Rant ‘N’ Roll: Musikfest August 5-14

Bethlehem, PA—First the stats: 33 years running…15 stages…500+ free shows…60 international food venders…40 national artisans…fireworks…free parking (Southside)…every imaginable genre…shuttles between Northside and Southside sites…thus, as a famous band once said, “a splendid time is guaranteed for all.”

Nothing against X-Ambassadors (8/5), Run DMC (8/6), Dierks Bentley (8/7), Boston (8/9), Don Henley (8/10), Bush/Chevelle (8/11), Sabrina Carpenter (8/12), Lady Antebellum (8/13) and The Avett Brothers (8/14) but the headliners—the part of the fest that actually costs money—are not the heart and soul of this great festival. Aretha might have cancelled but in her place August 8 on the big Sands Steel Stage at PNC Plaza—for free—will be a party in tribute to David Bowie (Band From Mars) and Prince (Swift Technique). Actually, that sounds like more fun than that hard-to-work-with aging diva anyway.

If not the stars, than what exactly is the essence of Musikfest? Glad you asked. It’s mapping out a route in advance, knowing where you’re going, and catching the incredible lineup of free shows that this year (as like every year) offers: reggae, funk, folk, rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, blues, blues-rock, samba, salsa, disco, polka, R&B, Dixieland, alt-rock, punk, classic rock, bluegrass, classical, worldbeat, Tex-Mex, rockabilly, soul, fusion, singer/songwriters and pop.

To get the lowdown on what to look forward to in advance, “Rant ‘n’ Roll” visited the Steel Stacks campus and talked to ArtsQuest Programming Specialist Helen Smith and Senior Vice President of Programming Patrick Brogan. I told them I was partial to world music and New Orleans. The genius of this event lies in its booking policies and, as with the year-round Musikfest Café, Patrick Brogan has, for years, been The Man. Smith, though, had the goods when she hipped us to the following.

Ginkgoa pairs a female New Yorker and a Frenchman on songs in two languages that combine her swing with his electro-beats. (August 13, 9:00, Plaza Tropical)

Monsieur Perine from Columbia won as “Best New Artist” at last year’s Latin Grammys. Their Caja de Musica CD features music from Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. Their combo of Gypsy Jazz celebrating the legendary three-fingered guitarist Django Reinhardt [1910-1953] is offset by their alternative takes on Cuban folk, bolero, tango, cumbia and son styles performed on traditional South American instruments like the charango and the bandoneon during which their percolating percussion bubbles into a frothy and spicy mixed cocktail. (August 14, Plaza Tropical)

Rocket Rockers from Indonesia straddle that Green Day pop-punk zone. (August 13, Volksplatz)

Los Musicos de Jose from Mexico City will funk it up just like they’ve been doing for 20 years south of the border. Between the keyboards, alto sax, guitar, bass, tenor sax, trumpet, drums and vocals, their jazzed-up rock and their soulful Latin combined with their visual flair and theatrics should blow you away. (August 6, Plaza Tropical)

Mariachi Flor de Toloache is an all-girl mariachi band from Brooklyn. This seven-piece has been thrilling audiences since 2008 as their sound could be called Prog-Mariachi. They each bring their distinctive roots to the fore and that’s no small feat when you consider they’re from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Germany, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Columbia and the U.S. Fresh off a five-week tour of Spain, they’ll be at Volksplatz August 9.

“I thought Blair Crimmins & The Hookers, from New Orleans, were among the best bands at last year’s festival and they’ll be back this year,” says Brogan, who goes on to add that the best way to navigate through the geography and the thousands of people will be to use the new, improved Musikfest app, which, as he says, “allows you flexibility to schedule a route while learning information about the bands themselves right on your phone as you’re walking around wondering where to go. Also, you can see who other people are scheduling, and the volume of such, so if you’re looking for what the hottest show coming up today is, you can sort by how many people have scheduled that band. The app also offers what food options are nearest to you. You can see the festival in the palm of your hand at any point in time. We always say, `follow your ears, follow your nose, and if you see a line, there’s probably a reason for it.’ But now it’s even easier.”

And of the difference between the Southside and Northside experiences?

Brogan: “People find a way towards the kind of Musikfest experience they want to have. Many want to walk through town, stopping in at various shows, eating and drinking along the way. Others like the Steel Stacks experience of air-conditioning and indoor plumbing. Some do both depending upon the day. As programmers, what we try to do is offer something for everyone somewhere at any given moment in time for 10 straight days.”


For more information, go to artsquest.org and click `Musikfest.’