It's that's time of year again! Little Ed & The Blues Imperials (pictured) from Chicago know it. They'll be playing for free during the 11 day extravaganza--August 6-16--known as MusikFest in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where, for the 32nd year in a row, they'll be roping off Main Street so cars cannot spoil the tens of thousands at a pop who traverse the perimeter of the North Side of town. America's largest free music festival now has an extra day, over 500 performances on 16 stages, 60+ vendors selling food from around the world and genres of music you've probably never actually stopped and listened to from polka, folk, rock'n'roll, country, bluegrass, jazz, pop, world, funk, soul, classical, Cajun, Celtic, hiphop, children's music, gospel, novelty, Tex-Mex, rockabilly, alternative, salsa, samba and reggae to stand-up comedy.
Sure, you can fill your soul with the free stuff every day but you do have the option of attending one of the main stage acts and pay for your ticket in a clean, friendly outdoor venue with food, drink and bathrooms. So if you're going to have a big stage, you better have big names and MusikFest hits home on that score as well with 11 headliners in 11 nights: Alice In Chains, Duran Duran, Snoop Dogg, Darius Rucker, 3 Doors Down/Collective Soul, ZZ Top, Reba, Jerry Seinfeld, O.A.R., Culture Club (yes, complete with Boy George) and The Flaming Lips.
Patrick Brogan has booked the main stage for the past nine years. He also books the MusikFest Café year round with the kind of artists you usually won't get to see. He's partial, as am I, to New Orleans, the blues, good jazz, and those under-the-radar musicians like Leon Redbone, Taj Mahal, David Bromberg, Madeleine Peyroux and Hot Tuna who have passionate fans. We cornered the busy Brogan just days before MusikFest to ask about his booking policies. Of course, he's also been able to score legends to that gorgeous Café room like David Crosby, Stanley Clarke, Carl Palmer and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band.
"The Café is a microcosm of the MusikFest main stage," he explains, "We have to turn revenue. Anyone will tell you that concert-buying is a business of risk. You have to be crazy to get into it, and, like us, you have to be really crazy to build an organization and a campus around it. My job is to mitigate risk whenever possible. That means we want to book great stuff that people will come out to. We’re driven by mission as well. So we bring in Angelique Kidjo from Africa, a phenomenal vocalist and Grammy-winning musician. Very few people in this market, though, know who she is. The show doesn’t do well and she’s very expensive. We lost a little bit of money that night but, at the same time, we presented something where 200 people had the opportunity to see a world-class act so we held our heads high. David Crosby, for instance, was a no-brainer. We want to get artists like that in the room, artists whose fan base is huge and rabid. Book a show like that and you’re going to sell out which we did. It was an opportunity to get a real legacy artist with such a history! So it’s parts doing great stuff, smart stuff, plus getting the right deal for the room."
Set off against the hulking rotting remains of Bethlehem Steel, lit up like an art-deco sculpture that elicits oohs and ahhs from fans and performers alike, the South Side of town has its own parking facilities, bars, restaurants, movie theater and yes, beautiful bathrooms. Believe me, you won't know the utter brilliance of bathrooms until you've been festing for hours and hours drinking your beverage while walking in-between the genres, gawking at the girls, and porkin' up bigtime on all the foods. (I'll never forget the mammoth girth of a dude sloppily spilling his drink while walking, smoking a cigarette (ew) and chowin' down on a dinosaur-sized turkey leg while dancing.)
For more information, go to www.artsquest.org and click "MusikFest."