PNC Plaza to Host 5 New Festivals, 2 New Markets
Fresh fruit, fine art, antiques and the blues all coming to new ArtsQuest venue
For the poor of South Bethlehem, it will provide a new place to get inexpensive, locally grown fruits and vegetables from May to November.
For lovers of arts, antiques and culture, it will provide new opportunities to shop, listen to jazz and experience food and music from Latin America and Germany.
And for lovers of that uniquely American art form known as the blues, across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic States, it might just fill a hole in their soul.
In addition to announcing on Thursday that the name of the festival plaza at SteelStacks will be PNC Plaza, ArtsQuest also announced its schedule of programming for that site through the end of the year.
It includes five new festivals and two new markets in addition to some things ArtsQuest supporters are already well-familiar with.
The headline concert stage for Musikfest will be shifted from a muddy, mosquito-filled field on Sand Island to this new 155,000-square-foot venue on First Street, just west of Founders Way, in South Bethlehem.
Christkindlmarkt will be shifted from under the Hill-to-Hill Bridge at Spring and Main streets to PNC Plaza. ArtsQuest will also add a fifth weekend, launching the open air holiday market on Nov. 17, the week before Thanksgiving.
This will also be the site for Peeps Fest, which will come during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
After an opening celebration scheduled for May 1, the first event at the plaza will be the SteelStacks Farmers Market, which will sell only locally grown and produced food and crafts.
The grand opening of the market will take place on May 10 and will reopen every Tuesday through Nov. 8 from 3-7 p.m. There are currently 22 farmers signed up to participate, with ArtsQuest having a goal of bringing 30 farmers to market every week, said Lorraine Torrella, the manager of the SteelStacks Farmers Market.
ArtsQuest President Jeff Parks said he is encouraging the farmers to accept payments from the Women Infants and Children program, which provides nutritional assistance to expectant and nursing mothers, infants and children 5-years-old and younger.
From May to September, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture provides four $5 checks to WIC-eligible women and children, and income qualified senior citizens through the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program, to be redeemed at an eligible farmers market.
On May 14, ArtsQuest will launch the SteelStacks Arts & Antiques Market, which will feature fine art, antiques, vintage clothing, artist demonstrations and art auctions. This market will be open on Saturdays, from noon to 8 p.m., and Sundays, from noon to 6 p.m., through Aug. 28.
The first music festival hosted at PNC Plaza will be “Sabor!” Latin Festival,” which will happen from June 17-19. The RiverJazz Festival will follow the next week from June 22-26. The SteelJam Festival, featuring jam bands, will take place over the Labor Day weekend, Sept. 2-5.
The Blast Furnace Blues Festival will take place from Sept. 16-18. An Oktoberfest will happen on successive weekends, from Sept. 29 to Oct. 2 and from Oct.6-9. More information about all of these festivals will be released later, ArtsQuest officials said.
However, news of a Bethlehem blues festival should be warmly received by regional fans who were only recently left reeling by news that the Pocono Blues Festival will not return for a 20th year in 2011.
The owner of Big Boulder Ski Resort, which hosted the festival every summer since 1992, announced it would cancel all of its off-season activities to concentrate on its corps business during the economic downturn.
The blues festival, which each year would bring in legendary performers, which in recent years included the likes of Buddy Guy, Ruth Brown and Mavis Staples, attracted more than 12,000 fans every summer.
“I think it’s great that ArtsQuest is going to be having a blues festival,” said Jim Mertz, who hosts “Cruisin’ for a Bluesin’,” a weekly blues radio show on Allentown-based WMUH-FM. He also used to MC at the tent at the Pocono festival.
“Festivals are the life blood of blues artists today,” continued Mertz, a board member at Godfrey Daniels, and an experienced booking agent, who was a consultant to the organizers of the now-defunct Lehigh Valley Blues Festival. “If they had to do all bar gigs, they’d starve to death.
“Most blues CDs are sold off the stage at festivals. To lose festivals is like a death blow,” Mertz continued. “Until I see the lineup and the acts booked, I’m not going to say (Blast Furnace Blues) fills the void, but at least there is something there instead of a void.”