Without even reading the rest of this, take this one lesson away: go explore local quality performances.
Founded by Lehigh alumni, Godfrey Daniels and Touchstone Theater are on the outskirts of campus on East Fourth Street. And yet, acknowledgment of these small, yet delightful stages, is quite limited.
Students of Lehigh hail from across the world. But relatively speaking, a lot come from major metropolitan areas. We often hear frustrations over how desolate Bethlehem feels or how we’re “in the middle of nowhere.” In reality, we’re about 70 miles north of Philadelphia and 80 miles west of New York City. That’s far from being nowhere.
Of course, it’s worthwhile to find ways to explore the historic cities the Lehigh Valley has access to. But don’t think that Lehigh’s proximity to other areas is the only thing giving Bethlehem geographic worth. You’re favorite bands might only play arenas in the cities, but that doesn’t degrade the beauty of hyper local venues.
The Lehigh Valley’s positioning between these two cultural hubs has catalyzed a vibrant art scene that goes unappreciated by both students and residents alike.
Upperclassmen might be familiar with The FunHouse’s colorful signage on 5 E. Fourth St. But did you know that an even more quaint music setting is right next door? Godfrey Daniels, conveniently located at 7 E. Fourth St, is one of the most beloved listening rooms on the East Coast. And it’s been in business for almost 50 years. With low ticket prices and a BYOB policy, Godfrey Daniels invites us all to evenings of great performances.
From burgeoning artists to long-time residents, Godfrey Daniels makes a home for everyone. Whether it be heartfelt folk, jamming jazz or an open-mic night, there’s up-close action that everyone can relish in.
And at Godfrey Daniels, everyone is near the action. No seat is farther than 30 feet from the stage, resulting in an immersive and intimate experience found only in lil’ ol’ Bethlehem.
That intimate experience is enjoyed by a community of patrons from around the Lehigh Valley — usually one older than the college student crowd that ordinarily reads The Brown and White — but that community doesn’t include many, if any, current Lehigh students.
In an article by The Brown and White from 2017, a commenter wrote the following: “Godfrey’s is a gem. Take it from another ’73 grad. You don’t want to do your four-year term at Lehigh and not have gotten down to Godfrey Daniels at least once.”
Further up the block is Touchstone Theatre, where visual art galleries and live theatre bring people together from across Bethlehem’s community. Touchstone’s liveliness, proximity and low costs make us wonder why more students don’t frequent it.
The Lehigh bubble is real. There’s an uncertain caution when venturing too far away from the grounds marked L-E-H-I-G-H. And for whatever reason it may be, be it undeserved nervousness or just exploration anxiety, that’s a shame.
We’re not acquitting The Brown and White either. The aforementioned 2017 article was the last feature written entirely about Godfrey Daniels. Similarly, Touchstone Theater has received sparse coverage in the last several years. We, too, are to blame for a lack of awareness.
Of course, we’re grateful that Lehigh has the resources to support in-house arts programs at both Zoellner and Mountaintop. But, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest in our community. What if Lehigh hosted and partnered with stages, organizations and businesses off campus? We think that would be a great entryway for students to learn about the offerings of Bethlehem in a low-stakes environment.
Across the river, Moravian University does just that. For its Master of Fine Arts degree, students work in tandem with Touchstone Theatre for an experiential learning opportunity.
Similar efforts by Lehigh might eventually come. But in the meantime, we encourage you to work beyond your anxiety and explore these locations on your own.
You may find a new place to frequent with your friends, you may not, but either way, you’ll be supporting local businesses and becoming just a little more familiar with the place we all call home for four years.