Music Festivals Make Destinations Go Viral

By Holly Woolard, September 19, 2019

Just as music makes the world go round, music festivals make destinations go viral. The impact of music festivals on destinations is undeniable, especially in the summer, when small and large cities alike are boosted financially by music events that naturally showcase other key attributes.

Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, with a population of 75,707, experienced a record crowd of 1.2 million during Musikfest from Aug. 1-11. Musikfest was established in 1984 and is ranked as the largest free, non-gated music festival in the nation, generating more $60 million annually throughout the region.

“From the city’s perspective, Musikfest is one of the biggest promotional tools we have,” Bethlehem Mayor Bob Donchez said. “Each year, the festival draws people from across the country. The economic impact of this event can’t be stressed enough. Not only do people shop in our downtowns, eat in our restaurants and stay in our hotels during the festival, many of them return at other times of the year, stretching Musikfest’s impact across the calendar.”

Besides the positive financial impact, Musikfest allows Discover Lehigh Valley to showcase its venues and how it manages big-events. The 2019 Musikfest featured more than 500 performances on 14 stages.

Venues dot the famous 10-acre SteelStacks campus, where MusikFest is held, which salutes Bethlehem’s iron manufacturing history and serves as one of the region’s premier event facilities. ArtsQuest Center at SteelStacks offers more than 16,000 square feet of space for meetings, trade shows and events. The two-level Musikfest Cafe can host more than 400 guests and features views of the famous blast furnaces. Discover Lehigh Valley even has a visitors center at the SteelStacks.

“The city of Bethlehem truly comes alive during the celebration, transforming traditional spaces into nontraditional uses,” says Bree Nidds, vice president of sales for Discover Lehigh Valley. “You’ll find unique art installations against the backdrop of historic Colonial-era buildings, concerts popping up in parks and so much more. The festival also showcases how unique settings can pop up.”

The 2019 festival featured artists from a range of genres, including Earth Wind & Fire, Train, The Goo Goo Dolls and Lady Antebellum. The 2020 event is scheduled for July 31-Aug. 9.

Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach added a new music festival to its event list earlier this year with Something in the Water from April 26 to 28 at the city’s oceanfront district. According to STR (formerly known as Smith Travel Research), Virginia Beach hotel occupancy increased from 16 to 22% during the festival.

The festival was the brainchild of Grammy winner and Virginia native Pharrell Williams, whose original goal was to provide entertainment during College Beach Weekend for students from historically black colleges and universities to help Virginia Beach celebrate diversity.  A-list stars who performed included Snoop Dogg, Diddy, Gwen Stefani and Missy Elliot to name a few.

“You cannot have great tourism if you’re not welcoming others,” said Williams in a YouTube video posted by the Virginian Pilot. “That’s how it’s supposed to be— celebrating our differences and welcoming others.”

According to Tiffany Russell, APR, CDME, vice president of marketing and communications for Virginia Beach CVB, Something in the Water is the No. 1 searched content on the organization’s website. The music festival was such a hit that Williams and the city of Virginia Beach are already planning the second annual Something in the Water for April 24-26, 2020.


Memphis Tourism reports that 60 to 80% of its 2018 visitors were drawn to the city because of music. Memphis has heritage attractions, such as Elvis Presley’s Graceland estate, along with a legendary live music scene and music-centric entertainment districts.

“Our sales teams routinely leverage our bounty of musical events, venues and artists when attracting event planners,” says Kevin Kane, Memphis Tourism CEO and president. “For the past three decades, Tom Lee Park on the banks of the Mississippi River has hosted Memphis’ largest festival, Beale Street Music Festival, as part of our Memphis in May celebration. Artists such as Ray Charles, Bob Dylan and James Brown have mixed with local legends like B.B. King, Aretha Franklin, Al Green and today’s superstars to showcase their hits from one of the most striking locations in Memphis.”

Minutes from Tom Lee Park is another landmark, the 322-foot Memphis Pyramid, which honors the city’s namesake in Egypt. Home to a Bass Pro Shop megastore, the Pyramid also houses Big Cypress Lodge, which has 103 guest rooms and suites, the perfect base camp for festival attendees.

The Mississippi Terrace at the Pyramid is expected to open this fall on the same level as Big Cypress Lodge. With space for up to 500 guests, the terrace will offer breathtaking views of the Mississippi and Mighty Lights Bridge with outdoor seating, two fire pits and a stage.

Bass Pro Shops at the Pyramid hosts its own festival in October. The free, three-day Flocktoberfest is staged in the Pyramid parking lot and has featured artists such as Chris Janson and Big & Rich.

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