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Musikfest 2018 | 35 Years Strong and Now Investing in the Future

After 35 years Musikfest has continued to reign supreme as the largest musical festival in the country but the decision to focus on the future of the festival this year gave it some of the best concert experiences in it's history.

There is no denying that the legacy of Musikfest is in some ways bigger than the festival itself at times as so many iconic artists of played it’s many stages over the years from the smallest free performances to the largest ticketed events. After 35 years it is no doubt that some artists would repeat through the years and as such have become mainstays of the festival – these artists add a great level of nostigal as many fest-goers may have seen artists like Styx perform locally years ago.

It is no small feat to book over a week of shows (and no comedy) and have something appeal to fans of all ages/and types. Musikfest’s 35th Anniversary truly bucked a lot of the tradition of the past that some had been critical of in year’s past and took true chances on some developing artists as well as a strong amount of younger talent across all genres. As nearly one million people from fourty different states attended this year the difficult part is making sure that each person who attends had a memorable experience that will make them a potential life long Musikfest-goer.

From day one until the very end of the festival Musikfest strove to be inclusive of everyone this year and here are the four biggest moments from the Sands Steel Stage this year :

All Time Low and Dashboard Confessional Engage The Future of Musikfest

The announcement of ‘Summer Ever After Tour’ came in late spring and it was a surprise when Musikfest was listed as one of the stops of this incredible pop-punk tour package. In even a bigger twist of events Musikfest announced that the show would feature a standing room pit in the front of the seats – something that had traditionally not been done for Sands Steel Stage events during the festival. Despite questionable weather in the hours that led up to the concert it started right on time as Gnash played a short set for the fans in attendance who made it out early, though most of the crowd was confined to the standing room pit for this first set.

Fans had lined up for hours before doors as they waited for their chance to get a close as possible to their favorite bands later that night. Dashboard Confessional is no stranger to the Bethlehem area as Chris Carrabba and company have played the area a few times through out their career now – they can always be found at Vegan Treats when they come to town as well. The sun had started to peak through the dreary clouds slightly as the band took the stage a few minutes past 8PM and Carrabba greeted the crowd with a simple smile as the band performed their biggest hit “Vindicated” to start the set off strong.  The band’s fourteen song set took the crowd of about 2,000 strong on a musical journey of high energy punk styles and a few more defined ballads along the way.

Carrabba’s voice has held up remarkably well over the years and at 43 he has found new energy with the band’s more recent material as the best songs of the set were the new tracks “Belong” and “We Fight.” Carrabba made an impactful speech before “We Fight” late in the set that was as inspiring as it was powerful as he called for a future where the inclusion of attending a concert might be present everywhere in the world. The band ended the set with a massive sing a long session on “Hands Down” as they promised their loyal Bethlehem fans that they would be back very soon – a statement that touring history can certainly back as likely to happen.

The faint sun had long set before All Time Low took the stage late Saturday night for their headline set that started with a bang of confetti and chaos as the band ran out on stage with all cylinders firing. The crowd may have been smaller in size but what they lacked in size they made up for in passion as Musikfest has never seen a crowd this lively for a Sands Steel Stage performance. As lead singer Alex Gaskarth walked the stage for a chorus the sprawling barricade almost seemed to inch forward slightly as the standing room crowd pushed forward to get closer to their pop-punk vocal hero.

All Time Low is by no means a new or upcoming band but their energy and excitement for performing hasn’t aged a day since they burst onto the scene in the early 2000’s. The band slotted their new single “Everything is Fine” early in the set and it was greeted with one of the loudest roars of approval from the crowd when Jack Barakat strutted across the stage on the opening guitar parts of the song. The band’s seventeen song set spanned much of their career and kept the concert fun all night long.

The most important part of the set was the impact the show had on what will be the next geneartion of Musikfest-goers as many of the crowd weren’t even of legal drinking age. Musikfest took a chance on the “Summer Ever After Tour’ and it paid off in the fact that it was a fantastic show for a dedicated fan base that will not forget the show for years to come. Though it may not have been the sold out show they had hoped for it brought 2,000 people to the South Side of Bethlehem that likely would not have experienced this festival otherwise.

Brantley Gilbert and the New Age of Country

On a hot summer night Brantley Gilbert played for one of the largest crowds Musikfest saw at the Sands Steel Stage this summer for what was without a doubt the best performance on the ticketed stage this year. Gilbert has been touring heavily over the past few years in support of his album, ‘The Devil Don’t Sleep’ but recently had taken some time off for the birth of his son. As a result the Bethlehem crowd was treated to a fully recharged version of Brantley Gilbert who was clearly eager to hit the stage again has he started the show with a bang of pyro and powerful vocals on “My Kinda Party.”

From the first song to the very last Gilbert commanded the Sands Steel Stage and the crowd enjoyed every minute of it from the party anthems to the slower ballads. One of the brightest moments of the festival came as Gilbert introduced his song “One Hell of Amen” – it was during than that he gave a heartfelt speech about honoring not only those who fight for our country in the military but those that fight cancer and other life threatening diseases every day. The crowd roared in response with cheers, a wave of thunderous applause and proceeded to light Musikfest up with their lighters or cellphone flashlights for the whole song.

Brantley Gilbert’s crowd ranged in age but the bulk of concert-goers were on the young side of the country music realm and were looking to have a fun Friday which the show delivered. Musikfest has never been shy to embrace it’s country side but Brantley Gilbert managed to reach much further than most of their previous headliners as his appeal extends into the Lynaryd Skynard and ZZ Top side of souther rock as well.

It may not have been sold out but the Musikfest mugs were being filled left and right, Gilbert delivered a masterful performance both vocally, visually and quality wise and the rain was nowhere to be seen – a good night by all means for a summer concert in Bethlehem, PA.

Grouplove’s Never Ending Dance Party

On one of the nicest weather night of Musikfest 2018, Grouplove played a phenomenal show on the what may have been the largest stage they have ever headlined for a solid crowd of over 2,000 people. For perspective the band played a FREE Radio 104.5 event well over a year ago that didn’t draw that many attendees so there should be no shame in the empty seats that could seen Thursday night especially as they were barely noticed once the crowd spread out to dance to the band’s infectious set.

With more hits on alternative radio than the band truly gets credit for Hannah Hooper, and Christian Zucconi led the crowd on a musical journey of radio singles, powerful covers and a few new songs that fans may never hear again according to the band. It is easy to highlight the band’s biggest songs but while “Tongue Tied” and “Welcome to Your Life” were fantastic the real gems came in unexpected places like the massive crowd response to the band’s sudden cover of the Beastie Boys “Sabotage” late in the set. Grouplove was one of the most unique and unexpected headliners that the festival has ever booked – the addition of a strong alternative radio station in the area with Spin 107.1 certainly helped but there is no denying that 2,000 people came to see Grouplove who have never been to Musikfest before.

Fighting the Weather

2018 brought a fast array of diversity to Musikfest for the first time across seated and standing events at the Sands Steel Stage but all of that months of planning that went into these concerts were almost undone with the weather. Luckily no concerts were formally cancelled or ended early in years past but this summer the chance of thunderstorms was present seemingly every night as many shows dealt with passing showers at the very least. That doesn’t mean the sun wasn’t out as Brantley Gilbert played to a packed crowd on a beautiful summer night but Joan Jett who co-headlined with Styx wasn’t as lucky as she performed her hits during a downpour in front of one of the biggest crowds the festival had.

The random chance of the weather is always a factor when it comes to Musikfest and it’s 35th was no exception to it. An argument could be made that the questionable weather may have hurt walk up sales on nights when tickets remained but just how many it prevented from experiencing a Sands Steel Stage concert is tough to put a solid number one. The solution isn’t clear either, luck is a big part of it or something the lofty and massive tent like the Mount Airy Summer Stage invested in for this summer. It would be an architecture undertaking and would dramatically change the experience of the Sands Steel Stage but for at least those who purchase seats on the ground a guarantee of a dry chair and the ability to leave the rain jacket at home might see them make their way down to Bethlehem for a show next year.

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