Harvest Festival is always a fantastic time in Bethlehem. It, to us, marks the beginning of fall, weather and calendar specifics be damned. Hearty baked goods, apples, beer, and wine. Those are good any time of the year, but particularly yearned-for when the leaves turn and the year wanes on. The festival this year was still enjoyable, but perhaps it’s getting a little too big for its own good.
This year’s Harvest Fest was preemptively disrupted from its usual state due to the construction impeding access to part of Main Street. And so the festival was effectively split into two, which really wasn’t all that bad. It spread the crowds out enough that things weren’t too uncomfortably cramped on either end.
One of the problems with the festival, allegedly, was extremely long lines for people picking up their prepaid wristbands. We got there early so it wasn’t a problem for us, however as the tastings grew nearer the line must have grown extremely long as the Downtown Bethlehem Association manager sent out an email apologizing for the wait.
Another problem is the declining cost/benefit ratio of the festival. In 2010 $20 got you a wristband for unlimited beer and wine samples and an extra $5 got you five soup samples. In 2011 they split the wine samples ($10 for unlimited samples at 16 locations) and the beer samples ($18, unlimited). Soup tastings were again $5 for 10 locations. This year the beer sampling was $2 more, the wine sampling $5 more, and the soup tasting $5 more. This may have been all well and good, except the beer situation ended in a variety of complaints from festival-goers. The line for the Lehigh Valley Homebrewers was, for once, in our entire history of attending the festival, decent. Like, could get beer within 3 minutes or so decent. Then everyone else down Main Street ran out of beer and the flocks descended upon Hammersmith Ales and the Lehigh Valley Homebrewers like the thirsty hawks they were. The line to get a couple ounce sample of brew became at once a chore and nearly just-not-worth-it. We saw more than one group of people say “fuck it” and head either home or to another bar.
But not all was bad. The festival itself looked to be a huge success. You couldn’t have asked for a better day and the crowds were large. Almost, if not all, of the tasting wristbands sold out. The beer and wine served were better than ever (specifically that of the Lehigh Valley Homebrewers). A red velvet cake beer quickly became the buzz of Main Street, with the crowd audibly groaning when the keg kicked. The glasses handed out this year were quality. The food being sold was varied and excellent. There was plenty to like here, but the few hiccups mentioned before brought what could’ve been a perfect festival down to just a “good” one.
The point is, this was the 7th Harvest Festival. By now the prices should have stabilized and the planning/execution of this should be down to a science by now. The festival blames the fact that it’s their first year doing online presales, but every year their lines are out of control. Running out of beer and forcing people to stand in huge lines at two spots (the homebrewers and Hammersmith Ales) is unacceptable. If you pay $20 for any other beer festival in the area you’ll find a better-laid-out, more varied, and fully stocked experience. Doubling the price of soup passes without doubling the amount of soups doled out is a money grab. The DBA needs to wake up and shape up or knock the prices and number of passes down to what they were previously. It’s a great thing they have on their hands and too good to mar further in the future.
Why yes, this is a shirt that says “Corn Star”.
The nice glasses for beer tasting
Pumpkin truffles in the Moravian Bookstore
Hot coals for cooking brisket
Jazz band playing in front of the Hotel Bethlehem
The initial line-up of beers at the homebrewer tent
More of that brisket…
Great fall cocktail from Tapas on Main: The Smokin’ Apple
Not-so-great sparkling cider sangria from Tapas
Tartare and watermelon with cips at Hotel Bethlehem