Bethlehem Residents Celebrate Spring at Southside Arts & Music Festival

My first spring in Bethlehem has been delightful: the flowering trees alone have made this one of the most beautiful springs I’ve ever experienced. After the Southside Arts & Music Festival, I’m even more excited for what summer in Bethlehem has to offer. Thanks to ArtsQuest, spring in Bethlehem signals not only the start of warm weather but the re-emergence of a vibrant, walkable, and diverse community that celebrates art and music in all its forms.

A flag promoting the Southside Arts & Music Festival.
Photo credits: Kelsey Stratman.

At the ArtsQuest annual Southside Arts & Music Festival, residents of Southside Bethlehem and beyond gathered to listen to free live music, take classes in pottery, glassblowing, and painting, celebrate the work of local artists, and shop at South Bethlehem’s small businesses. Despite the threat of unpredictable spring weather, the festival, now in its sixth year, was a huge success and a lot of fun.

This festival is a highlight of the work ArtsQuest does year round. The Banana Factory Arts Center continually offers art classes, supports local artists with studio spaces, and displays work in its two galleries. ArtsQuest also organizes the popular Musikfest, the nation’s largest free music festival, every summer. The Southside Arts & Music festival kicks off the summer season by doing all of these things at once–offering live music, supporting local artists, and so forth–in one exciting weekend.

Two participants in a dance-off at the Banana Factory Arts Center.
Photo credits: Kelsey Stratman.

The festival offered a mix of free and ticketed events for all ages, interests, and skill levels. The headlining event, a Bob Ross paint-along, offered the opportunity to paint together alongside a Bob Ross video. Other workshops included glass blowing, wheelthrowing, a virtual reality experience and more. Outside of the Banana Factory Arts Center, local artisans sold jewelry and prints while food trucks offered festival food and ice cream. The festival also created the opportunity for a healthy dose of competition, such as Friday night’s skateboarding stand-off and Saturday afternoon’s hip-hop and breakdancing competition.  

While the Banana Factory Arts Center was the central hub for the festival, area businesses also took part, offering special sales and live music. Businesses signaled their participation with festival flags, and festival goers promenaded up and down the Bethlehem business district with new purchases. I was personally impressed with the extent of local business participation in this event; getting people out and about on the streets, it seems, is good for both community and business.

One of many complimentary concerts at the Southside Arts & Music Festival.
Photo credits: Kelsey Stratman.

I attended the festival both days, shopping, viewing art, and listening to live music on Friday night and returning for a couple hours on Saturday to catch another band. While I loved all the festival had to offer, the live music was a real highlight for me. Friday evening, a couple of friends and I viewed the juried exhibition in the Crayola Gallery at the Banana Factory Arts center and listened to Pete & the Stray Dogs, a Brooklyn based folk / country group that uniquely mixes the standard guitar and drums with fiddle and synthesizer; Saturday, I heard The Dull Blue Lights, a band from Philadelphia that also blends genres. These were two of many groups ArtsQuest brought to Bethlehem to play live at the festival.

The Arts & Music Festival was an all-encompassing good time. Listening to great music, surrounded by art, people, and good food, I felt that this festival offered something more valuable than each of its separate elements; it offered celebration, community, and the start of another great summer arts season in Bethlehem.

Feature photo credits: Kelsey Stratman

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