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ArtsQuest CEO speculates on what drew record crowds to Musikfest 2019

This year’s Musikfest has been boosted by pleasant weather. (Photo by Jonathan Davies) –

Good weather, strong shows and a greater variety of free performances and food stands were all contributing factors to a record year for attendance at Musikfest this year.

Kassie Hilgert, president and CEO of ArtsQuest, said she can’t say enough about the weather, which wasn’t too hot or too wet as in some past years. In fact this year’s record attendance of just over 1.23 million visitors topped the last record of 1.196  million, which was set in 2017, a year Hilgert said had similar weather.

But it was more than just calm sunny skies that drew in the crowds, Hilgert said.

“I have heard anecdotally from so many people that the food and the program really reached a different level this year,” she said.

She said food-focused favorites like Aw Shucks!, which sells roasted corn, and Take-A-Taco, which started a buzz with parmesan, garlic pierogie fries, were quite busy throughout the festival, while newcomers like Van Pelt, which served up Chicago-style hot dogs, also got people buying, eating and talking.

And, of course, more people meant more spending, so the record attendance should also mean record revenue, she said.

Calculations won’t be coming out for a while as to how much the nonprofit arts organization made on the 10-day arts festival, but Hilgert is expecting more good news with regard to revenue.

Besides the money the arts organization earns each year, Musikfest puts the city of Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley on the map from a tourism perspective.

Hilgert noted that this year there were guests from 26 countries, up from six last year.

While people from around the world make Musikfest a destination, Hilgert said domestic and regional travelers often come back for events or to visit restaurants year-round because of the venues they discover while in town for the festival, which has organizers pegging the overall economic impact on the regional at about $60 million annually.

“From the city’s perspective, Musikfest is one of the biggest promotional tools that we have,” Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez said in a release praising the festival’s success. “Each year, the festival draws people from across the country to Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley. The economic impact of this event can’t be stressed enough.”

A big boost this year came from the mainstage acts, Hilgert said. Not only was there a diverse mix of groups, from current pop to classic rock and country, the national acts helped promote the festival this year, something she said the festival hasn’t much experienced in past years. Both the bands Weezer and Godsmack tweeted out to their fans about their Musikfest performance.

The only drawback, and it’s a problem Hilgert said she was happy to have, is that record crowds translated into higher expenses to keep the festival running at full steam. They don’t have final counts yet, but, “We spent a lot more money on ice this year,” she said.

She hopes for more such problems for Musikfest 2020.

Writer Stacy Wescoe has her finger on the pulse of the business community in the Greater Lehigh Valley and keeps you up-to-date with technology and trends, plus what coworkers and competitors are talking about around the water cooler — and on social media. She can be reached at stacyw@lvb.com or 610-807-9619, ext. 4104. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.

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