Review of Artsquest Oktoberfest at Steelstacks

By : | 6 Comments | On : October 8, 2011 | Category : Events, Reviews

Oktoberfest Logo

Ok, so I won’t lie – I was extremely excited about Oktoberfest being hosted by Artsquest.

I am now writing this as someone who is extremely dissapointed. I apologize for even recommending the event in a prior article. It is a waste of time, and money. Oh yes, money. Artsquest has decided to bleed people dry for the event – every single aspect of it. But surely, it can’t be that bad, right? …right?

Well, let me take you on a photographic tour of the Steelstacks Oktoberfest, so you can decide if you actually want to check it out yourself. After dealing with the traffic,  you’re looking at $10 to park if you can’t find anything by Skatezone (subtotal: $10). Next you pay $10 per person ticket price unless you preordered, in which case it’s 8 dollars (subtotal, $26).

The ticket booth girls were awesome, and I can’t find any fault there, they were adorable, and provided some great conversation. Then you walk through a small steel gate where they put a wristband on you to show you’re ok to drink the alcohol they will sell you for disgustingly inflated prices.

Upon walking in you’re greeted by a merch tent selling the exact same regurgitated wares from Musikfest, except they’re now all about drinking – because, you know, that’s apparently all people do at Oktoberfest is drink. Directly outside of that, you’ll find the (awesome!) salsa guy we all know and love from Musikfest. He is offering free samples – and that’s the only free thing you will find here.

What you see in front of you is an antique Yuengling truck, and a ring of fencing where some people are running back and forth with mugs in a race. Behind that is a small (like, 20′ by 40′) hay bale maze for small children to play. That is the only thing for them to do, surely making the $5 for them to enter worthwhile (I did see a swing ride that was currently powered off).

Directly to your left are about 6 food vendors, and a stage with a kitschy band attempting to play German folk music. On the other side of the steel ring, you find a few more food vendors.

At this point, you will be sorely dissapointed when you realize that you will spend at least $5 for a cup of Yuengling beer – so two cups brings our subtotal to $36. Yes, the exact same Yuengling beer that McGrady’s sells pitchers for a fraction of that price during happy hour a block away. So, you decide to walk over to the Artsquest center, because you hear rumors there may be other beer there, and maybe something to have actually made your ticket price worthwhile.  Guess what? You find a bar selling overpriced drinks, glassblowers from the Banana factory, and a Mini Cooper raffle.

You have now seen all that the Artsquest Oktoberfest has to offer. You have spent $36 for 20 minutes of entertainment. Good job. After being there for no more than 20 minutes, we left. I was pissed off, and Jen was disappointed. We made our way over to the Wooden Match cigar bar, where for the exact same $36 dollars we got a 2003 vintage cigar, 3 craft brewed beers, a plate of perogies the size of Rhode Island, and some awesome banter with the staff.

I left there a happy camper.

Sadly no, none of this is a joke, I’m serious. Here are the pictures, taken between 8 and 8:30 PM, Friday October 7th.

I feel utterly ripped off. This was pathetic.

Seriously – we look to festivals like this to bring much needed money into Bethlehem’s economy, and Artsquest did this in the crappiest way possible. Yes, you can fleece people one time and you’ve got their money – but they’re never going to come back. Hell, after tonight I’m not sure I want to come back. How does this help our town?

Its anecdoctal, but a friend of ours came down from the poconos, realized it would take $20 just for her to park and get in the door, and she left. That quick. If I know one person it happened with, how many more has it happened to? That’s some awesome marketing you got there, Artsquest.

Now, since I’m an engineer by trade, it is a tenet to not just present problems, but to present them along with possible solutions.

  1. Artsquest, actually do some research and realize that Oktoberfest isn’t just about drinking, and price gouging people while oompah bands play in the background. Also realize that if you want to make it a true Oktoberfest, only local beer would be allowed to be served – something you completely skipped.
  2. If you charge people for parking, don’t charge them to enter the event, especially if you plan to price gouge on food and beverages.
  3. If you charge people to enter, and charge them for parking, don’t charge them for beer. This worked just fine at the Ironpigs Brewfest, so what is your excuse?
  4. Offer more than just Yuengling beer. Yes, I know they pay your bills, but guess what? Their Oktoberfest is by no means a good representation of an Oktoberfest beer, especially not at the price you’re charging.
  5. By the time I walked in the door I could have spent more than $20 just to park and to buy a ticket. That’s more than a full case of Yuengling at a beer distributor. You expect people to really pay $5 for a cup of beer? Piss off.
  6. If what I experienced was because it was a “light” night, then by all means, shorten the event to a single weekend next year. If you’re going to do it, do it right. This was pathetic. Absolutely, and totally pathetic. If you can’t fill four nights, then shorten it to two nights that are packed with things to do.
  7. Actually involve the local brewing scene instead of fellating Yuengling. Fegley’s Brewworks, Weyerbacher, Two Rivers Brewing Company, and Hijinx are all local breweries – and that’s just naming a few. That also doesn’t include the Lehigh Valley Homebrewers. Most of these guys would be happy just to have a chance to have the general public sample their beers.

I wanted so much for this Oktoberfest to really be something special. Instead, I left feeling completely ripped off. If you want to check it out, go for it. But I won’t be joining you.

Shame on you Jeff Parks and Artsquest.

Update: I am keeping the original post as it was.

I want to point out that I did not pay for parking, nor did I say I did. The exact wording is, “After dealing with the traffic,  you’re looking at $10 to park if you can’t find anything by Skatezone (subtotal: $10).”

I spoke with Artsquest about this, and as it turns out their “Lot Full” signs are two sided, one side says “Parking 10.00,” the other side says “Lot Full.” Guess which side was facing towards 2nd street? A good friend of ours came from the same direction (along Polk St.) that we did, and we came face to face with a $10.00 parking sign. So it appears to have been an innocent mistake, and I’m not sure how many other people saw the same thing. However given that parking for most of the other fests tends to be $10, its not exactly hard to believe there would be a charge. There wasn’t any charge for parking.

As I mentioned, Artsquest was kind enough to reach out to us this morning (possibly because I am friends with two volunteers, as well as a few of their employees), and had a great, productive dialog. They’re going to look into the posting that we saw. We asked for the opportunity to help improve the event next year, and they’re excited to have the additional help. We’re excited for the chance to help make things even better. We live in Bethlehem, we own a home here, so we have a vested interest in keeping tourists happy.

  1. posted by Christine on October 8, 2011

    Plate of pirogies the size of Rhode Island? Count me in!

    I’m sorry to hear that ArtsQuest’s version of Oktoberfest sucked. I agree that the local homebrewers probably have some great Oktoberfest beers that they’d love to share!

  2. posted by Kisså on October 8, 2011

    Sorry to hear it was so awful. Unfortunately, if they charge for admission, they legally wouldn’t be able to serve homebrew because then technically they’re “selling” it. Our club made that mistake once at a winter beer fest in Philly and when the AHA found put they were… Nonplussed. But, having a “free tent” outside where the paid event takes place would allow folks to sample homebrew AND hopefully entice them to pay for more craft beers inside (if the event organizers got their act together and added some!)

  3. posted by Schlop on October 8, 2011

    1) I wasn’t charged for parking multiple times I went and can’t find anything on Artsquest’s website about parking charges. I think a lot owner fleeced you.

    2) “exact same regurgitated wares as Musikfest” What wares would you like to see in there instead?

    3) “he is offering free samples – and that’s the only free thing you will find here” False, you go on to mention yourself that the kids hay maze is free. You’re also forgetting about the kids activity tent as well as all of the bands you’re listening to.

    4) If you seriously went in here expecting cheap beer you’re off your rocker. Also, you bought beer in the most expensive price per ounce possible. Mugs and pitchers were much cheaper per ounce.

    5) There is better beer by the Artsquest center. Not only is the one selling Hofbrau and Saranac Pumpkin, but the bar inside also has an array of Victory, Stoudts, etc.

    6) “If you charge people to enter, and charge them for parking, don’t charge them for beer. This worked just fine at the Ironpigs Brewfest, so what is your excuse?” That’s because the Ironpigs Brewfest was just that – a place to sample craft beer. If you were coming to Oktoberfest to do craft sampling you were in the wrong place.

    7) “If what I experienced was because it was a “light” night, then by all means, shorten the event to a single weekend next year. If you’re going to do it, do it right. This was pathetic. Absolutely, and totally pathetic. If you can’t fill four nights, then shorten it to two nights that are packed with things to do.” What sort of things would you like to see them pack the schedule with? What kinds of events?

    8) “Actually involve the local brewing scene instead of fellating Yuengling” Yuengling is a huge sponsor of the event. No local brewery has that kind of money to pony up. It costs more than you know to hire bands, staff tents, set up the fencing, rent all of the lights and stages, run sound/lights, etc etc etc. Again, there was good craft there, you just didn’t look hard enough.

    9) There were vendors that were not from Musikfest there. There was a vendor selling handmade German goods, someone selling organic soaps, and someone selling Kenyan art.

    • posted by Matty on October 8, 2011

      1) The sign by the lot we parked at, which was at the Steelstacks property had $10 Parking written clearly on it. If this wasn’t the case, whoever was running it needs to clear up the confusion next year. Why was that sign there?

      2) Maybe something other than Musikfest mugs? The exact. same. Muskifest mugs. I have no problem with them selling Artsquest stuff, just maybe not as the very first thing you see when you walk through the gate.

      3) The kids maze was the only thing open for children when we were there, and Jen can back me up on that. There was a swing type ride as I mentioned in the post, but it was closed down. I took pictures for a reason. There was only one band playing, all of the other band shells were empty, except for the TD tent which had a drum set in it, by itself. No one outside of the main pavilion was playing anything. Were there other bands playing at other times? Read my response to number 7 for more.

      4) Jen and I both are homebrewers and beer enthusiasts, and we’ve been to many, MANY events where beer is cheap or free, and they cost far less than this one to enter. What is the incentive to buy a pitcher of beer or a mug when I see nothing to keep me there for more than 20 minutes? The chance to drink lots of beer quickly in public? I’ll pass. Again, look at the pictures. There was almost nothing open. Plus, frankly, I don’t want to buy a pitcher of Yuengling, even if it is an Oktoberfest. I did enough of that in college. Its not that I have any problem with Yuengling, but it wasn’t what I was looking for. Maybe if they had Fegley’s Devious, or Weyerbacher’s Imperial Pumpkin we could talk.

      5) The only beers available that weren’t Yuengling were inside of the Artsquest center at that point. They had Saranac Pumpkin, and Victory Summer Love. Yes, we looked. There was no one selling Hofbrau, unless it was one of the small tents which had apparently closed already by 8pm. They may have had something up in their theater, but we couldn’t get in because of the band playing.

      6) You realize if you had to pay for parking, and had paid for two people’s entry, you could have shelled out $30 before you ever get to a beer tent. Is there seriously a point in making someone pay $5 for one cup of beer – a third the price of a case of Yuengling? What exactly was the point of the event? Because there was nothing else open at the time, which kind of left you the option of watching the Oompah band, watching people do mug races, or drinking overpriced beer. Or, you could stand around looking bored like the people were in the Artsquest center. There was no celebration of the harvest, no celebration of local accomplishments. Those are the things an Oktoberfest is supposed to be about!

      7) I don’t see anything wrong with the events they had, honestly. They looked fun – I just wish some of them were going on when we were there. I’m looking at their schedule, and it appears it WAS just a light time. And that is a problem – you shouldn’t have “light” times. If you can’t keep things going nonstop, you’re going to have people who come in at light times, and then tell their friends what their experience was like, and it will eat away at your fan base.

      8: Yes, Yuengling was a huge sponsor. Does that mean that they should be the only beer sold? Especially when we have a growing number of craft breweries in the Lehigh Valley? An Oktoberfest is supposed to be a celebration of your local area – they completely shut out the local guys.

      9) There was a Kenyan booth which was shutting down as we walked through, and the German craft guy was there, you are very much correct. However in total there were less than 5 crafters who were actually open. There were a couple tents which had already closed – at 8pm on a Friday night. Sadly I didn’t get pictures of them all because my camera sucks at night vision – closed tents don’t make any light.

      I’m honestly just really disappointed. Based on some other people I’ve spoken with, I’m not the only one who had that sort of experience last night. I took the photos to back it up the best I could, because I was so totally incredulous about it. As I mentioned in the article, its possible we showed up at a light time – but guess what? So did tourists and other Bethlehem residents. And even more important to me is the possibility that there was someone that read *my* article and decided to go to the event. If they were planning to have a majority of their stuff closed by 8pm, they shouldn’t have the event go to midnight, you know?

  4. posted by Tim on October 9, 2011

    My experience reading this blog, SUCKED.

    All you do is whine about a first year event, because your were stupid enough to pay for parking (they had FREE parking, you moron) and because you didn’t like the beer.

    I hope the people putting this on don’t listen to your whining… its a great start and a much better addition to our community than you blog, filled with shallow, poorly thought out complaints.

    Honestly, the people that put this thing on should spend some time tearing your “journalism” down a few pegs. Until you pony up some support, like Yuengling did, I think you should chill a bit.

    Honestly, I’m just really disappointed that I wasted my time reading your “review.” I wanted to like you blog, but it turns out something that could have been really cool is just another nay-saying waste of time.

    You should be proud.

  5. posted by Matty on October 9, 2011

    Thanks for your comment, but I think you need to check your reading a bit. First, my blog is hardly “filled” with shallow complaints. Have you actually checked any other posts? I invite you to do so. I have an excellent recipe for harvest soup you may really love.

    And actually, as mentioned in the update, I spoke with Artsquest this morning – more exactly, they reached out to me. We had an excellent conversation, and asked to help work for the event next year to improve it. They’re excited for the chance. We also figured out what happened with the parking.

    Contrary to what you seem to believe, I actually want the event to be truly awesome. Its what our community deserves.

    See, I own a home in Bethlehem, and have a vested interest in making sure that the town prospers. I have a number of friends who are employed by Artsquest (the people who “put this thing on”), and more who volunteer at their events. I also have friends who own businesses who directly participate in their events. So if you think my complaints are shallow, I’d like you to explain why. Do you think I like the idea of writing something negative about an event in which my friends participated? I don’t. It is a criticism of the fact that my experience sucked.

    I write what I see, no more, no less.

    If your experience was awesome, that’s great, and I’m happy for you. Mine wasn’t, and I want to help make sure no one else has the same problem next year. Sorry that offended you.