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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Nowadays Fest (Arts Quest at Steel Stacks), Starring Caveman, Jukebox the Ghost and Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr

A long time ago Bethlehem, PA served as the backbone for our country's thriving steel industry.  The times when, ya know, we made stuff and sold it to others for handsome profits.  China/Shmina.  We were a real economic powerhouse who made the rules and dictated the World's economy (in a positive way.) Much like many Northeastern towns from say, 1980 on, Bethlehem has seen some hard times.  In reality, 6 miles of property was abandoned when Bethlehem Steel closed its doors in 1995.  This was a  company, for the record, that had outfitted several US warships and revolutionized the now ubiquitous "I" beam.  140 years or so of literally creating our urban landscape.  Now a mere memory.  6 miles of industrial blight along with its hundreds of lost jobs.  Think Flint when the auto industry left.  Or Columbus or Dayton, OH when industry was not needed as it once was.  Erie, PA and Rochester, NY.  Wilkes-Barre, PA and Charleston, WV.

How then do you rebuild a City?  How then do you bring in jobs and commerce?  Can a once great City make a comeback??

Who knows?  And, not that it needs to be written,  those questions are intended for greater minds than this authors.

But I do know this.  When you build a major arts center among the ruins of an old steel mill the results are quite impressive.  And they signal things are going to be just fine.  In fact, Bethlehem's Arts Quest Center at Steel Stacks is a wonderfully conceived and impressive entertainment destination.  Only an hour or so from NYC and Philadelphia this spot is well worth the drive.  But the questions remains if you build it will they come.

4 stories of new construction devoted solely to art, film and music.  3 outdoor concert spots.  4 stages for music.  It was hard to keep score.  And, during day 1 of this weekends Nowadays Fest (http://www.artsquest.org/festivals/nowadays/) there is the feeling I saw very little of what this space has to offer.  More reason to head back, and fast.  For more:  http://www.artsquest.org/steelstacks/

This weekends festival touts 20 bands over 2 days.  The acts on the main stage last night made the drive even more palatable.  NYC's Caveman opened with another blistering set.  Hard to fathom they precede Jukebox the Ghost and Detroit's very talented Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr.  But they did.  And they once again rocked the house.

Their debut album CoCo Beware plays so well live.  Their abundance of live shows is clearly paying dividends too.  Their song "Decide" had a jazzier feel to it not felt before.  Their closing "Vampirer/Old Friend" continues to be an impressive feat of sound, melody and volume.  Not sure exactly how the record industry machine works, nor will I ever be.  But it continues to amaze me how even the alt world has its hierarchy.  An act like Lana Del Rey gets lambasted by the alt World and cast aside as so much candy.  Yet the controversy surrounding everything other than Del Rey's music only served to fuel her record sales.  Meanwhile bands like Caveman, and many, many others, get overlooked in their quest for listeners.   Take a look/listen:  http://cavemantheband.com/

Does that kind of US Weekly hype explain the incredibly low turn out at last nights event?  Maybe we prefer the spoon fed stuff?  Is that the kind of attitude that led to the steel mills closing?

Again, conversations and talking points for people more qualified than I.

I am, however, adept on planning evenings and executing flawless evenings of dining and music.  Arts Quest in Bethlehem, PA is now very much in the mix.  It need not take a backseat to Terminal 5 in NYC.  Or TLA in Philly.

Caveman need not take a backseat either.  Or Jukebox the Ghost for that matter.  They gamely played a Ben Folds-esque/inspired set without their drummer (who left town earlier in the afternoon due to a family emergency.)  These guys were so damn positive and jubilant it was hard not to like them.  Although there were many in my group who wanted to.  The 17 year olds danced and dug it just fine.  I will have to be grade it an incomplete on my report card.  The skinny jeans are a definite demerit though.  Men, this column strongly enforces the NO SKINNY JEANS rule.   For more:  http://jukeboxtheghost.com/site/


Detroit's Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr have two things going for them.  First, their name is brilliant.  They come from the Motor City (as demonstrated by their Tigers jackets) and pay homage to a race car driver.  They also bring it.  The indie pop duo Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott has a high energy vibe that translates well on stage.  Simple grooves.  A good mix of guitar and synth.  These kids have a ton of potential.  For more:  http://www.daleearnhardtjrjr.com/

I will not mention the burlesque/magician/comedy act that played in between sets.  It was unnecessary, obnoxious and beyond out of place for last nights event.  Oh, was it just mentioned?  Sorry.  It sucked.




Arts Quest at Steel Stacks:





 Caveman:


































 Jukebox the Ghost:
  














Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr
























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