People from 35 states and nine countries attended the 2016 edition of the festival Aug. 5-14
When Sam and Gina Masotto were looking for a location to launch their new brewing company, the couple considered several cities in the Northeastern U.S., ultimately deciding on Bethlehem thanks to the growing arts and business community on the city’s SouthSide. And even though they weren’t 100-percent ready to go as Musikfest 2016 approached, they opened the doors of their Bonn Place Brewing Company July 31, hoping to take advantage of the much-anticipated crowds that come with the festival.
“We’ve had a lot of people from outside the Lehigh Valley stop in, especially during Musikfest,” says Sam Masotto, who discovered the city’s emerging SouthSide arts district through his performances as Tony in the “Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding” productions at SteelStacks in previous years. “The exposure and awareness of our business because of the festival has been great. We’ve really benefitted from the foot traffic and people walking around the SouthSide during the event.”
While Musikfest is all about music, food and fun, it’s also about helping to drive tourism and economic development in Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley. Last year, the festival had an economic impact of nearly $60 million, and this year it attracted 957,000 people from at least 35 states and nine countries between Aug. 5 and 14.
“This year we focused on enhancing the festival experience for our guests with additions such as the Summer Games viewing party; a record number of street performers; new artists-in-residence like the Privy People and Living Vines; and dynamic, new experiences such as Yuengling’s Lagerfest Platz and the Pokemon Go Musikfest Crawl,” says Kassie Hilgert, President and CEO of ArtsQuest, the nonprofit that presents Musikfest. “During the first half of the event, when the weather was nice, we saw the results of this through excellent crowds.
“It’s unfortunate that the hottest stretch of the summer settled in for the second half of the week, which certainly affected attendance during the daytime, but the bottom line is that any time you can bring close to a million people to Bethlehem to showcase the city and all it has to offer, it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Dave McCormack, owner of American Hairlines, located near Musikfest’s Liederplatz stage, says Musikfest pays dividends for local businesses not only during the festival, but throughout the year. As a Bethlehem-based business owner for nearly a quarter-century, McCormack has had customers from as far away as Florida, Hawaii and Fiji visit his store during the festival. Many of them return in the weeks and months after the event, while some surprise him by coming back a year or even two later.
“We get at least a few people every year who come back for the festival and come in for a haircut or to shop,” McCormack says. “Musikfest really helps brand us as a city – we’re well known for it now – and it also helps promote our business community. Everyone really benefits from this event and the many people it attracts, so it’s really great for the entire city.”
The largest free music festival in the nation, Musikfest is made possible thanks to the support of the City of Bethlehem, Bethlehem Redevelopment Authority, Bethlehem Area School District, Northampton County, 175 corporate partners, more than 1,600 volunteers and 2,600 supporting members. In 2016, 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. Among these were 12 individuals who have volunteered every year since the first Musikfest 33 years ago.
“From our incredible volunteers and corporate partners, to our supporting members and the patrons who come to the event, Musikfest has evolved into a very special celebration because of the investment from our community,” says Hilgert. “Every year the Lehigh Valley rallies behind us for this event and we can’t thank everyone enough for the role they play in making it all possible.”
Highlighting Musikfest 2016 were a record 387 artists from eight countries offering more than 550 performances on 15 stages. At the Sands Steel Stage main stage, more than 44,000 people attended concerts by Lady Antebellum, Don Henley, X Ambassadors, Dierks Bentley, The Avett Brothers and more. And on Aug. 12, Disney star and Lower Milford Township native Sabrina Carpenter returned home to perform at the festival, becoming the first Lehigh Valley native to headline the main stage since it became a ticketed venue in 2000.
“Musikfest is an economic engine not just for Bethlehem, but for the entire Lehigh Valley,” says Bethlehem Mayor Robert Donchez. “The festival allows us to showcase our city to almost one million people for 10 days, and the goal is to entice many of these visitors into coming back to shop, dine and experience everything Bethlehem has to offer.”
Proceeds from Musikfest 2016 will go to support ArtsQuest’s free programming for the community year-round at the Banana Factory arts center and the SteelStacks arts and cultural campus. Musikfest 2017 dates are Aug. 4-13.