Musikfest’s head of programming shares how he finds new acts

Written by on August 5, 2021

Musikfest’s head of programming shares how he finds new acts

By Christine Dempsey
August 5

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BETHLEHEM, Pa – The official first day of Musikfest is Aug. 6. ArtsQuest is the presenter of the event, one of the country’s largest, non-gated, free music festivals. WLVR’s Christine Dempsey spoke with Patrick Brogan, the festival’s chief programming officer, about some of the offerings. 

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Christine Dempsey

Musikfest is an 11-day event. In addition to the headline acts that will be performing, there are over 300 free performances. We’ve got local folks who have been appearing at Musikfest for years like Craig Thatcher or Dina Hall or Dave Fry, just to name a few. But how do you go about finding new acts and what draws you to a particular act thinking this will be great for Musikfest?”

Patrick Brogan

“This is my favorite subject to talk about. I think Musikfst is a discovery festival and I think the beauty and the magic of Musikfest is created across the three stages. That process of selection of artists begins a year in advance. We receive more than 1,000 submissions on an annual basis for artists that are interested to play the festival. We’re looking for different genres. We’re looking for diversity of sounds. You know it when you hear it and we spend the year looking for that and saying, OK, how would our community respond to this? What stage would this fit on? Where would this fit in the festival grounds? You know, it works through the winter where we start negotiating and booking, and usually the deadlines are sometime around the end of April when we put the festival to bed and we’ve got our list of  300-plus artists. Somewhere between 40 and 50% are playing the festival for the first time.” 

Dempsey

“And how local do you try to make those artists?” 

Brogan

“About a third of the festival are local and hyperlocal from Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, and the Lehigh Valley area. Every year, another 40% of the festival is regional, meaning mid-Atlantic, into New York City, maybe out to Pittsburgh, D.C. And then the remaining balance of the festival, about 25%, is national and usually about 5% of the festival is international.”

Dempsey

“So I was looking over your list of folks that are performing and, you know, I gave a listen to something. Some things really jumped out at me. I really enjoyed Catbite

Brogan

“It’s Catbite’s first time playing Musikfest. They’re a ska, punk rock band from Philadelphia with a female keyboardist and a female vocalist. They’re a ton of fun. They’re high energy, really jammin’. And if you’re a fan of ska, this is the band for you at Musikfest this year.” 

Dempsey

“Yeah, now Pentley Holmes, is he a local performer?” 

Brogan

“He is from right here in Philipsburg, in the Lehigh Valley, and does some wonderful work solo, but with his band really comes into a full sound: blues, R&B, soul, pop music  and a great live band. I think he’s one of my favorite rising Lehigh Valley artists.” 

Dempsey

“Now, this I had to listen to this when I read the name on the list: a band called the Wonton Soups.” 

Brogan

“Wonton Soups. I’m a sucker for a great band name, I’ll tell you that. And they deliver as much on stage as in the name. It’s got a great horn section and they’ll be playing here at SteelStacks one night and they’ve got just a fun energy. A little bit of a big band sound, a funky type of party band.”

Brogan

“We’re excited to welcome the community back to the festival and we hope that everyone has a great time. I think this year requires patience from the audience. We do this to promote the local economy and the food vendors who are across the festival grounds are working harder than ever before. We’re all up against challenges: up against staffing challenges, we’re up against monetary challenges. And so, you know, the audience needs to have patience with us and also patience and respect towards each other. We hope people come out and have fun. We know how much everyone’s looking forward to it and we welcome everyone back safely and respectfully.” 

Dempsey

“Patrick Brogan, thanks for being with us.” 

Brogan

“Thanks for having me.” 

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