Rock to bluegrass to country: It’s all here

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Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe can host 1,800 people for a concert
and has a large deck that gets plenty of use in the summer.
Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe can host 1,800 people for a concert and has a large deck that gets plenty of use in the summer. - (Photo By Christopher Holland)

Editor’s note: This is the second of a two-part series examining the entertainment scene in the Greater Lehigh Valley. Today, a look at concert venues.

The arts and entertainment scene in the Greater Lehigh Valley has been booming. From the smaller local theaters to the nation’s largest free-music festival, the opportunities for entertainment seem endless.

And while these events and festivals provide a fun experience for attendees, they also help stimulate the local and regional economy.

Here’s a look at some of the region’s concert venues, including other entertainment options:

In the heart of Downtown Reading is Santander Arena, formerly known as Sovereign Center.

Since 2001, the arena has hosted more than 2,200 shows in a wide range of genres. It seats up to 8,800 for concerts and 7,200 during events for the Reading Royals, a minor league hockey team.

Santander brings in national touring acts, including Elton John, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Phish and others.

Along with the normal setting in Santander is the Reading Eagle Theater, a universal theater configuration that opened in 2004. The setup turns the arena into a smaller, more intimate setting for shows ranging in size from 2,500 to 4,500 patrons.

Artists such as Dolly Parton, Marilyn Manson and Brad Paisley are some of the artists to play the Reading Eagle Theater.

One of the most notable organizations in the region is ArtsQuest. A local nonprofit and host of the nation’s largest free-music festival, Musikfest, ArtsQuest operates the Banana Factory and the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, both in South Bethlehem.

The Banana Factory is a community arts and culture center on Third Street in Bethlehem that presents a wide variety of visual arts classes for all skill levels. Down the road is the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks, a premier concert venue in the Greater Lehigh Valley.

Since its inception in 2011, the ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks has drawn national and international performing artists from all walks of life. From hard rock concerts to comedy festivals to Christkindlmarket — a seasonal and popular holiday gift shop — there’s always something going on at the venue.

Between its campuses, ArtsQuest draws an average of 1.3 million attendees to its programs each year and is a huge economic engine for the local community.

And with a newly appointed president and CEO, Katherine E. “Kassie” Hilgert, the organization has big plans in the works.

“Our mission is not just promoting arts and culture. It’s promoting arts and culture in a way that promotes economic development in a blighted area or an inner city area,” she said.

Musikfest alone generates annually an average $40 million-$41 million, and that’s just within a 10-day period that ended this year this past weekend.

Another economic engine that’s taken advantage of the revitalization occurring on Bethlehem’s Southside is Sands Casino Resort.

In 2009, Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem opened on the 126-acre former Bethlehem Steel plant, the largest brownfield site in the nation. The casino draws 6.8 million visitors a year and often ranks among the top in gaming revenues in Pennsylvania.

And while the primary services of the casino are gambling, the resort offers a multitude of entertainment options from concerts to high-end dining to shopping and more.

A newly built event center — the Sands Event Center— adjacent to the casino’s hotel, has quickly become a place to go, hosting some of the biggest musical acts in the nation.

And like its neighbor, ArtsQuest, the Sands is a strong asset to the local economy. It employs more than 2,000 people while its shopping outlets, event center and three restaurants account for another 800 jobs.

Nestled on the top of a mountain in Jim Thorpe, Penn’s Peak offers a panoply of entertainment to go with breathtaking views of the Pocono Mountains.

It can comfortably host 1,800 concert-goers and has a large, open-air deck for summertime revelry. Its acts include country, hard rock and most everything in between.

Sherman Theater in Stroudsburg, which dates to 1929, recently underwent a major renovation and is equipped to present many of today’s biggest shows – offering an eclectic taste in genres spanning from heavy rock to jam bands to bluegrass.

Aside from its main stage, the Sherman presents the Living Room Series – an intimate live music setting – inside the venue, and the Sherman Summer Stage at Mount Airy Casino in Mount Pocono.

The PPL Center being built in Downtown Allentown will have as its primary tenant the Lehigh Valley Phantoms — the minor league affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers.

But the center already is selling tickets for big musical concerts.

Slated to open the arena is one of the most legendary rock bands in history, The Eagles. Following the Eagles, other artists scheduled to play at PPL Center are Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Cher and Rascal Flatts.

The arena is part of a larger redevelopment project of the central business district of Allentown and encompasses a five-acre square block area.

Christopher Holland

Christopher Holland

Christopher Holland is a researcher for Lehigh Valley Business and blogs on arts and entertainment in the region.

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