Tuesday, August 4, 2009


On Saturday we trekked up to Bethlehem, PA for the 26th annual Musikfest, a 10-day, outdoor musical extravaganza featuring more than 500 performances on 14 stages throughout the downtown business district. All types of music can be heard from classical to hip hop to blues and Americana. Hard rock, pop and country, as well as Celtic, raggae, zydeco, soul and danceable tunes fill the air. Polka bands and their fans have their own tent for the duration.

Most venues at this event are free but there are a few paid stages which this year featured, among others, Pat Benatar, Blondie, George Thorogood, Jonny Lang, Crosby, Stills & Nash, The B-52s, Joan Jett, Third Eye blind, David Cook, the Commodores, Chris Isaak, YES, Simone, Leon Redbone, Al Stuart, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Gordon Lightfoot and Rufus Wainright.

Saturday's crowd was the largest I have ever seen at this event. It was mobbed! (The weather was fantastic which certainly gave attendance a boost.)

We only spent about 7 hours there, wandering among the free venues. That only gave us time to truly enjoy 4 of the stages. We heard some blues and indie rock from the Bronze Radio Return out of Hartford, CT and some soul and more blues by Lili Anel (Philadelphia). Down the hill, we sat in on some zydeco by Li'l Anne & Hot Cayenne who traveled down from Ithica, NY.

We caught a little Grammy-winning polka by Denny Polesky & the Maestro's Men, another CT group. This part of the country takes their polka seriously. The polka tent is one of the largest festival tents I've ever seen and it is full to standing room only. The humongous dance floor stays continually full of dancers of all ages. Bear in mind, it is always hot here in August so you have a bunch of "older" folks polka-ing their hearts out in 90 degree heat for hours! It's a wonder they survive it all. I did take a pic of the "littlest pole dancer" I've come across performing in public while we were there. (One wouldn't think pole dancing would work to a polka beat but she made it look easy!!) Yes, that is a diaper sticking out at her waistband! She was about 2 1/2.

If you know anything about Bethlehem, you know it is hilly! One park leads right into the next stage area and then into the next and so -on. By the time you've hiked from one end to the other, you've gone about a mile and half on a steep hill downward. The walking is rough on brick sidewalks, grassy (lumpy) paths, old stone walkways and ancient uneven stone steps, many without railings. It's not an easy trek!!

We started up on the level of the top walkway in this picture and worked our way down to the ground level through a series of winding pathways.

Remember, I said it was hot. Did I mention humid? It was a bout 90 degrees and the humidity was at about 95% all day!! The Big Guy was so hot and sweaty that he tried a new way of cooling himself down. Yep! That's a cooler jell pack on his head! He said it felt "Wonderful!"

There is a great craft fair portion to this festival featuring quality juried handmade work. The jurying process does limit the duplication of crafts and maintains a fantastic level of workmanship. These sellers tend to be little more high end. (They need to be able to handle a 10-day outdoor event which tends to weed out the hobbyists.) It was simply too crowded and too hot for me to do any kind of display analysis or interviews with the crafters themselves.

The lower level of the festival is set along the banks of the Monocacy Creek in the heart of Bethlehem's 18th century historic district. History abounds with tours of various historic buildings.

Food at this event is beyond description. You can try any conceivable festival or carnival delight, old world bakery creations, ethnic dishes of many nationalities and great American BBQ.

Large plastic beer mugs (almost a jug) are sold as souvenirs by the festival committee throughout the fair. Each year the mug features different artwork. There is a discount price throughout the entire festival area for filling those mugs with beer and you can use a mug from any year for that deal. All the little bars and taverns in the area also honor that deal throughout the festival dates. It's fascinating to see how many mug designs are sitting around you at any given time.

Thankfully, there is a shuttle that takes you back up the hill. One year we tried walking it but thought we would die on the trip up. It was so steep and miserably hot that year and we'd been walking around for about 10 hours that day. The shuttle is worth every dime!! (There's a low all-day pass available.)

I think the best music of the day was the Chino Nunez & Friends Orchestra, a Grammy winning 12-piece salsa ensemble out of NYC, who got the crowd on their feet and dancing their hearts out! A conga line danced in and around the tent. It was a party I hated to leave but The Big Guy had important plans.

As a steelworker, and a former Bethlehem Steel employee at that, he wanted to check out the Sands Casino they've opened in the old Bethlehem Steel plant there. So we drove over and made a donation. The casino has maintained the look of the mill with its decor. I must say, it is the first casino I've seen with an industrial design!

It was after midnight by the time we pulled in the driveway but we'd had a great day. We spent Sunday recovering. After all, we had no money left!

If you've got a little time on your hands and live within a few hours of Bethlehem, PA (Allentown area), the festival runs through Sunday and is well worth the trip. Check out the details here.

1 comment:

Hollyrocks said...

That looks like a very eclectic festival. And omg, Blondie was there?!? She's one of my all-time favorites! Bethlehem looks like a neat little town, definitely a place I wouldn't mind visiting. I'll make sure to bring comfortable shoes if I do though. ;-)