Brad Paisley, Musikfest and Discover Lehigh Valley Provide Memorable Experience

By Sherri Middleton

I was fortunate to wrangle a site visit to the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania during this year’s Musikfest. Named the Best Music Festival in North America by USA Today’s 10best.com, the festival was founded in 1984 by ArtsQuest, a nonprofit organization. Part of that trip included tickets to see Brad Paisley perform on the final night of the festival.

            While I cover sporting events and the business of sports tourism, I’m human. Brad Paisley is a great performer. But I was also on a mission to learn more about this area and its sports venues, people and culture.

Fortunately for me, Discover Lehigh Valley’s Bree Nidds, the new vice president of sales for Discover Lehigh Valley was gracious enough to welcome me with open arms during a time when the CVB might otherwise enjoy a relaxing weekend of hosting a variety of planners, influencers and media representatives in the area for a quick trip.

            I extended my stay both before and after the festival to tour some sports facilities, learn more about the area and meet some of the staff with the CVB, including a couple of interns – one of which made her way into a feature in our September issue of SportsEvents. That’s why I like to visit destinations – I always end up meeting people that somehow lend credible editorial content and ideas for future coverage.

            Bree met me at the Lehigh Valley International Airport (ABE) that serves Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton and other areas in Hanover Township. We stopped for lunch at Union and Finch, an American-style bistro on Union Street in Allentown where we enjoyed some brunch items, including a fried green tomato B.L.T., Finch Fries and lots of water after a long day of airport sitting and flying.

From there we made our way to the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Allentown Cen-Dorneyville to refresh before the evening events. This recently renovated and updated property is near Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, located between Allentown and Emmaus. With seven roller coasters, adult and children’s rides, a water park and events, this park was packed with locals and visitors alike enjoying the milder temperatures before the start of school.

            At the Holiday Inn, the hotel was still preparing for a full opening, but the staff was professional, the room was nice and clean, and the property still had that new smell that guests love. My room was perfectly appointed for both work and relaxing.

            After the break, we headed to Coca-Cola Park to watch the Philadelphia Phillies-affiliate team the Lehigh Valley IronPigs for the Saturday night game.

            Coca-Cola Park has been among the most progressive venues in professional sports since it opened in 2008. The park has received numerous awards, including Ballpark Digest’s “Ballpark of the Year” award and “Best Game Operations and Presentation” award by http://gameops.com. It also is a fan favorite and FoxNews.com ranked Lehigh Valley IronPigs fans as the best fans in all of Minor League Baseball.

            After a few minutes of watching the early minutes of the first inning, Kurt Landes, general manager property provided a little insight into the workings of the ballpark, its fans and some fan-favorite activities.

            The park can hold up to 10,000 in an area that was once an industrial setting. The $50 million park is home to the IronPigs with a nod to the area’s steel-making past and the team and park often feature quirky in-game contests and giveaways featuring pork puns. The park, its food, the vendors and team also play on words and pork is king here. You can find bacon wrapped dogs, porker fries, Three Little Pigs Sandwich and sweet bacon.

            With a concourse full of vendors, food is the least of your worries here. Stop at the Pig Stop Carving Station, the Bud Light Trough or Home Plate Grill.

            Coca-Cola Park is a two-level facility with box seats on both levels and a party deck on both ends. The perimeter is accessible to fans and the concourse runs across the outfield. A large Coca-Cola bottle sits on the video board and lights up, vibrates and shoots fireworks when the home team scores. Other features include a grass-seating area in left-center field, a kids’ play area, a craft beer garden and a free-standing merchandise shop.

            And as I said, Landes explained that the IronPigs are known for some unique fan participation antics. One of the more popular activities won the team and ballpark two Golden Bobblehead awards. The Urinal Gaming System launched in 2012 as an in-game promotion and was tied to hosts Lehigh Valley Health Network’s 15thannual black-tie gala, Go Hog Wild at Nite Lites..

            The video game systems were the first of their kind in North America and had male participants downing drinks and hurrying to the restroom to raise awareness of prostate cancer as a leading cause of death in the U.S.

            According to Landes, participants approached the urinals and an installed video commode detected the presence of a contestant and the stream of urine. By aiming in different directions, the intuitive system measured algorithms and allowed users to enter a code to win a prize. Leaderboards broadcast the results and allowed fans to watch the PigScores at PigScores.com during the competition from the Coca-cola Park video display.

          Landes said the ballpark also created a unique event when a typo called the Class AAA team the IronPugs. The mistake resulted in one of the biggest events for the group. Landes, ordered T-shirts for the event and gave away free shirts to 3,000 fans, while players wore new IronPugs caps on the field.

            The ballpark is hog wild about its team name and all the ways iron and pigs can be incorporated into gimmicky, catchy phrases. The team’s mascots are pigs named FeRROUS and FeFe – the symbol for iron ore in the period table.

            The game program is called Pork Illustrated. The upstairs season ticket holder lounge is called Hog Heaven and the team’s charity is the IronPiggy Bank.

            Coca-Cola Park has hosted National Pro Fastpitch games, district high school playoffs, corporate events and other activities.

            The next day we headed to downtown Bethlehem’s Historic District for Musikfest. On this leisurely Sunday morning, Bree and I took in the architecture and watched food and arts vendors set up for the day before making our way to Historic Hotel Bethlehem to get a glimpse of the brunch crowd in the main lobby and public areas. We vowed to return and then made our way past the Moravian Village down to the river where tents, vendors and musicians were already performing for the day. We caught an 80s cover band that appeared to feature high school or college performers playing ACDC then on to get some corn-on-a-stick (this is a real thing that was apparently delicious), then to watch some dance performers and then back to watch an authentic blacksmith in the 18thcentury village.

            From downtown we headed to Wind Creek Bethlehem, a hotel property just minutes from historic downtown Bethlehem in the former Sands Casino resort. The hotel offers approximately 300 deluxe king, deluxe queen, executive suites, presidential suites and chairman’s suites in total and plans are underway to build a second guestroom tower with an additional 300 rooms.

            In addition to guestrooms, the property offers more than 12,000 square feet of meeting space, 14,000 square feet of tradeshow space, an on-site AV team and award-winning food options, in addition to a full casino and The Outlets, an indoor shopping mall located inside the resort that offers 133,000-square-feet of clothing, household, jewelry and food options.

            After the break, I joined others in my group for a reception at ArtsQuests’ SteelStacks location at the base of the Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces.

            We headed upstairs in the ArtsQuest Center for the reception overlooking Levitt Pavilion and enjoyed a couple musical acts while enjoying the sunshine and breeze from the balcony and then walked the short distance to watch headline performer, Brad Paisley for the final major event to the 10-day festival.

            I Learned that Musikfest featured music or performances from more than 500 artists from 27 states, Canada, China, Ireland and Nigeria. Performing this year were:

Earth, Wind & Fire, The Chainsmokers, Lady Antebellum, Weezer, Train & Goo Goo Dolls, Incubus, Godsmack and many others.

            The following morning, I toured the Velodrome known as T-town. Joan Hanscom, executive director of the Velodrome, said the 333-meter facility is a features a concrete track and is home to the World Series of Bicycling including cycling, track cycling and cyclocross.

            The facility has also hosted the UCI World Cups and National Championships. The Bob Rodale Cycling and Fitness Park are located across the street and amateur and professional cycling takes place there three nights a week during the summer.

            The Velodrome also has equipment available for use, including about 150 bicycles for all ages. The Valley Preferred Cycling Center is also known for youth development and offers programs for riders as young as five

            We headed to downtown Allentown after seeing the cycling center and headed to the Renaissance Allentown Hotel for lunch. The hotel is located in an historic building attached to the PPL Center.

            Upstairs in The Dime, we enjoyed a quite lunch overlooking downtown and learned that the property offers 11,000 square feet of flexible event space, 18 venues for events and luxurious accommodations.

The adjoining PPL Center is a state-of-the-art multipurpose arena in downtown Allentown. Managed by Global Spectrum, the arena is home to the Phantoms professionally hockey team. With arena seats for 8,500 during a game or 10,000 for a crowd, PPL Center is the largest events venue in the region.

            The arena hosts approximately 140 events each year, according to Gunnar Fox, general manager, including figure skating events, youth sports, trade shows, Disney on Ice and other events in downtown Allentown.

            The intimate setting of the arena puts fans close to the action and the party suite on the ice level seats 49 guests just outside the Phantoms locker room.

            The Morning Call Club located on the main concourse behind the exclusive club section offers panoramic views of the arenas and is ideal for receptions or other functions.

            The arena also offers a variety of concessions and restaurant options including Pies to Die For, Mozzarella’s, a Hot Dog Nation, Vince’s Cheesesteaks, 99 Bottles, a gastropub and a Tim Horton’s.

            After visiting the arena, we strolled a bit downtown before heading back to Wind Creek to prepare for dinner at Molinari’s in downtown Bethlehem. This upscale restaurant offers authentic Italian dishes, features an extensive wine list and has an outdoor patio for dining and people watching. Just minutes from the Wind Creek, this establishment was an easy drive or walk and was located in the historic downtown area.

The next morning, we made our way back to the Historic Hotel Bethlehem for a tour of the public spaces and guest rooms.

            Lynn Logg, corporate sales manager for the hotel said the hotel recently completed a major restoration and it was named to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and sits in the historic district of Bethlehem overlooking the Moravian settlement, the Star of Bethlehem and the mountains.

            This hotel decorated from the time of the roaring 20s, features dining, a bar, live music, art collections, tales of ghosts and has been called home to many a famous people throughout its years of operation since 1922.

            Thank you to Bree Nidds, Alex Michaels and the rest of the Discover Lehigh Valley team for the hospitality. I had a great time in your area of Pennsylvania.

            Editor’s Note: As always, I’d like to mention that destinations often provide food, transportation or hotel accommodations through partnerships or alone, however the comments, opinions and feelings expressed in this blog are my own.