Decorated with over 40 years’ worth of instruments, posters and signed photos, the Godfrey Daniels establishment, located at 7 E Fourth St., makes no effort to hide its long music history.
A typical night for the venue can consist of 10 to 15 people jamming with fellow musicians or a larger crowd attending a show for a featured musical act.
Founded in 1976, Godfrey Daniels is a nonprofit live music listening room open to people of all ages and musical skill sets.
The founder, Dave Fry, ’73, started to notice the music scene at Lehigh during his senior year.
“When I moved into town, I formed musical relationships with locals,” Fry said. “I was blown away by the folk acts. After graduating, I worked in construction and performed in my free time.”
He wanted the music scene to be accessible to all people, so with the help of the former bar next door, Lehigh Tavern, and the local community, he transformed an old doughnut shop into Godfrey Daniels.
“Before Godfrey Daniels opened, there were no listening rooms,” Fry said. “I wanted a place where I could sit and listen to great music, without distraction of a bar. I wanted to play for a listening audience.”
Godfrey Daniels didn’t have a liquor license, so it was hard for Fry to turn a profit. As a result, Fry decided to make the venue a nonprofit, which is eligible to receive grants.
Today, Godfrey Daniels faces competition from other venues, but Fry said he has faced competition before.
“Competition has evolved from video stores and bar rooms to ArtsQuest and Netflix,” Fry said.
Fry said he battles competition by hosting consistently high-quality performers, some of whom are well-known and can draw in large crowds. Tickets are priced around $20.
Some performers, like Jay Kreider, are loyal to the venue and have attended for years. He has been attending shows and jam sessions since the early 1980s.
“Godfrey Daniels has great resources,” Kreider said. “The older I get, the more important the context of the venue is. I prefer an intimate setting with great quality sound instead of a larger area.”
In addition to hosting concerts, Godfrey Daniels hosts jam sessions on Tuesdays and open mics on Sundays. These sessions are free, but donations are encouraged.
The open mic sessions won a Lehigh Valley Music Award for the “best open mic venue.”
Krieder said in addition to the regional and national acts that the venue brings in for shows, one big draw is the freedom that people have to jam with new and interesting people.
Godfrey Daniels is run by volunteers, including Fred Gilmartin, who has been volunteering for, donating to and preforming at the venue for over 12 years.
Gilmartin said Godfrey Daniels encourages performances from artists of different genres, such as bluegrass, folk, Irish, Cajun, blues and country. The venue has a policy against playing pop music.
“Folk music is the music of the folks, not pop music,” Gilmartin said.
Because Godfrey Daniels is a nonprofit organization, the venue interacts with other nonprofits in Bethlehem, including the local NPR and PBS stations. Gilmartin said NPR listeners often perform and attend jam sessions at Godfrey Daniels.
Gilmartin and Krieder both agreed there is a lack of Lehigh students attending Godfrey Daniels events.
Larrisa Miller, ’20, a resident of the music appreciation living community and a member Kappa Kappa Psi National Honorary Band Fraternity, said she has never heard of Godfrey Daniels.
“I would love to support local Bethlehem artists,” Miller said.
Miller attributes her lack of knowledge of Godfrey Daniels to her not venturing into Bethlehem enough, having too much work to do, and her general lack of knowledge of the South Side.
Gilmartin said he would like to see more Lehigh students attend the events, and he encouraged guests of all ages and musical skills to walk in and see what Godfrey Daniels has to offer.