Is Jeff Parks the Lehigh Valley’s Steve Jobs?

No…Jeff does not have a closet filled with black turtlenecks…the similarities are at a different level. In fact, it is more about perception and the strong reactions they generate, from both fans and critics, than about the men themselves.

Both men tend to have polarizing effects on people. There are lots of fan-boys and lots of haters, and seemingly few in between. I say seemingly because I think there are actually as many if not more who lie somewhere between fan-boy and hater, but they just tend not to be as vocal.

Both men have turned their vision into hugely successful products and both have remained synonymous with their brand. You don’t become one with your brand without being, to some extent, a control freak. Take the criticism that Apple receives for their tightly regulated iPhone App process, the whole no Flash thing, heck even the fact that you can’t just pop out the iPhone battery, and compare that with complaints about food and beverage tickets at Musikfest, what some believe was the rerouting of Musikfest over the years away from Joe’s Tavern and Ripper’s to reduce non-fest beer sales, and conspiracy theories that Jeff Parks was behind the sudden enforcement of open container laws at the beginning of the 2010 Musikfest, also to prevent non-fest beer sales.

As the center of their brands, the center of their respective universes, it is also hard to imagine their organizations without them. Critics can be found in the comments sections of local on-line newspapers calling for Jeff Parks to step down from Musikfest, that somehow the organization he built from his vision would be better without him. While I may not agree 100% of the time with the changes that Parks makes with Musikfest, I couldn’t imagine it without him behind it. The guy knows what he is doing but you will never please all the people all of the time. I see the three most probable possibilities with someone else at the helm as: 1) just about status quo (no changes, no evolution, someone takes over and they just follow the current recipe, an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude) 2) a gated festival 3) an attempt to “fix” the festival, based on critical feedback resulting in lower food and beverage tickets, an attempt to get “more relevant artists” and soon after finding that those high food and beverage tickets are high for a reason and the whole thing going under in a year or two.

We all know that Steve Jobs is stepping back from Apple. He remains as Chairman but he has health issues and eventually there will be an Apple without him at all. What will that look like? I think the possibilities are similar to Musikfest without Parks: 1) reduced innovation due to “following the recipe” 2) a new culture that is more about profit than product or 3) an attempt to “fix” things based on critics only to find that there was a method to his madness.

Of course, the hope for either would be for the organizations to continue the same vision as their founders, similar to Disney after Walt Disney died. Unfortunately while Disney shows us this is a forth possibility it is by no means automatic and is easily the most difficult outcome to achieve.

Apple has its fan-boys and its haters, as does Musikfest. Apple fan-boys see no faults, get every new product the day it comes out-camping overnight even though they can buy it on day 2 with no line and for hundreds of dollars less if they wait 60 days. They have a retort for every critic. If Steve says they should hold the phone differently, they do. They don’t jailbreak. Similarly, Musikfest fan-boys have no patience for beer bootleggers, plan their days actually around performances, performances they are eternally grateful to see for “free” and they totally get that their beer and food purchases subsidize them. Therefore, all of their food and beer purchases are with tickets and from tents. They do their Christmas shopping in Handwerkplatz and the Merchandise tent. They know the platzes by name, they use the shuttles, and if they are able to go every day, they do. Any given day of the year they know how many days there are to Musikfest. The fan-boy pre-orders both the non-light up and light up Musikfest mug (one for day, one for night) and they have a shrine of every Musikfest mug (even the ones before they were insulated with caps) in their basement. They correct you when you call “Cast in Bronze” the “Bell-Guy.”

Apple also has “one-product fans” who are not fans of the entire brand but they have an Apple product they just can’t live without. Many are PC users with an iPhone (like myself). They don’t like all the Apple “rules” but they play along for the most part because the product is so much better than anything else out there. Musikfest has similar non-fan-boy fans. They aren’t blind to the faults and they will criticize. Maybe it’s the price of tickets, maybe it’s the teenagers on Main Street, maybe they think all the main stage acts are washed up or the beer selection stinks. Whatever the complaints, there is still a product at Musikfest they cannot resist and they go. They may buy some, most, or all of their beer at local bars instead of with tickets but they will get enough tickets for a Hogar Crea shish kabob and an Aw Shucks corn, a Theo’s Gyro, and a taco from Take a Taco or the Holy Infancy Melting Pot. They stock up on salsa from the Salsa Guy too. They attend several days and go more for the hanging out, less for the music. They may have a few shows they know they want to check out, but often they are just stumbling on acts. The one product fan has a recent Musikfest mug, it may even be the current year. They call “Cast in Bronze” the “Bell Guy.”

Then there are the jailbreakers. They love the product but not the rules. They laugh when you say you can’t run Flash on the iPhone or that you have to pay extra to tether. At Musikfest the jailbreakers bring their own beer, in strollers, in cars parked near by. They know the secret free parking spots or they live close enough to walk. Many have grown up with Musikfest in their backyards and know all the tricks. Others are newbies who think they are hot shots and get busted. All pride themselves on working the system. Most get that the free shows are supported by food and beverage tickets but also know that Musikfest has already factored their jail breaking ways into the equation, let the “suckers” pay for it. Some jailbreakers are there for the music, many are there for the ability to walk around with a beer on the street. The jailbreaker has an old Musikfest mug from 2002 that his buddy left at his house. He may have drilled a hole in the lining. He calls “Cast in Bronze” the “The Creepy Bell Guy” if he knows who he is at all.

Then we have the haters. Apple haters won’t go within 100 ft of an Apple store. They have lost friends when they switched from PC/Blackberry/Android to Apple. They write posts called “Steve Jobs Exposed as a Terrorist” Similarly, Musikfest haters troll the local newspaper websites and blog for every Musikfest article ever written and complain about trash in their yards, drunks peeing in their bushes, the price of beer, conspiracy theories about Jeff Parks spending tax payers money or being in the pocket of the Liquor Control Board They schedule vacations the week of Musikfest, but not to attend-to get the hell out of Dodge. I think some haters actually secretly want to enjoy Musikfest but have been so outspoken about it they have to save face and not go. I imagine them attending secretly, in disguise. Haters don’t own a Musikfest mug, or they have one they found one at a yard sale and wrote something obscene on it with a Sharpie. They’ll swear up and down they don’t know who “The Bell Guy” is.

So there you have it. Jeff Parks is the Lehigh Valley’s Steve Jobs and therefore Musikfest is our Apple.

Where are you in the mix? Honestly I’m a bit of each of the above. Fanboy in that I take vacation every year and go almost every day, know all the platzes, buy my mugs early (no blinky ones) and I’m an Artsquest member. One Product fan in that I don’t buy all my beer in tents, I complain about the main stage acts some years (not this year) and I tend to stroll more than plan. I’m also a bit of a jailbreaker, but I won’t get into that here ;). I’m not really a hater, but I will occasionally partake in weaving a conspiracy theory or two.

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5 responses to “Is Jeff Parks the Lehigh Valley’s Steve Jobs?

  1. I live in Bethlehem and I’ve been to every Musikfest. But seriously, who is The Bell Guy / Cast in Bronze? No I’m serious I have no idea what you’re talking about. What’s wrong with me.

  2. I’m a little bit of all of the above. I have bought a blinky mug, but I am not an ArtsQuest member. I have beat the system and bought into it through the years. I complain and then revel in it.

    What I don’t like is how Musikfest/ArtsQuest is equated with Jeff Parks, like it’s “his” organization.
    I could imagine ArtsQuest without him someday, as it will have to be someday. I’d like to think that the board and the staff are smart enough to have a succession plan so that the whole thing doesn’t go bust when Parks decides to take a bow, and I hope I’m not overestimating them.

    • I think succession plans only go so far when you have someone that closely intertwined. Again, not impossible, but it takes more effort to grow an organization like that without changing it’s heart (option 2) or letting it go stagnant in an effort to preserve the recipe (option 1). And who knows, maybe I’d like the new regime even more. Maybe they’d take option three but instead of it being a bust it would be a huge success.

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