100 WVIA Way
Pittston, PA 18640

Phone: 570-826-6144
Fax: 570-655-1180

Copyright © 2022 WVIA, all rights reserved. WVIA is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Behind the scenes: Building Musikfest's main stage

Color searchlight at a concert at night .
schankz/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Color searchlight at a concert at night .

On Wednesday, a hot July day, ArtsQuest Chief Operating Officer Curt Mosel stood proudly in front of Musikfest's main Steel Stage — or what would become the main stage, as workers were busy erecting the outdoor concert venue on what normally is a SteelStacks parking lot.

Next week, Mosel said, it's where lots of special moments will happen for the fans.

  • Musikfest's main Steel Stage is under construction on a SteelStacks parking lot; it takes about two weeks to build
  • Organizers would not give an exact dollar amount, but said it costs several hundred thousand dollars for the stage
  • Musikfest is set for Aug. 3-13

Musikfest's Steel Stage, which this year will offer 11 headliners including brother trio AJR, soft-rockers Train, radio rockers Goo Goo Dolls and country star Maren Morris, is a centerpiece of the 10-day festival.

But the process of building an outdoor arena that seats 6,500, essentially from the ground up, every year is not a simple one.

It takes two weeks to build the Steel Stage, using multiple production and construction companies from around the state — all of which are local to Pennsylvania, Mosel said.

Those companies lay down the bench seating one by one, and hoist up the giant speakers and steel beams that, with the preview night by AJR on Aug. 3, will look like a proper music venue.

Musikfest is set to run Aug. 3-13.

But Mosel said the efforts are worth it.

"I think my favorite part of the festival is seeing the energy and the smiles of the people coming down here," Mosel said.

"Whether it's the first night of the festival when we're opening, and you get that rush, or it's a Saturday afternoon, and there's families everywhere, and maybe the kids are experiencing what their parents did, you know, 30 years ago for the first time, like those are great moments."

Behind the steel stage

Musikfest's Steel Stage, the festival's only stage to charge admission, has a capacity of 6,600 — with some changes in seating for the acts that will headline the festival in this, its 40th year.

For example, some bands will request the front rows of the seats be moved so people get up and dance.

"If it's an energetic band that wants that vibe up front, we'll work with them to pull the seats out and provide a great space where that energy can be felt by everybody in the venue," Mosel said.

Asked what it cost to build Steel Stage every year, Mosel declined to give a specific dollar amount, but said it cost "several hundred thousand dollars to build a temporary stage."

He said one area in which ArtsQuest is able to save money is wages for the workers. MusikFest now is using a type of stage that requires fewer people to build and take down.

"When COVID hit, wages went through the roof for a lot of jobs," he said. "The previous stage took a lot more manpower to build. So now we're investing more in infrastructure and a little bit less in salary in order to get that done."

It's also a type of stage that is easier to de-construct, in the case of bad weather or other urgent cancellations, than previous models.

"Safety is number one," Mosel said.

Festival finances

Asked why Musikfest doesn't have a permanent main stage — as, for example, Allentown Fair does — Mosel said it's about priorities.

"So we've been on this campus for 12 years," he said, referring to SteelStacks. "Up until that point, there's never been land that we've been in possession of, and even this area is not land that we own.

"So in order to do that sort of thing, the economics of a permanent main stage would need to take partnerships with several other entities in order to bring that to fruition.

"It's not that that couldn't happen in the future. But right now that's not on our radar."

Another priority for Mosel is what he calls accessibility — which he said explains why Musikfest doesn't have more than one "main" stage, as most other large festivals do — in order to prioritize free shows.

"We want to be accessible to people of all financial backgrounds," he said.

"Our main stage does bring a lot of notoriety to the festival when you see some of those big headliners, but it's really about those artists who have played the free stages that may someday make it here," he said, pointing to the main stage.

He noted country music singer Sam Hunt, who played Musikfest's free stages before hitting it big.

"That's where the festival really comes full circle," he said.

Festival priorities

On top of the paid workers, Musikfest has more than 1,000 volunteers, Mosel said.

And while building Steel Stage takes weeks, the staffing and human resource considerations of Musikfest take even longer, he said.

"It takes us about four months to hire all of the part-time people that are going to work at the festival," he said.

"You know, we're constantly recruiting the volunteers. We have more than 1,200 volunteers that helped us put on Musikfest. And without them we couldn't do the festival.

"Everyone works so hard on this festival, whether it's your first or your 25th, and we all get that same great feeling."