A trip to the Steel Stacks for Musikfest

Musikfes2012

You really NEVER look a gift horse in the mouth, for lack of a better expression, you take the stuff and RUN. This is why when tickets for three concerts on three consecutive days came my way, I hit the ground running, all the way to Musikfest in Bethlehem. I am familiar with the town of Bethlehem, having set up circulation of a short lived group of weekly papers there. I had never attended Musikfest. In retrospect all I can say about that is What was I thinking?

My first trip to the Steel Stacks on Monday took me to a small municipal lot (whose location I wont divulge because I want to park there next year) within a very easy walk to the venue. My first mistake was arriving at 2:30. On the Southside where the Steel Stacks are, nothing is open till 5pm or after. Indeed, even the shuttles do not run between the North and South sides before 5. Having already paid for all day parking, I walked to the Northside. Being familiar and only ever driving through an area doesnt give one a proper perspective of distance by foot. Note to self, dont do that again.

On the Northside, there were many vendors and much music. On my way for some Theos French fries, I took in some cool local acts including a performance from one of the areas Schools of Rock. These kids were cool and performing well. Cudos to them and their instructors. Hillbilly Shakespeare, friends of mine from the Reading area, played on the Main St. stage and were one of my reasons for going to Musikfest early. Matt, Matt and Chuck were quick crowd favorites and played like the true headliners they are. After meeting up with my friend Chris we took the shuttle back to the Stacks. We were clearing security just as Sonny Landreth was ending his set. We were sorry to have missed most of it, but what we did hear was great. The King, thats Mr BB King, and his band (another of my prime reasons for attending) left me in awe. Turning 88 later this summer Mr King walked slowly, but carried a BIG guitar and sat center stage. A writer from one of the Allentown papers complained that Mr King sat to play and didnt play nearly enough to satisfy him. Do you understand that the artist youre complaining about is THE BB KING? Being 88 AND a bonafide legend, Mr Allentown paper guy, you should feel honored and privileged that BB King allowed his music to flow through your empty head. Sit down and shut up. The unique and flowing style of Mr Kings blues is unlike any other and it is a memory I will keep with me for a long time. Another complaint put forward by this writer involved Frampton playing a lot of his old catalog. Umm isnt that how he got to be where he is in the first place? His new stuff IS good, real good and he played some of it. Where were you? The old songs were so close to original that if I closed my eyes just right I teleported back to June 11th, 1977 when I heard Frampton at JFK with 99,999 of my closest friends. There are a lot of things that are a little foggy from that day, but the music remains clearly etched in my mind.

Arriving at 6:30 on day two was calling it close. There were only two spots left in my little lot as my son Matt and I made our way toward the Stacks on a search and destroy mission for food. Matt got his fried cheese curds and me my soft pretzel. We actually were in our seats when Southside Johnny went on. Again the mid-seventies returned. The gravely North Jersey/New York sound made famous by Johnny and his Asbury Jukes (maybe made more so around the country by Bruce Springsteen) seemed appropriate for the early summer evening. If you remember going down the shore during this era you know that Summer was THE time and The Boss and Southside Johnnys music made the sun shine.

I should mention here that the music between acts of all the shows I saw was intense. Its a shame if no one else noticed. Two stick out from this show, one was a song by blues legend and myth Robert Johnson, not sure of the title, but, it WAS Robert Johnson. The other was the Eve of Destruction a 1965 song sometimes attributed to Dylan, but actually written by P.F. Slone and the most popular recording was by Barry McGuire who would later form the Grass Roots.

George Thorogood loves Musikfest. His performance proves it. From Bad to the Bone to One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer George Thorogood and The (Delaware conspicuously absent) Destroyers played the songs that made and keep them popular and played them HARD. They took a break from the Thorogood catalog to honor The Man In Black with a particularly nasty bluesy rendition of Folsom Prison Blues. Awesome. The smile stuck on Matts face all night told the story, Lonesome George you got a new fan.

My little lot served me well again the third day when it seemed that the sky would open any minute and the crowd seemed to multiply three fold. Styx and Foreigner were sold out. Everyone showed. Mick Jones is the only original member still playing with Foreigner and unfortunately was unable to perform at Musikfest. This did not take anything away from the show, however, these guys are consummate professionals and Jukebox Heroes all. Sharing the stage at one point with a youth choir from Bangor, this bands appearance only built upon its already huge Lehigh Valley fan base. Styx arrived on stage at 8:45 sharp and blew the crowd away. There were songs from Grand Illusion and of course the domo arigato of Mr Roboto, but most came from earlier works. Loreli and Light Up again took me away to another place and time. Perhaps my favorite Styx ballad, Man in the Wilderness, was an unexpected topping on the cake. Come Sail Away was pounding through the air when the rain started. Rosie, the two Brians and I headed for the car in time to see the first lightning light the Steel Stacks and were grateful it had held off as long as it did.

Musikfest 2013 for me, my family and friends was great. The Arts Quest folks that run the event have my utmost admiration and respect. I am already looking forward to next summer!

Tim Dietterick is the circulation manager at Berks-Mont Newspapers. He writes WTIM: Music Around Town.