There is a German mystique in the Lehigh Valley, especially when Musikfest and its oompah band music is approaching, and it'd be a shame to see the lederhosen come unstitched, figuratively speaking.
That is why it was so upsetting this week to read about an assertion that $3 beer steins from China were being peddled by Musikfest as "handcrafted in Germany" beer steins at a markup of 2,500 percent.
story in The Morning Call on Wednesday, a former employee of ArtsQuest, the outfit that runs the 10-day Musikfest music and beer-guzzling extravaganza, has filed a federal lawsuit claiming she was canned in March for making waves about the bogus beer steins.
Rebecca Stoneback, who worked in an ArtsQuest gift shop, said she discovered that the shipping boxes for the steins were from China, not Germany, and told her superiors she did not want to cheat customers by selling the $3 Chinese steins for $69.99. The very next day, she was out of a job. Her ensuing lawsuit says ArtsQuest "conspired to commit mail and wire fraud" with the 12-inch beer steins.
Musikfest, which takes over Bethlehem's downtown and surrounding areas every August, has been drawing crowds of up to a million people since it began in 1984, and the festival's public relations operation usually manages to orchestrate gushing news media coverage.
The story indicated that when asked about the beer steins, however, an ArtsQuest press spokesman wasn't talking.
Meanwhile, a much smaller event a few miles to the west will get under way in a couple of weeks, and there are no questions about the authenticity of its German core.
I'll get back to that, but first it seems to me that Musikfest has drifted a bit from its original folksy image, now ballyhooing performers like the Goo Goo Dolls, a sexy rock group, or the Gangstagrass ensemble, featuring a mix of bluegrass and hip-hop, if you can imagine that.
In recent years, it seems to me, the flavor of the region's German culture has been on the wane at Musikfest.
We once had big crowds of people eating brats (we're not talking about cannibalism here), and singing along in German as German (or German-American) oompah bands played polkas and waltzes under big tents. I'm sure they'll still be around, but I've had the impression event organizers are catering more to beer-soaked fans of, well, the Goo Goo Dolls.
Bogus beer steins, if that allegation turns out to be true, will further diminish the flavor of the German heritage at Musikfest. More of the bloom is off the rose.
I am part German myself (only one-eighth) even though that branch of the family tried to hide its roots by changing its name from Heinz to Hines to suggest 100 percent hoity-toity English descent. So on Thursday, I went from being down in the dumps over the beer stein thing to having my spirits lifted by a big advertisement in The Morning Call for the Kutztown Folk Festival, which runs from June 30 to July 8.
The ad and the http://www.kutztownfestival.com website boasted of "good old-fashioned fun," food and music. "Keith and Karlene Brintzenhoff will lead audiences in singing old Pennsylvania Dutch 'Sing, Spiel unn Danz' favorites." (For those who just arrived from Mars, Pennsylvania Dutch means Pennsylvania German.)
Billed as the "oldest folklife festival in America," the Kutztown shindig will be "celebrating the Pennsylvania Dutch culture" with such things as the "largest quilt sale in the nation."
That may not attract the Goo Goo Dolls crowd, which may be why the Kutztown event has crowds of only 150,000 a year as opposed to Musikfest's million.
They do have beer at Kutztown, festival director Dave Fooks told me Thursday, but they do not try to hawk $69.99 beer steins, made in China or wherever.
I asked about the Brintzenhoffs. "They're from Kutztown," he said, and they sing "both in Pennsylvania Dutch and English."
How about the other music, such as that of the Sauerkraut Band? "It's from Berks County, like an oompah band," Fooks said.
Oompah band? Do they play German polkas and waltzes? "Yeah, they do," he said, and there is nonstop entertainment along those lines on five stages each day.
Traditional "guten essen" (good eating) offerings range from shoo-fly pie to an ox roast, although I did not see anything about ostrich burgers or deep-fried Twinkies, the sort of delights featured in colleague Bill White's annual "Eating my way through Musikfest" epicurean orgies.
Not everything at the Kutztown fest is wholesome. "Our re-enactment of an actual 19th century hanging has stunned audiences for years," said one promotion. The very next sentence, however, told of "a Mennonite wedding, early farming techniques, or you can take part in an actual country auction in our pavilion."
If I have to choose between early farming techniques and an oompah band, I'll go with the latter, despite the fact that I can't dance polkas or waltzes worth spit.
It is not very likely the Kutztown Folk Festival will draw all the people away from Musikfest. Still, it is nice to know there is an event where the integrity of the lederhosen and the culture it represents remains intact.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.