Dark clouds were again looming over Bethlehem when I got back into town from visiting my brand new niece and going to my friend’s engagement party. It was around 5 p.m., and I wanted to make sure I got to Musikfest before the rains inevitably hit.
Lo and behold, Mother Nature gave us a reprieve this time.
Torrential rain shut down the outdoor portion of the 10-day Musikfest party a little early last night. Today, however, is a new day. Although forecasts suggest that we should keep an eye on the sky, we’re still planning on having ourselves a time on the festival’s final Saturday.
Matt Molchany, co-founder of Tape Swap Radio and guitarist/vocalist of Bethlehem indie rock band, VoirVoir, is a long-time resident of Bethelhem. Matt has attended Musikfest for many years as a patron and performer, making him the perfect candidate to take a few minutes to tell us about his journey through the festival over the years.
This Sunday, the 18th Annual Lehigh Valley Music Awards will take place at the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks in Bethlehem. This year’s ceremony promises to be a big day; one meant to celebrate the accomplishments of the people on our local music scene.
First, let me start by saying that this category, like all of them, could have gone a number of ways. For example, I could have chosen a song with the grit of Roi & the Secret People’s “Hungry.” Just as tempting was the prospect of choosing VoirVoir’s youthful anthem, “I Wanna,” or virtually any track from Rofo Audio. In the end, however, I went a bit south to Philly, where The Wayside Shakeup released their single, “Stay Up,” earlier this year.
Last night, I concluded Super Saturday by heading over to Bethlehem’s historic Ice House for the final concert of the summer in Tape Swap Radio’s IceHouse Tonight series. The night featured four hardcore bands — Swimmers Lungs, Manbeast, Tile, and Couch Slut — making for, frankly, the heaviest night of music I’ve ever experienced.
Last night’s show, as well as all of Tape Swap Radio’s efforts, was completely DIY and took a village to make a reality. The series was started by local residents Matt Molchany (whom you might know as the frontman of indie rock band Voirvoir) and Shamus McGroggan. The pair, as well as a host of local musicians and music supporters, make it their mission to showcase a different genre at each Tape Swap Radio show.
I also found it interesting to learn that Tape Swap Radio does more than produce live events. Tape Swap is also a music and video series that exclusively features DIY and independent bands. The show airs every other Friday at 11 p.m. on 88.1 WDIY FM, the Lehigh Valley’s NPR station.
On behalf of Lehigh Valley Underground, I want to send congratulations to Tape Swap Radio for a job well done on last night’s show, and a sincere “Thank You” for their efforts in making our music scene that much more vibrant. You can learn more about Tape Swap Radio online and on Facebook.
Musikfest is a time of unique opportunities in the Valley. For music fans, it is a chance to see national touring acts – Run DMC or Don Henley, for example – whose appearances in the area would otherwise be few and far between. At the same time, we are exposed to a unique cross-section of local acts. For musicians, it is a chance to play to a more diverse selection of than they might be used to. In either case, Musikfest is a vehicle for exposure. I spoke to several local artists about this year’s experience, both on and off the stage.
Matt, from VoirVoir
On the Bethlehem get-stoked-rock darlings’ Tuesday evening performance at the Provident Bank Main Street Stage: “It was the ideal set to me – I felt like we were one with the audience, not above or below them. We were communicating.”
On the band’s reception from the crowd: “It was the first time I ever heard people singing along as loud as I heard myself, which was amazing.”
“And there were so many new people we connected with; we almost sold out of merch after the first set.”
On familiar faces: “All the local support from friends and family made it magical.”
On the rest of the week: “I had to work pretty much every second up until our set, and after. I’m bummed I missed Slinghot Dakota and Summer Scouts.”
On the upcoming weekend: “Ape [April, who plays keys and sings in VoirVoir] and I are stoked to go see Kississippi this weekend – we played with them at Siren Records and they were great, and sweet people to boot.”
On tonight: “What I’m looking forward to is walking around and happening on something, like when I was a kid.”
On the overall experience: “Musikfest is a great opportunity for local musicians to connect with new people – from the area and beyond – and, like our Tuesday night set, play a lovely show for friends and family in the middle of the town we love.”
Todd, from Trouble City All-Stars/Goat Wizard
On his hectic week: “Six total sets for me and Trouble City at Volksplatz, and then bars and clubs around the vicinity of Musikfest like the Funhouse, the Wooden Match, and Steel Pub. We even played at a car show this weekend.”
On late night sets: “[They’re like] Musikfest after parties, for when the Fest night is over but people still want to party!”
On the best bands he saw this week: “Band from Mars [a Bowie tribute] or VoirVoir. It’s a toss up.”
On the evolution of Musikfest: “I was happy to see a lot more local bands this year, and I was happy to be in my band playing this year for the seventh time. There’s a very good feeling about the whole town coming together and having an awesome music festival.”
On next year: “I’m looking forward to doing it again, and I have to thank the people that bring us back each year and support us, and all the people that come out and support us every year. It means the world to us.”
“Also looking forward to more rad bands; every year the program for the festival gets better and better!”
On his Musikfest all-time favorites: “Every year they bring back Runa Pacca, the Peruvian flute players. Seriously, the best; they are the true essence of my Musikfest.”
Tuesday night started a bit early for me than Monday’s adventure did. For one thing, I am (mostly) recovered from the Lehigh Valley Music Awards Rock Showcase, so it was easy for me to get moving.
It was even easier for the Festplatz crowd to get moving around 5:30 p.m. That’s when the Sensational Soul Cruisers took the stage. The vocal quartet — with one of the tightest backing bands you’ll ever hear — played more than an hour’s worth of Motown, soul, and R&B hits that kept the dance floor way more packed than you’d expect on a Tuesday afternoon.
There was still plenty of soul to be had a Musikfest after the Soul Cruisers wrapped up. For one thing, The Groove Merchants were getting ready to begin their second set of the day on the Provident Bank Main Street stage in celebration of their new album, “Take It.”
I swear, the Groove Merchants’ blend of funk, jazz, blues, and rock keeps getting better every time I see them. Frontman Tye Vallone excelled at his job, keeping the crowd engaged with his charisma and ability on multiple instruments, while solos from guitarist Luke Ferracone and trumpeter Dylan Hinnershitz wowed those who had gathered around for the band’s set.
As dusk came over Main Street and The Groove Merchants packed their instruments and merch table, it was time for a change of pace courtesy of Bethlehem indie rockers, Voirvoir. The five-piece packed the front of the stage with fans and supporters, injecting even more youthful energy into the night with anthems like opening song, “I Wanna.”
Tuesday’s lineup is particularly exciting to me. The official halfway point of Musikfest 2016 is marked by artists I’ve personally had the privilege of covering, as well as those I’ve seen, but who might be new to the Lehigh Valley Underground audience.
Come along with me, and I’ll make sure you know who’s who before the day is through.
Musikfest Five-Point Preview Day 5 – Aug. 9, 2016
Joyous | 12 p.m. Stage: Wells Fargo Festplatz (North) Description: Sneak out for lunch (or just take the day off) to hear some classic soul and R&B.
Seamus Kennedy | 5 p.m. Stage: Red Stag Pub Liederplatz (North) Description: The popular Celtic folk artist returns to Bethlehem once more.
The Groove Merchants | 7 p.m. Stage: Provident Bank Main Street (North) Description: Funk, soul, blues, and jazz collide for the second time today (the band also plays in the same spot at 5 p.m.).
Voirvoir | 8:30 p.m.
Stage: Provident Bank Main Street (North) Description: There Are No Good Goodbyes, so say hello once more to the local indie rock masters.
Scythian | 9 p.m. Stage: Air Products Americaplatz (South) Description: One of the ‘Fest’s most popular returning performers brings their unique, thrilling brand of rock.
There’s more where that came from! Check in with DustinSchoof.com every morning throughout Musikfest for a full free stage lineup!