As the festival's home of world music, Musikfest's Volksplatz venue has been a place to experience a smorgasbord of international sounds including African rhythms, Celtic harmonies and Siberian surf punk.
On Saturday night, the sound of the subcontinent — with a twist of rock 'n' roll — will be on display when King Paris and His Hypnotic Guitar takes the stage.
King Paris' website promises that the "musical mysteries of the universe will unfold" at his show, where he combines influences as diverse as Ravi Shankar and Johnny Cash, Amjad Ali Khan and Screaming Jay Hawkins, Mohan Bhatt and Elmore James.
Add to the stage a few props, a flamboyant, colorful wardrobe that hints at Eastern mysticism and a pair of sexy belly dancers and you have a unique visual as well as sonic spectacle.
But for knowledgeable fans of classic rock and local music historians, the man under the turban will be familiar.
Rick Vito is best known as the man who joined Fleetwood Mac to replace Lindsey Buckingham on guitar in 1987. Vito's resume also includes work with other rock legends, including Bonnie Raitt, John Mayall, Jackson Browne and Bob Seger.
He's got a local history as well. The Darby, Delaware County native graduates from Kutztown University. He got his start with The Wright Brothers Blues Band, opening for Muddy Waters at the Kutztown University Blues Festival in 1969 and playing gigs at local establishments such as Illick's Mill in Bethlehem.
The musical styling of King Paris is a wide departure from what Vito is known for. His slide guitar fills and solo in part define the Bob Seger 1986 hit "Like a Rock." That is one reason why Vito created an alter ego when he decided to begin experimenting publicly with Eastern music in 2009.
"Rather than just, all of a sudden, confuse people with going into a completely different bag, somehow this thing evolved to develop a character and have a completely different set of music to go along with that," Vito says in a phone interview from his home near Nashville.
"It's really fun because neither one steps on each other's toes. Somehow I've been able to keep this thing separate and yet people know that it's me and it's sort of an in-house kind of joke secret."
The visual imagery of a King Paris stage show is — by Vito's own design — pure Hollywood kitsch.
"I love the old movie characters from the late '20s and '30s, the Douglas Fairbanks 'Thief of Bagdad' and Bela Lugosi as 'Chandu the Magician' — all that real corny, kind of eerie period in film," Vito says.
"I think it sort of happened around Halloween. We were just goofing off and had some stuff around. And the wife contributed a little here and there and before we knew it we had this guy. And I said, 'Gee he would really go with this music, these couple of songs that I've written.'"
Vito began to develop his interest in East Indian music until 2007. He traces it back to a night on the Jersey shore during a visit to his mother when he went to hear a klezmer band.
"I'd never heard it," he says. "I was just blown away by that whole sound. I realized that you could improvise over this and you change the scale slightly and it's got a relation to blues.
"At almost the same time, I was given music by an Indian classical slide guitar player named Mohan Bhatt. I come to find out that he is not the only one playing guitar on his lap, kind of like a dobro, but with the Indian scales and the Indian classical music. It was basically like sitar music, like Ravi Shankar, only played on the lap with a slide."
The man who had played blues-based slide guitar for decades was fascinated and before long, he had learned Indian and Arabic musical scales and how to incorporate them into his own playing. Then he started to write songs.
"We did a party to try it out and hired some dancers, and they worked up routines to the music … and the people just went crazy for it," Vito says. "And I was having such a blast, I said, 'Well I've got to keep this going. This is so much fun.'"
Vito says he is now playing gigs as King Paris on a "fairly regular basis," though not nearly as often as he would like.
"Ultimately, I would love to build a show bigger and bigger and be able to play bigger and bigger places, like Musikfest," Vito says. "It's a real honor to be able to play there."
In October, Vito returned to Kutztown University as a featured performer at the Rockin' Alumni Showcase, sharing a bill with country singer and Bethlehem native Mark Wayne Glasmire to help celebrate the renovated Schaeffer Auditorium. That show's success is part of what led to the opportunity to play at Volksplatz, Vito says.
The show will feature a three-piece band — Vito on guitar with a bass player and drummer, and two belly dancers. But Vito envisions a larger production if his alter ego gains popularity.
"Eventually, it would be great to have an old-school magician, maybe some kind of crazed high-wire act," Vito says. "You know, there's just no end to it, where the show could go because it would be a conglomeration of visual characters that could enter and leave the stage at various points."
For fans of Vito's more traditional work, there's no need to worry about it coming to an end. A new solo record by Vito, backed by his trio, the Lucky Devils, will be released by German label Hypertension in September. A tour of Germany also is planned.
Vito also has a continuing role in the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band, which he co-founded with the legendary Fleetwood Mac drummer. The band was nominated for a Grammy award in 2010 for its record "Blue Again."
"At different stages of your life, you have to approach it completely differently," says Vito, who is 64. "When you get a little bit older and you've been around for a good long time, you sort of have to look at reinventing this or that, to keep interest going, to keep yourself somewhat contemporary or at least create a niche you can somehow fit into.
"Just this year, I've gotten more blues festival work and I'm going to Europe again next week," Vito says. "I'm going back in September and again in November, so one does whatever becomes available in whatever people are interested in hearing."
Vito doesn't mind the busy travel schedule as long as it keeps him doing what he loves to do.
"I'm happy to be continuing on in music," he says. "I have no plans to retire as long as I'm physically able and there are people who are willing to come out and hear [me] play. That's the beauty about music for me. It's just enabled me to keep going and expressing myself and make a living at it. I'm grateful. I'm grateful for each one of these gigs that come along."
Daryl Nerl is a freelance writer.
Jodi Duckett, editor
KING PARIS AND HIS HYPNOTIC GUITAR
•When: 9 p.m. Saturday Aug. 2
•Where: Volksplatz stage at Musikfest, north side Bethlehem
•How much: Free