say that there is no shortage of food and drink at Musikfest. Except for a few of the local eateries, tickets must be purchased if you plan to indulge.
Food vendors are everywhere and run the gamut from tacos (beef, chicken, tuna) to gyros to hamburgers and everything in between: bratwurst, cheesesteaks, potato pancakes, wienerschnitsel, pierogies, chicken fingers , pulled pork, several varieties of noodles, pizza, coconut shrimp, roasted corn, mozzarella sticks, quesidillas, sausage kebobs, fried pickles, eggplant fries, etc. And those are just some of the main course offerings! For dessert, there’s ice cream, Belgian waffles, apple dumplings, funnel cakes, cookies, fried oreos and fried strawberries (!), all kinds of pretzels, crepes and even frozen cheesecake. If you’re thirsty, there’s lemondade, soda, milkshakes, coffee, water ice, smoothies, and, of course, beer.(Remember, Musikfest is a German-style festival!) This might be an appropriate place for a warning of sorts: Although taking alcoholic beverages from the festival is not allowed, perusing the festival while drinking beer is allowed.... so if that type of revelry does not appeal to you, you might prefer to visit Musikfest on the North side of town during the afternoon hours rather than in the evening, when a few of the patrons have been known to become just a bit....well, "revelrous."
Just One of the Many Areas Featuring Food and Drink
Musikfest is more than just eating, drinking, and listening to music. There are over forty artisans at Handwerkplatz, located in the Colonial- Industrial Quarter on the North side of town. Several vendors offer hand-crafted jewelry, others feature a wide variety of organic soaps, and at least two feature some very creative candles. Some of the other artisans feature silk scarves, hand-designed”wearables”, stained glass, baskets, original paintings and photographs, clothing for American Girl dolls, butterfly art, food items (dips, sauces, oils, and preserves), bonsai art, and designs created from steel and others from clay. You could even say that one area of Musikfest has “gone to the dogs” as you peruse the vendor who offers treats that would please any canine palette.
Free Samples, Too!
Musikfest and Kids
Daylight hours on the North side of town ( remember, there are no daytime hours on the South side) might be a more kid-friendly time. There is plenty for kids to do (besides eating) at Banana Island. PEEPS & Company sponsors a craft tent featuring a host of cool ideas, and Channel 6 abc TV (Philadelphia) sponsors a Treasure Hunt. There’s also a bouncy slide and a bungee jump-type attraction and the ever-popular fish pond complete with prizes. There’s even entertainment geared to the younger set. Rolie Polie Guacamole, Baze and Siliy Friends, Miss Amy and Her Big Kids Band, and The Fuzzy Lemons are just a few of the family-oriented entertainers at Banana Island.
Banana Island= "Kidsplatz"
Musikfest offers two “satellite parking lots,” one on each side of town. Tickets for the shuttle buses that transport festers to various venues are $3.00 for an all-day pass. Kids ride free..
Otherwise, parking is at a premium, and “close” spots are very hard to come by. Unless you are well acquainted with the city of Bethlehem and/or the Muskfest venues, I highly recommend parking at one of the lots and riding the shuttle.
Musikfest 2012 ends this Sunday evening (August 12) with a bang.....literally... when fireworks will light the skies of Bethlehem. So if you’re in the area, you might want to stop buy and listen to the music, enjoy the food, and check out the crafts. There’s still plenty of entertainment- and beer, if you’re so inclined- on tap.