From Arizona to Africa and Texas to Turkey, guests from across the nation and around the globe made their way to Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley for the 32nd-annual Musikfest, enjoying 10 days packed with free music, art and family fun. By the time the last note had been played on Sunday night, more than one million people attended the festival, making it one of the best attended Musikfests in history.
Estimated attendance for Musikfest 2015, which took place Aug. 6-16, was 1,140,000, on par with last year’s 1,150,000 and just short of the all-time record of 1,152,000. This year, guests from 42 states and 12 countries on six continents experienced the festival, enjoying the record number of performers, 348, and performances, 550. Attendance at the Sands Steel Stage, the only ticketed venue at the festival, was 50,599, up from the 46,919 who attended in 2014. In addition to a sold-out performance by country star Darius Rucker, Sands Steel Stage audiences enjoyed shows by Reba McEntire, Snoop Dogg, The Flaming Lips, Culture Club, ZZ Top, Alice in Chains and more.
“The diverse lineup, the new programming elements at the event and the great weather throughout much of the week resulted in some very nice crowds at the festival,” says Kassie Hilgert, President & CEO of ArtsQuest, the nonprofit that presents Musikfest. “Musikfest, like all of our programming, is designed to attract people to Bethlehem’s downtowns and we definitely saw that this year, with many visitors on Main Street and in the historic district, as well as the city’s SouthSide, exploring not only the music, but also the shops, businesses and restaurants as well.
“When you look at Musikfest, it truly is a community festival in every sense of the word. We simply could not present this event each year without the support of our volunteers, corporate partners, supporting members, the city, county and, of course, the many people who attend the festival. Thank you to everyone who helped to make the 2015 edition of Musikfest – the nation’s largest free music festival – one of the most successful in its history.”
Musikfest 2015 featured many ‘firsts’ as the festival looked to expand its music and arts programming for the region. Among these were a preview night Aug. 6 headlined by Duran Duran; the addition of the new Hotel Bethlehem Platz stage at Historic Hotel Bethlehem; a headlining comedy show by icon Jerry Seinfeld Aug. 10; and a Penn State Video Camp, which taught area teens how to cover the festival like television journalists on assignment. In addition, the festival had a free app for all mobile devices for the first time thanks to the support of PNC Bank and it offered backstage tours of the Sands Steel Stage for area youth on Aug. 14 (Darius Rucker) and Aug. 15 (Snoop Dogg) through partnerships with PNC Bank and Lehigh Valley Faces.
Several longtime Musikfest partners also brought interactive experiences to Musikfest this year, enhancing the experience for guests. Among these were 6abc and Utz Snacks, which partnered to expand the popular children’s scavenger hunt; Think Energy, which presented the Tagkast social media photo sharing app; Olympus America, which allowed patrons to borrow Olympus cameras to take photos on the festival grounds; and C.F. Martin & Co., which presented its Martin Jam Tent, where patrons could sit down and try out Martin’s world-famous acoustic guitars.
“Musikfest has been a cornerstone of Lehigh Valley culture for over 30 years. It was amazing to be onsite in person this year, after decades of sponsoring the legendary Bethlehem bash,” says Martin Guitar Director of Artist Relations Chris Thomas. “The Martin Jam Tent proved to be a huge success. Hundreds of people played the open mic and on Wednesday, we saw the #SaveElephants goal of 20K elegrams send $150K from generous donors to The Nature Conservancy’s Africa Team. Best of all, we got to hang out at Musikfest every night.
“Our year-round partnership with ArtsQuest allows us to stay well connected with visiting artists and visitors to the Lehigh Valley. It is a natural partnership between two organizations that are founded in music and culture, and who call the Lehigh Valley ‘home’.”
Other highlights of Musikfest 2015 included dynamic art and family performances by visiting artist in residences Headphone Disco and Polyglot Theatre of Australia; contemporary dance performances by New York-based dance troupes B.S. Movement and Take Dance; a birthday celebration for Betty Mock, Musikfest’s oldest volunteer, who turned 96 on the last day of the event; and an expansion of the festival’s Restaurant Row promotion, designed to shine the spotlight on the city’s dynamic restaurants and shopping district by offering special discounts and savings to local eateries and attractions.
“The economic impact that Musikfest has on the city is huge,” says Jeff Fegley, owner of Bethlehem Brew Works. “It brings more than one million people to the merchants’ front doors every summer – we don’t see that type of volume throughout the rest of the year. It is absolutely one of the best weeks of the year.”
The largest free music festival in the nation, Musikfest is made possible thanks to City of Bethlehem, Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, Bethlehem Area School District, Northampton County, 160 corporate partners, more than 1,650 volunteers and more than 2,500 supporting members. This year, festival volunteers donated approximately 30,000 hours of their time, assisting with everything from event setup and takedown to ushering at the Sands Steel Stage and selling food and beverage tickets during the event. As part of its commitment to supporting local artists and businesses, Musikfest presented more than 100 artists and bands from the region, while 60 percent of its food vendors came from the Lehigh Valley. The festival has an economic impact of more than $55 million annually on the region.
“People from near and far visit Bethlehem every summer to enjoy the wide variety of free music and food that Musikfest has to offer,” says Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez. “This is an event that has a positive impact on our city not only during the summer, but throughout the year. Many of the people who come to Musikfest end up returning to Bethlehem at other times of the year, which really benefits our business community and the entire city from the economic development and tourism standpoints.”
Proceeds from Musikfest 2015 will go to support ArtsQuest’s free programming for the community year-round at the Banana Factory community arts center and the SteelStacks arts and cultural campus. Musikfest 2016 dates are Aug. 5-14. For more information, visit www.musikfest.org.