BETHLEHEM, PA—Where did it all go? Every summer, for 10 days, I put my life on hold to go “festing.” It’s an alternate reality whereas although I sleep in my own bed every night, during the days and evenings, I wander the opposite-of-aimlessly through the streets on the North Side plus in and out of the restaurants, bars, movie theaters, outdoor stages and steel stacks runways on the South Side. Both Sides have genres of all possible persuasions and this year African, blues, jazz, comedy, Cajun and retro-rock seemed to be the flavors of the summer.

The stats are impressive. Over a million people walked those streets this year. The headlining Sands Steel Stage sold 50,599 total tickets for the 11 shows. Kassie Hilgert, President/CEO of Musikfest’s parent company, ArtsQuest, told me before the event, “I’m so stressed. This is my first Musikfest as CEO. I’ve become obsessed with weather! You should see how many weather apps I have on my phone! I tend to stress about things I have no control over, and that’s particularly frustrating to someone like me who always wants to get involved and change something. I haven’t yet figured out how to change the weather when I want. I’ve got time.” (Considering how smoothly and flawlessly the event ran this year, I don’t doubt her.) Local restaurants reported record sales. The economic impact on the Lehigh Valley was to the tune of over $55 million.

In the end, though, it’s all about the music. On that score, the music was, in a word, sublime. One reason for that is the tremendous job Patrick Brogan does every year booking bands. The American Dream is going strong when you think of the fact that Brogan was an ArtsQuest intern who grew to be The Man. “Yeah,” he smiles, “with the right company one can still start in the proverbial mail room. ArtsQuest has had a long history of promoting from within. Kassie was a VP. I interned for the person who had my job in 2002 and learned. I also interned at the State Theatre [Easton, PA]. Now I teach it to others. I didn’t know anything about polka, for instance. I didn’t know a whole lot about blues, for that matter. I wasn’t deep in any genre. I was a kid, so I knew what I knew. It’s been a great opportunity to get to learn so much more about different cultures whether it’s New Orleans, Latin America or Asia, and then engage the community here who may have never seen it before.”

My headline festing included ZZ Top, Jerry Seinfeld and O.A.R., all of whom I loved. And it didn’t rain for any of ‘em. ZZ I knew I’d love. Seinfeld I was wondering about but it didn’t take more than a few minutes for him to work his magic and I was, indeed, laughing out loud for the better part of his 75 minutes. It seemed he’s incorporated some George Carlin-type philosophizing into his own extremely funny looks at the things in life that we hardly give two hoots about. As far as O.A.R. is concerned, I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in seeing them…out, of course, to total ignorance. I was on line to see The Blackbird Society Orchestra who does Prohibition Era jazz like on Boardwalk Empire. Then my friend Matthew spotted me and literally dragged me out of the line.

“You see way too much jazz, Greenblatt, you’re coming with us.”

And with that, he popped a brownie in my mouth and, arm in arm, we walked into O.A.R. like two college kids. I still had my doubts but it was time to be with cherished friends instead of my usual solitary-man routine. So once O.A.R. started, I do admit, and the quasi-reggae grooves lulled me into a sense of security before it became all about that bass, I drifted away on a warm cumulus cloud, especially when each solo was pure jazz via saxophone, trumpet and trombone! And, I gotta say, lead singer/songwriter/frontman Marc Roberge was easy on the ears and intellect both melodically and lyrically. Who knew I’d like them so much? Patrick Brogan did. He told me up top if I could see ‘em, I’d love ‘em…and he was right.

My personal highlight, though, had to be Craig Kastelnik & Friends featuring Bernard “Pretty” Purdie. Just to see the legendary drummer Purdie—the most recorded drummer in history—was thrilling. Afterwards, I got to shake the great man’s hands. This guy has drummed on CDs by Joe Cocker, Paul Butterfield, Hall & Oates, B.B. King, Cat Stevens, Aretha, Miles, Steely Dan and most of the other CDs in my thousand+ strong collection. The material was bluesy and swingin’, the vibe loose and jammy. I already can’t wait for next year’s Musikfest.

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