As the last remnants of Summer 2014 wind down, I find myself thinking about all of the fun summer activities I wanted to do, but just didn’t have the time: kayaking on the Delaware; whitewater rafting on the Lehigh (especially just after a dam release); hiking at Glen Onoko Falls; and soaking up the sun at the Jersey Shore.

Ok, as a redhead and someone who has been diagnosed with skin cancer in the past, I don’t really condone sunbathing (as wonderfully soothing and revitalizing as it can feel) — and I always stress the importance of using sunscreen when doing any outdoor activity.

But, I digress.

One activity I was able to take advantage of this summer was checking out some of the free outdoor concerts at Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks in Bethlehem, PA.

Fireworks at the Levitt Summer Concert Series

Photo by Jonathan Davies

The Levitt Summer Concert Series, presented by Highmark, brings family-friendly concerts to the Lehigh Valley each summer. Concerts take place every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening from May through September (except for the 10 days of Musikfest — which is another article in itself).

As you can see in the photos in this blog post, the setting adds to the experience: The Levitt Pavilion stage sits in front of huge, iron-making blast furnaces on the SteelStacks arts and culture campus. (And no, the blast furnaces, which once belonged to Bethlehem Steel, are no longer active!)

The 2014 Levitt Summer Concert Series included a nothing-short-of-epic line-up of performers, with all different kinds of music represented: The Smithereens, Coco Montoya, Green River Ordinance, Carbon Leaf, and Casey Abrams, to name just a few. My favorite nights are always opening night and the last night of the season. The energy and excitement for a brand new season are electric and you can feel it in the air! This year’s opening night performance by The Smithereens was simply invigorating. Rarely will you find the crowd at Levitt, perhaps 2,500 or more for that first show, just sitting around listening. Everyone is up and dancing and singing along — just as it should be at an outdoor performance center.

Highmark’s Involvement and the Levitt Pavilions Story

Highmark has been the proud presenting sponsor of the Levitt Summer Concert Series since its inception in 2011. Our involvement follows a long tradition of providing our communities with access to quality community programs and services, including supporting the performing arts. Levitt Pavilions SteelStacks is an excellent fit since their mission focuses on how concerts can bring people together and strengthen the spirit of community.

Photo by Jonathan Davies

Photo by Jonathan Davies

There is an interesting story behind Levitt Pavilions, a national nonprofit organization funded by the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation (MMLF). Mortimer Levitt started a business at the age of 20 selling custom-order shirts, and went on to build a men’s fashion empire that included upscale stores all over the country. Mortimer and Mimi married in 1948 and became philanthropists well-known for supporting youth music programs, performing arts organizations and educational institutions.

A lifelong lover of outdoor music who grew up in an era when many communities had Sunday afternoon concerts, Mortimer sold his company on his 90th birthday — with the idea of replacing his custom shirt shops with Levitt Pavilion venues. Since his death in 2005 at the age of 98, Mimi and daughter Elizabeth Levitt Hirsch have carried that vision forward.

Levitt Pavilions has an innovative venture philanthropy model that offers participating cities financial assistance and a support system to build and sustain their own Levitt Pavilion music venues. In addition to Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks, there are venues in Westport, Connecticut; Los Angeles and Pasadena, California; Memphis, Tennessee; and Arlington, Texas. The nonprofit’s goal is “to inspire the best of American city life by bringing people together in beautiful, open green spaces to enjoy free, live music. The need for more ‘third places’ — those informal gathering spots outside the realms of home and the workplace — has become increasingly clear in today’s world and guides the Levitt organization in its community-driven efforts.”

Is It Too Early to Start Thinking About Summer 2015?

Summer 2014 has been a fabulous season of quality, free outdoor entertainment presented by Highmark at Levitt Pavilion SteelStacks. I’m happy I had the opportunity to experience some of the world-renowned entertainment in this inviting, open and relaxing outdoor community setting. And I am already thinking about the possibilities for 2015.

If you’d like to stay updated on what’s happening, sign up for emails about SteelStacks (as well as other performing arts events) now while you’re thinking about it. The venue also offers volunteer opportunities.

I hope to see you at one of the shows next summer!