Rant ‘N’ Roll: Musikfest Diary

Image by Mike McIntyre

The 30th anniversary of the largest free music festival in the country with 500+ acts on 14 stages (13 of them free) from noon to midnight 10 days straight August 2 to 11 spread out on a huge chunk of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, is but a memory now.

Day 1

The Wito Rodriguez Salsa Jazz Orchestra jazzed up Louie Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” to make it sound like it belonged in a Puerto Rican disco. Trumpeter Gino Picart blew his brains out as he led a dynamite horn section that fought with the myriad of poppin’ percolatin’ percussion for dominance. It was time to dance with hundreds of others inside the big tent.

Day 2

Christine Ohlman, the beehived hairdo guitarist/vocalist from the Saturday Night Live band and The New York City Hit Squad has a resume that would choke a horse. By the end of her set, she was in tribute to Chicago blues and rockin’ in righteous fashion. I just had to go right up to the lip of the stage and show her some love. After the set was over, I was engaging in some hijinks and hilarity with friends when security asked us to move because the people behind us in lawn chairs couldn’t see. The show was over, folks! Then it was local hero Eric Steckel who banged that electric guitar like Clapton on a 20-minute version of Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign.”

Day 3

Walked back and forth between Southern Culture On The Skids and the Philadelphia Funk Authority. While the latter is a solid cover band with horns (Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” moved me into action), the former was the gem. This North Carolina band, a cross between Cheap Trick and The B-52s (but better), play rockabilly, surf, punk-soul and flirt with the blues. They’ve been at it for over 30 years and they just keep getting better. “Dirt Track Date” is always the highlight.

Day 4

The nearly four-hour Frampton’s Guitar Circus started with progressive blues/swamp-rock guitarist Sonny Landreth, clearly the best on this night (he’s from Louisiana, of course). B.B. King seemed tired and old. Peter Frampton is always solid, the highlights being an instrumental of Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” and George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” But enough with the talkbox already! Vinnie Moore from UFO chipped in with three of his own songs, then joined Frampton’s band.

Day 5

The sun set on Southside Johnny and the night time was the right time for George Thorogood. These two grizzled road warriors put on the kind of show that stays with you for days. It proved to be the highlight of the whole festival.

Day 6

Holly Williams was long and lean as she belted out her progressive Americana, making sure to do her grandfather Hank’s “I Saw The Light.” Buckwheat Zydeco played a 15-minute version of the Fats Domino hit “Walkin’ To New Orleans,” invited some cutie to come on stage and touch his squeezebox but the set was interrupted by some dangerous lightning and we all had to go home.

Day 7

The weirdest day of the fest. Pouring rain. The Family Stone exhorted everyone to “Dance To The Music” and “Stand” not realizing it wasn’t a live audience but a few hundred cadavers wheeled in from the local mortuary. I did as I was told and started dancing in the aisles, making my way to the stage. That’s when security got in my face and told me to go back to my seat. I don’t know, maybe I was feeling confrontational, maybe having seen them at Woodstock in 1969 revved up my anti-authority juices, but I just looked at them, laughed in their fat fool faces and kept dancing. The seated corpses sat stock still, a few of them keeling over and falling to the floor. Now security is pulling me and physically escorting me from my bird’s-eye perch and I remember from my days protesting the war in Viet Nam to let yourself go limp and let them do all the work. I am carried out.

Day 8

I watched baseball all day.

Day 9

Funny how you can see the same band twice, hate them the first time and love them the second. This is what happened when Strawberry Fields took over the polka tent for some Beatle nostalgia. At B.B. King’s last year, I scoffed at their wigs and phony accents. On this night, I lustily sang along on these great songs of my misspent youth.

Day 10

Avenged Sevenfold and fireworks. Security had a hell of a time with this crowd! I laughed my ass off. The band was better than I thought.