With Musikfest’s main stage, its only other paid stage, its largest free stage and its only new stage coming to the SteelStacks campus a mile from downtown Bethlehem this year, organizers want to give the public a chance to get comfortable with the changes.
So Musikfest will have a preview night for the 10-day festival.
The preview, 6-11 p.m. Thursday at SteelStacks, will feature tours of the new Steel Stage main stage as well as Musikfest Café. There also will be performances at Levitt Pavilion, which will replace Americaplatz as the festival’s largest free stage, and at Town Square, the festival’s only new stage.
Musikfest, which for the past 27 years has been held only in historic downtown Bethlehem, officially kicks off next Friday. The SteelStacks entertainment complex, on former Bethlehem Steel property in south Bethlehem, opened May 1.
“This special preview night is designed for the residents of the Lehigh Valley, who have been so supportive of Musikfest over the years,” said Jeff Parks, president of ArtsQuest, the nonprofit that runs the festival and SteelStacks.
“The event will provide them with a taste of this year’s Musikfest, as well as give them an opportunity to learn about the exciting new venues at the festival this year. We invite people to come out and explore the SteelStacks campus, enjoy the live music and start their ‘festing a day early.”
Musikfest spokesman Mark Demko said officials will evaluate whether to make the preview an annual event after seeing how it goes.
The preview also will see the first lighting of the Bridge Sculpture, the arching steel bridge with a natural gas-fed blue flame that will serve as the centerpiece for the SteelStacks campus.
Parks and Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan will press the button to light the flame on the 34-foot-long bridge, and it will stay lighted for five minutes.
During Musikfest, the bridge will be lighted at 9, 10 and 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 9, 10, 11 and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays.
A minute before the flame ignites, the Town Square sound system will play a steamship whistle.
A steamship whistle was used at the Bethlehem Steel plant for many years to designate shift changes. The whistle was taken from the French luxury liner SS Normandie after it caught fire and capsized in New York harbor in 1942 while it was being converted into a troopship.
The preview evening will feature Smokin’ Joe Kubek and B’Nois King, who were previously scheduled at the Levitt Pavilion, 7:30-9 p.m. Jerry Costello will perform 6-7:30 p.m. and another band 9-11, both at Town Square.
The Steel Stage open house will be 6-8 p.m. Visitors will be able to walk in and check out the new stage layout, the food vendors, the seating arrangements and the party deck. They will not be permitted near the stage.
Steel Stage replaces the RiverPlace stage at Sand Island, which has been Musikfest’s main stage for 11 years. To be built on the parking lot west of Bethlehem Steel’s blast furnaces, the venue will have a larger capacity than RiverPlace — 7,200 as opposed to 6,500 — and use bleachers rather than lawn seating for its least-expensive tickets.
The Musikfest Café open house also will be 6-8 p.m. The café’s paid performances will replace those at Moravian College’s Foy Auditorium and Lehigh University’s Zoellner Arts Center.
Food and beverages at preview night will be sold at ArtsQuest Center, as will Musikfest merchandise, ArtsQuest memberships and more. Musikfest concert tickets and souvenirs will be sold at the ArtsQuest Center.
Free parking for the evening will be in the gravel parking lots on First Street across from PNC Plaza and adjacent lots.