“Why is there so much people here?” The words aren’t mine, but those of a random stranger I heard in Herald Square. Not only was it grammatically offensive, I always find “much people” in Manhattan, but this was the occasion of the Pope’s visit a few years ago, so more of us were crowded into that area than normal. It was a feeling that returned last night as my wife and I wandered around Musikfest. If you’re not from around here, Musikfest is the largest free music festival in the United States, and it takes place in Bethlehem each summer. Ten days of free, live music and tents hawking wares and all kinds of comestibles, as well as that strangely satisfying feeling of being lost in a crowd. We ended up there more or less accidentally.
I was an experimental subject. Those of you who know me will probably not find this odd, and you may well come up with many reasons to find me in the psychology department, some involving locked doors. This was, however, a voluntary research project that required participants and it had been literally decades since I’d volunteered to be one of the “much people” who was not not part of the university crowd. It felt good to be on a campus again. The Lehigh Valley hosts several colleges and universities, and that draw is perhaps related to why Musikfest is held here. When we got to town my wife realized we might have trouble parking. Sections of downtown Bethlehem are closed to traffic and there are people everywhere. I finished my experiment and we became part of the crowd again.
Music and religion, I’ve noted before, hang out in the same crowd. They both have the ability to be transcendent and people seek out such experiences. Since we hadn’t planned on attending—accidental musicologists we—we had no groups as targeted hearing while we wandered. Mostly we marveled at the size of the event. The city of steel transformed to the city of music. And the religious feelings music brings. As I walked from the college back to downtown, a couple strangers accosted me. “Hi, brother,” they said. “Heading to Musikfest?” This, I realized was a congregation. I was an unknown brother. Music brings peace. Dona nobis pacem, sisters and brothers. Like those crowds a few years back hoping for a glimpse of the pontiff, an entire city had kicked off its shoes for a Friday night of potential transcendence. Why is there so much people here? Simply listen and you’ll have your answer.