“O little town of Bethlehem, an hour’s drive northwest/ Another year hundreds of bands are coming for Musikfest!” OK, so maybe the song doesn’t go quite like that, but it is time for Bethlehem, Pa.’s Musikfest: The annual 10-day event (held since 1984) that takes over the city with some 300 acts—both famous and obscure—offering rock, soul, blues, folk, polka, Latin, rockabilly, Celtic, country and more for upward of a million fans. Most of the performances, divvied up between 14 stages around town, are free. Catching some of the more well-known artists, however, requires a ticket. Here’s our handy tipsheet for the must-sees and the must-skips.
MUST SEE: Norah Jones gets a bad rap for being an adult-contemporary jazz-pop bore, but her live shows are more engaging and enjoyable than you might imagine (Sat., Aug. 7, $25-$52); There’s a reason Jimmy Sturr & His Orchestra have won almost every “Best Polka Album” Grammy since about 1867—they fucking rule! (Sat., Aug. 7, free); Nashville’s Los Straitjackets wear luchador masks and play surfy garage-rock somewhere between the Pulp Fiction soundtrack and Rocket from the Crypt—what’s not to love?! (Sun., Aug. 8 and Mon., Aug. 9, free); Regardless of which musicians are backing up sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson nowadays, witnessing Heart rip through “Barracuda,” “Even It Up,” and more hits live (and yes, the Wilsons can still bring it as fierce as always) is one of life’s great pleasures (Tues., Aug. 10, $22-$39); You know that dream where you’re driving along the Pacific Coast Highway without a care in the world while warm, mellow, and perfect folk-rock pours out of the car speakers? The band on the radio is the Avett Brothers (Wed., Aug. 11, $30); Every day is Mardi Gras with the killer jazz-funk jambalaya cooked up by Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue (Wed. Aug. 11 and Thurs., Aug. 12, free); Adam Lambert is by far the best performer American Idol ’s ever hacked up, and we hear Glambert’s gigs are flamboyant pop/rock spectacles that will probably scandalize Bethlehem for months (Fri., Aug. 13, $20-$38); You can never go wrong with the fun, foot-stomping folk of Philly’s Hoots & Hellmouth, even if you’ve seen them around these parts a million times already (Sun., Aug. 15, free).
MUST SKIP: They’re going to play friggin’ “Freebird” at the end whether you scream out for it or not (please don’t), but why would you really wanna see the karaoke act posing as Lynyrd Skynyrd these days, now that guitarist Gary Rossington is the sole remaining original member? (Mon. Aug. 9, $25-$54); Styx? Are you KIDDING me? There should probably be a puppet show headlining over these has-beens (Thurs., Aug. 12, $22-$42); I always maintained I’d rather eat vomit than listen to Sublime’s hideous reggae-punk, and now that the band has reunited with some dude named Rome, replacing long-dead junkie-frontman Brad Nowell, a whole toilet full of puke and turds seems more appetizing than their set (Sun., Aug. 15, $20-$42).
Visit musikfest.org for information and directions.