Oh baby, BRP is back into the live music scene! It’s not true that I made a December promise not to see any live acts until Low Cut Connie came to town, but that turned out to be the case. Well, sort of. LCC wasn’t exactly “in town.” Nope. I had to partake in one of rock’s great traditions, the road trip, and I should have gone on this baby:
Instead, I got into a sedan and headed to one of America’s great rock cities, Bethlehem, PA, to see LCC. I’m blowing some smoke at you. Bethlehem occasionally gets some good live acts, but it ain’t Nashville, New Orleans or Austin. Nonetheless, Bethlehem does have the annual MusikFest thing in August (which I’ve never attended, but probably should) and they have added a couple of venues that can snag acts of interest here at the blog.
I saw Gregg Allman at the Sands Casino venue, and now LCC at the Musikfest Café (located at the Steel Stacks, the site of the former Bethlehem Steel plant). The Sands venue is pretty big – I would estimate it holds 4 or 5,000 people. The MC, however, is much more intimate, holding about 400. Deer Tick, Nick Lowe, Steve Earle and the Fabulous Thunderbirds are all playing at the MC in the next few months. Cool, right? But there are also a lot of tribute bands and the 2018 High School Jazz Band Showcase Finals on the calendar, thus confirming that, yes, you are in Bethlehem.
Bethlehem used to house Bethlehem Steel, the huge industrial powerhouse that at one time employed 30,000 people just at the one Bethlehem plant. Alas, those days are gone, and the city is still struggling with the loss of such a huge and important employer. Check out these pics of some old abandoned plant buildings – they don’t make them like that anymore, do they?
On the arts side of the equation, Bethlehem kept the former steel plant’s blast furnace, lit up the ghostly remains, and put floor to ceiling windows in the Musikfest Café to focus the stacks as the backdrop to live music. It’s pretty cool. And it makes aesthetic use of what is basically the flotsam and jetsam of the former steel plant – and that would probably cost a pretty penny to dismantle and remediate. Take a look both during the day and at night:
As a club venue, the MC is pretty large, with a balcony area overlooking the stage, and lots of room around the edges. It is long and not too deep, meaning that tables fan out from the stage and go pretty far away from the performers. That’s ok because they kept a large SRO area right up in front of the stage. The café is mainly glass, concrete and steel, but there are insulated walls in the back. The venue compensates for all those hard surfaces somewhat as the acoustics are decent, but not great, particularly for the vocals. (I’m beginning to wonder if poor vocal acoustics are more of a mixing board problem than a venue problem as a lot of clubs seem to suffer from it). Let’s put it this way: it ain’t the Ryman, but it also ain’t the Funky Biscuit.
But it does have good sight lines, and the stage is at a good height. It’s also large enough to give the band some room to work. The bar and restrooms are appropriately placed out of the action. And there is a ton of free parking. So all in all, you could do a heckuva lot worse. I’ll be back.
And with that, my fine rockers, I’m going to head off. Before you go, you should check out some of the BRP archives – you know that I am long-winded and so just assume that there is a lot to catch up on. As for future entries, like I have been telling you, I’ve got lots more upcoming, and I’ll be blasting out many stories in the near future. Until we get together again, live life loud!
My name is Bill, and I live in the greater Philadelphia area. I love music, and I have a lot of opinions. This site is primarily focused on music, but sometimes I get off track. I hope you enjoy.