No drones or selfie sticks, please. So say the rules of Musikfest, an annual festival held in Bethlehem, Pa.
The city is old—first settled in 1741—but is thoroughly modern when it comes to staging wildly popular musical extravaganzas.
That even includes the services of tattoo artist Dan Mugrauer as designer of the official poster for the 35th festival anniversary year.
The 2018 Musikfest, scheduled for Aug. 3-12, promises more than 500 performances—most of them free.
The festival bills itself as “the largest free admission music festival in the nation,” thanks to enormous support from the community.
Concerts are presented on 16 stages in Bethlehem, less than 200 miles from Washington, D.C., in the Lehigh Valley of eastern Pennsylvania.
Last year’s festival drew a record 1.2 million attendees from 40 states and four countries during its 10-day run.
The stages—called platzes—are in in the city’s historic district and the SteelStacks arts and cultural campus on the site of the former Bethlehem Steel Plant.
Platz, meaning “place,” is a nod to the Germanic heritage of Bethlehem, which was founded by a Moravian sect.
The festival has musical genres for everyone: Alternative, blues, classical, country, folk, funk, indie, jazz, oldies, polka, pop, R&B/soul, rap/hip hop, rock, world, and children’s/family.
Shows at the Sands Steel Stage feature headliners and are ticketed. These include the rock band Daughtry, led by American Idol finalist Chris Daughtry; country music star Dierks Bentley; pop-rock singer Kesha; rock legends STYX and Joan Jett and The Blackhearts; pop-punk band All Time Low and emo rockers Dashboard Confessional (“emo” means “emotional hardcore”); comedian Jim Gaffigan; country singer Brantley Gilbert; singer-songwriter Jason Mraz; guitar virtuoso Gary Clark Jr.; and indie-pop band Grouplovc.
A special preview night concert on Aug. 2 presents Trombone Shorty’s Voodoo Threauxdown.
The revue, which celebrates New Orleans’ 300th anniversary, features Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue; Galactic; Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and New Breed Brass Band, with special guests Cyril Neville and Walter “Wolfman” Washington.
The long list of free performances includes the Squirrel Nut Zippers, Marc Broussard, and The Original Wailers.
In addition to numerous food and beverage vendors, there will be 45 artisans, street performers, and art attractions.
The festival website (musikfest.org) has artist profiles, schedules, venues, area hotels, and restaurants. Shuttles are available from satellite parking lots.
A community project
The nonprofit ArtsQuest began Musikfest in 1984 with the goal of drawing attention to the arts and revitalizing the city’s historic district.
Today, in addition to Arts Quest, the Bethlehem community enthusiastically provides support from numerous volunteers, corporations, the city of Bethlehem, Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, performers, vendors, and patrons.
This makes possible the free concerts, although most performers are paid. In turn, the community benefits economically from the influx of visitors to hotels, restaurants, shops, and tourism attractions. (For information on Bethlehem’s museums and other sites, go to historicbethlehem.org).
After last year’s festival, Bethlehem Mayor Don Donchez commented: “Anytime you can draw more than one million people to your region it’s a win-win for everyone.”
When: Aug. 3-12
Where: Bethlehem, Pa.