Adventures at Musikfest, part two: Now, back to the music!

Okay, guys. I am now fully conscious and ready to talk about the actual music at Musikfest. Sorry about the non-musical interlude last night, but it took me a lot of reading – 4 blogs and a few news articles to find out what was or was not, theoretically safe to eat at Musikfest. My hope is that by consolidating all that information into one post, someone else in my boat will have a much easier time than I did finding the information they need so they can stop worrying about their tummy and be able to just go and enjoy themselves in a really stress-free way, because this is a great day out.

Muskifest takes over a few blocks of Main Street in Bethlehem and a nearby park with half a dozen stages. There’s a shuttle that takes you to the ‘south side’ of the festival around the steel stacks, which is where the paid concert/headliner sets up in the evening, if you are so inclined. The shuttle is not free. My friends from the area tell me it’s $3/trip. We stayed on the North Side, and there is really no shortage of stuff to see.  There were one or two things I would have liked to see that I didn’t get to due to just…crowds, but for the most part we kept it pretty loose.

Photos on the facebook page: here

Musikfest has a pretty odd atmosphere. Most the time, when you go to a music event, people will sit, watch an entire show of something, then get up and go watch another entire show. At musikfest, it seems far more common to watch part of a set, then wander off to the middle of some other event.  This is more or less the culture of musikfest, so I won’t be able to go into depth on very many of these bands, but I do hope I’ll be able to get enough depth on them that you’ll find something worthy of further exploration.

I will fully admit the heat drove us away from a few sets to go watch something from the shade.  It was a brutal day. Getting home at 11 pm, the first thing on the agenda was basically the best shower of my life. Even so, if you are within driving distance of Bethlehem, PA, this is definitely an event worth attending to any music lover.

When we first arrived, we sat down for a few minutes at the Volksplatz Stage where Gentlemen Brawlers was playing. We didn’t actually go planning to see them, but we needed to get out of the sun for a few minutes, so due to my melting brain, I don’t remember much of this set.

Once we had recovered enough to decide what we felt like doing, the first thing on the agenda was ‘something cold to drink’, so we only stayed at that stage for a few minutes.  My throat was a wasteland, and it was definitely lunch time, so food and cold drink were priority.

From there, we could hear British Invasion, so we took a walk down to Wells Fargo Festplatz.  This is normally the polka tent, but we happen to have gone on British Invasion Weekend, which meant it was nothing but Brit rock covers all day, which was pretty darn cool. Nothing against polka, but I will take Brit rock over polka any day of the week.

So we sat and watched Truants for a little while, which seemed to be basically a mixed bag of Brit Rock Covers.

The sound quality was better at the venue, but you get the idea.

At that point, we were ready to move again, and we knew that there would be British Invasion at that tent all day, so there was no need to sit for the full 2 hour set, when we could catch British Invasion to our hearts’ content at any point in the day.

On the way back up toward Main Street, we stopped for a bit to watch Runa Pacha Wind Rhythms, which is one of our very favorite Musikfest things. Runa Pacha is not an official stage. Rather, it is a vendor that sells a bunch of Native American goods, and that puts out lots and lots of CDs. You can not buy their albums online (they have a website, but the part of it to purchase albums has been ‘temporarily down for maintenance’ for at least 3 years), so I knew I absolutely wanted to buy another of their albums.  I bought ‘White Buffalo’ when we went a few years ago, and it’s really peaceful, beautiful stuff.  Beautiful wood flutes, drums, some bits of guitar.  I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the full band, but they have one or two guys playing at their stand all day, and we really enjoy them.  They have several cover albums (a whole ‘songs of love’ series, they do a very nice cover of dust in the wind, they have a beatles album, an elvis album…), and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with cover songs, I want to own all the non-cover albums first, so I bought “Wind Rhythms Spiritual and Meditation: Instrumental with Native American Cedar Flutes” yesterday.  It’s still in plastic for the moment. I will likely open it up and pull it onto my ipod once I’m done writing this post and have had something to eat.

It’s really hard to find a quality video of these guys. Pity. But if you happen to find out they are performing anywhere near you, or find one of their albums somewhere, get it. This is the music you need in your life when everything is threatening to overwhelm you and you just need to de-stress before you spontaneously combust. Beautiful stuff.

From there we passed the Bethlehem Hotel stage, where Hot Club of Philadelphia was playing, which is a gypsy jazz band. They were pretty great!

Mom isn’t big on jazz, and for me it’s a sort of ‘when the mood suits’ genre of music. Sometimes I love it, and sometimes I feel kind of ‘okay, enough of this.’ So we didn’t actually plan to see them, but when we started walking by them, we stopped. If there were chairs, we probably would have stayed and watched more of the set. Really liked these guys, and they are definitely one of the bands I’m planning to look up on Amazon once pay day rolls around again.

From there, we stopped at the Main Street stage, where two chairs opened up in the back just after we arrived.

So, we stopped to watch indie alt-rockers Betty Iron Thumbs:

This is another band I’m going to look at more closely.  The Main Street stage is funny. No matter who’s on it, the sound quality is always horrible if there’s more than one or two instruments in place. This is sort of what I like to call the ‘bottom of the barrel’ stage. It’s the smallest stage, so they tend to stick the youngest, most local acts on it, the bands they don’t really expect to draw any attention. So, you’ve got a situation here where the sound quality is really too poor to handle more than two or three instruments at a time, and then you’re giving that to the bands with the least experience dealing with awkward sound situations. Basically, this stage does not do a band any favors, so I never judge any group on the Main St stage too harshly. They’re almost always inexperienced, and on top of that it seems like the stage has some kind of nightmare acoustics. The only band I’ve ever seen on it that sounded just so was Emily Mure (, which I suspect is because she is an acoustic-electric player and seems to have very minimal needs in terms of making different instruments work well together.

Even given this, Betty Iron Thumbs did sound relatively clean, and really, this type of music is right up my alley.  We likely would have stayed the whole set, but this is when my friends arrived, so near the tail end of it, we got up and started a-walking again.

Grabbed some water and headed back to the Fetzplatz stage, to watch a The Who Tribute band called Bargain.  It turns out one of our friends is a huge fan of the Who, and they happen to be my favorite classic rock band, too. It was probably one act we could all agree on, and they were the shining stars of the day for us.

Guys, they were great. Everybody got totally into it.

In particular, the bassist…is my new hero. Holy crap, the bassist was AMAZING. Like ‘I want to be just like you when I grow up’ amazing. I wish I could, somehow, bring the live experience of the bass to you, but it’s impossible, so you’ll have to trust me on this one. I go to my fair of small-venue concerts, and this guy blew everyone I have seen this year completely out of the water. You don’t expect a lot out of a tribute band (which is unfair, but also true. You never go to a tribute band expecting to be wowed.), but we loved this set, and stayed until the end. They had two back to back sets, and we only watched the first one, but it was still a great set, and you have got to respect guys that can rock this hard , for this long, in this kind of heat (the sweat was real enough that one of the guys had to wipe off his guitar between songs at one point).

From there, it was more food – my inner carnivore was kicking in and I needed a protein boost or I was going to crash hard and fast, but some chicken on a stick did the job and we were off again while I chewed.

We wanted to check out the guitar + electric violin combo on the Liderplatz stage (Craig Thatcher & Nyke VanWick), but my god, it was totally jam packed.  What little I heard sounded cool, but there was just too much of a crowd to breathe let alone enjoy a show. So I made a mental note to look them up later and we moved on:

We went to the Main Street stage again, since it was just a few feet away, and we lucked out in that 4 seats in the front row opened up as soon as we arrived, so we got to chill a bit.

This was another indie alt-rock band, this time right from Bethlehem, called Voir Voir.  Mom was not a fan. She said there were “too many instruments”. It wasn’t that; there’s no such thing as too many instruments or orchestra music wouldn’t be a thing, but between the poor acoustics on that stage and the inexperience, yeah, there were definitely some ‘out of sync’ moments. I wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt, though. As I said above, for a full band, that stage seems to be a sound nightmare, so I decided it would be best to youtube them and see how much of the problem was a stage issue.

So, I’ll be giving this a listen through shortly. I suspect it’s a matter of a troublesome stage and a band inexperienced with playing live, but we shall see.

Funny aside, with the shaggy, curly hairstyle, the lead of this band just made me keep thinking of Charlie Eppes from Numb3rs.

After that, we sat in the grass for a while to end the night with Wind Rhythms.

We’ve come to a consensus that, since the event is in August, it’s actually probably better to plan to arrive in the mid to late afternoon and stay late than to come early, to dodge the high-noon heat, but it really depends on the year.  We happen to be in attendance on one of the hottest days of summer. In previous years, I had to stop in a consignment shop to buy jeans because it was rainy and overcast, and shorts were too cold. So, what to go, I think it’s going to vary from year to year. Especially since we travel to get to the festival, planning to stay late is rough unless we also plan to spend the night at a friend’s house. Driving home at 11 pm is something I can do, but I definitely don’t expect it of Mom, who is not in the habit of staying up until the wee hours of the morning playing with a ukulele. 🙂

Next weekend, I will be headed to a Social Distortion concert down at the Stone Pony, and the weekend following I will be checking out Uke Fest NJ, so I should have some more interesting events to talk about soon.  The summer is coming to a close, so I imagine the concert season is nearly over for me. I generally don’t attend concerts in the coldest months, because dealing with coat check is just too much of a hassle, and standing outside in the icy weather without a coat (or at all) is even less appealing.  But, the concert season is not quite over yet, so no saying for sure what might come up.

Until Next Time, worn out, but content, with a few new bands to investigate.

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