I could quite possibly have set the record for the level of excitement leading up to a Musikfest show. Since The Avett Brothers were announced as a festival headliner last November, I’ve been (not so) quietly counting down the days, singing along to songs, and creating a million possible set lists in my mind.

I’ve been lucky enough to catch performances from brothers Scott & Seth Avett a handful of times over the last few years, and they never disappoint.

Last night’s performance at Musikfest absolutely lived up to all the expectations that I had.

[caption id="attachment_20285" align="alignright" width="320"]Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds[/caption]

Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds made a return trip to Bethlehem to open the show. Lead singer Arliegh Kincheloe captured the audience with her soulful, bluesy voice. Her band backs up that powerful voice with horns, guitars, and an awesome harmonica performance.

The group performed original music, as well as a funky cover of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel,” which really got the crowd dancing.

After a quick intermission, the stage was set for the main act.

One by one, the band took the stage strumming along to “Satan Pulls the Strings.” From there, they moved into two of their biggest hits, “Another is Waiting” and “Live and Die.” The blast furnaces of the Steelstacks made a gorgeous backdrop behind the band.

The set list included 24 toe-tapping songs that delighted new and old Avett fans alike. There was a wonderful balance of their most popular songs, but just the right amount of deeper cuts sprinkled in.

Standouts included “Head Full of Down, Road Full of Promise,” “Slight Figure of Speech,” “Shame,” and “Kick Drum Heart.”

Midway through the set, the band quieted down with Seth & Scott Avett huddling around a single mic for “A Father’s First Spring.” Their voices blend seamlessly together to create beautiful harmony. Seth then took the stage solo for “In the Curve,” with shouts from the crowd as he sang about reaching the end of his bottle of bourbon.

The Avett Brothers presented a bit of new work with “Spell of Ambition,” thanking the audience for letting them share it with the Bethlehem crowd.

The intensity of this fanbase showed during the encore performance of “I And Love And You.” Now, if you’ve been to an Avett show before, you know that everyone joins in during the chorus to sing: three words that became hard to say, I and love and you. With each of the words, you count off a finger in the air.

The energy throughout the song built to the closing chorus, where the line is repeated three times. Twice with Scott Avett leading, and the final with just the crowd singing along. There’s no better feeling that being surrounded by a crowd of true music fans, singing out the lyrics loud enough to fill the venue.

Just after 11 p.m., the band said farewell with a rendition of "Goodnight, Sweetheart," a very fitting way to close a brilliant show.

Musikfest continues through Sunday, August 10 with hundreds of free performances over numerous stages. Upcoming Sands Steel Stage performances include Weezer on August 9 and sold-out festival closer Keith Urban on August 10. Visit the Musikfest website to order your tickets online, or call the box office at 610-332-3378.

[gallery ids="20282,20283,20284,20285,20278,20279,20280,20281,20286,20287"]