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Musikfest mugs: You love ’em, we ranked ’em, from ’84 to ’22

By now, some of you have your 2022 Musikfest mug. Bright yellow with a strong blue lid and handle, it’s a great-looking mug, courtesy of artist Bart Cooper.

Maybe you’ll have it in hand for beer refills and more beer refills every day you set foot this week on Musikfest’s grounds in Bethlehem. Or maybe you’ll switch it up some days, bringing a mug from years past to show off a little bit.

There’s no denying that Musikfest mugs are the definition of street cred at the Aug. 4-14 festival marking its 39th year — the older your mug is, the more ‘Fest experience you’ve got. And if you’re enough of a diehard that you’ve got a stout collection of the annual souvenir, you definitely have a favorite. And, maybe, a least favorite.

But which year’s mug is objectively the best? I don’t mean to offend, but there are right and wrong answers to that question. After launching with the yellow mug and pitcher for the first few years, Musikfest turned mug sales into an annual spectacle with a new design every year, and yeah, some worked better than others.

That’s definitely part of the fun for Musikfest mug collectors, but let me tell you: I did not sit down to rank every Musikfest mug design to have “fun.” I did it as a serious journalistic endeavor. My findings are scientific and revealing. I can’t promise that you’ll be happy with them, but the following list is the very official, be-all, end-all, objectively correct Musikfest Mug Ranking.

2002Bill Adams | The Express-Times

32. 2002 – Ah yes, we begin with the ever-present “got ___?” slogan that ran rampant through the late ’90s and early 2000s. I think this pretty clearly doesn’t work design-wise, but more importantly, do you think these people know that their faces are on a mug owned by probably hundreds, if not thousands of people?

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2006Bill Adams | The Express-Times

31. 2006 – I don’t have anything clever to say, I genuinely don’t know what’s going on here.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2005Bill Adams | The Express-Times

30. 2005 – It’s a pretty bare-bones design, and the art itself isn’t particularly impressive.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2003Bill Adams | The Express-Times

29. 2003 – I know that Bethlehem is the Christmas City, but Musikfest happens in August and this design feels like a winter wonderland to me.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2010Bill Adams | The Express-Times

28. 2010 – This one is a bit too busy in an extremely 2010 way. It might look better without the yellow silhouettes though. Probably a bit too late to change that.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2017Alyssa Passeggio | NJ Advance Media

27. 2017 – It’s the 2017 version of the 2010 mug, right?

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

1994Bill Adams | The Express-Times

26. 1994 – It definitely looks cool, but the flags of countries across the world are a little perplexing. Was there a large Swiss contingent at Musikfest that year? Representatives from Nigeria?

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

Transparent 3Bill Adams | The Express-Times

25. Translucent mugs – The post-yellow, pre-large design mugs get grouped together because, well, they’re basically the same. Some nice, minor designs — nothing special, but Rome wasn’t built in a day. This green one is the best of them.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

1999Bill Adams | The Express-Times

24. 1999 – See, a saxophone and trumpet with an acoustic guitar is a weird vibe, sonically, and so is this mug, visually. This band would not headline Musikfest, I’m sorry to say.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

1998Bill Adams | The Express-Times

23. 1998 – I like the piano key staircase idea that the design is going for (I think), but the colors don’t quite work for me. A darker maroon paired with black doesn’t put me in a festival mood.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2011Bill Adams | The Express-Times

22. 2011 – A general rule I’m discovering is that the artistic representation of human beings on a mug can really make or break its overall design. That being said, the other elements here create a pretty nice scene, and its colors go well with the bright orange lid and handle.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2004Bill Adams | The Express-Times

21. 2004 – The American flag motif is clean, and “United We Jam” works way better than 2002′s “Got Musik?” Not sure where I come down on the anthropomorphic instruments playing themselves.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2014Courtesy of Arts Quest

20. 2014 – This is a tough one, because I love the Americaplatz motif and coloring, but recall my stance on human beings. This guitar-playing fellow shouldn’t be the focal point of the mug. Also, I do n’t like what’s going on with his hair — is he mid-headbang?

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2018Alyssa Passeggio | NJ Advance Media

19. 2018 – Bethlehem is definitely not in the southwestern part of the United States even though the design is clearly inspired by that part of the country. So, I don’t love that nor the mug’s dominant color being white. However, consider this: despite those things, the design is pretty damn cool.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2012Bill Adams | The Express-Times

18. 2012 – This design feels very safe — it doesn’t necessarily pop, but there’s nothing bad about it. We also get the first known case of “mug-ception” with a Musikfest mug featured on the actual Musikfest mug. We are looking through the glass, folks.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

The OGBill Adams | The Express-Times

17. The OG – The pitcher is cooler than the mug itself, but we’re not ranking the very small number of Musikfest pitchers. Still, being the OG gets the first mug some bonus points for paving the way.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2021Alyssa Passeggio | NJ Advance Media

16. 2021 – The poppy-themed mug has a really refreshing design with gorgeous color, thought it does feel much more like the months of April or May than 10 or 11 days in August.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2016Courtesy of Arts Quest

15. 2016 – Like 2021, the mug has more of a springtime flavor than a late-summer tinge, though while it might not be the best representation of Musikfest, it might have the best artistry of all mugs.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2007Bill Adams | The Express-Times

14. 2007 – There is indeed one world, and there are indeed many rhythms, so factually, this one is on the money. Superimposing the earth onto the head of a conga drum certainly helps.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2009Bill Adams | The Express-Times

13. 2009 – Recreating the host city’s adopted star logo with a bunch of electric guitars is pretty awesome. You can’t tell me otherwise.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2013Bill Adams | The Express-Times

12. 2013 – This year is an inflection point with the mugs thanks to the introduction of Musikfest’s current logo, which automatically pops but also requires much more attention from the designs to make it fit seamlessly into the scene. Here, paired with the first appearance of the well-designed owl, it does. It’s a good start to a new era.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2020Alyssa Passeggio | NJ Advance Media

11. 2020 – Pour one out, no pun intended, for the (probably) least-used mug in Musikfest history given the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the festival into a virtual format. That doesn’t mean the design isn’t good, though. More mugs should lean into being as extremely weird as this one and include tentacles. And I just know this six-armed man sounds like Sam Elliott.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

1993Bill Adams | The Express-Times

10. 1993 – Pretty plain, sure, but superior to the translucent mugs, and therefore setting the future of Musikfest mugs on the right path. Plus, the small but eye-catching design is actually really cool.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

1997Bill Adams | The Express-Times

9. 1997 – This design is the most comparable to our current mug designs — a vast panorama rather than a more focused central design like the couple years prior to ’97. And it succeeds, with its bright colors and bold shapes. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good blue and yellow combo.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2022Courtesy of Arts Quest

8. 2022 – Speaking of blue and yellow, the vibrance of the yellow-dominant design and the blue handle and lid together are simply magic. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that both the father-daughter duo and SteelStacks are exquisitely designed.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

nineteen ninety sixBill Adams | The Express-Times

7. 1996 – I love the teal handle on this one. To be succinct: the design is extremely ’90s, but I mean that in the best of ways.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2000Bill Adams | The Express-Times

6. 2000 – Now this is a band I would listen to. These colorful, faceless individuals added a piano and an upright bass to the sax, trumpet and guitar, and I’m all in. Super fun abstract design. These guys for sure tore up Festplatz back in their day.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2019Alyssa Passeggio | NJ Advance Media

5. 2019 – Maybe it’s not the Musikfestiest design out there, with only a few music notes and festival tents included. But the Bethlehem Steel workers building the star out of steel beams is arguably the most creative and well-executed aspects of a mug design.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2008Bill Adams | The Express-Times

4. 2008 – The 25th anniversary mug is a winner. The electric green works as a backdrop, and the trumpeter silhouette is creatively and cleanly drawn. Sure, it’s simple, but these are my rankings, and I think it’s beautiful.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2001Bill Adams | The Express-Times

3. 2001 – I feel like I threw some unfair shade towards acoustic guitars earlier, so let me make it up to the instrument here. No pun intended, this design rocks. A mostly black design lets the flashier colors on the guitar really pop. Gorgeous stuff, really. This is the only design I would also consider getting tattooed on my forehead.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

nineteen ninety fiveBill Adams | The Express-Times

2. 1995 – We’re nearly at the end of our list, but there’s still some time to get funky. I love this bright, psychedelic design. This year actually kicked off a run of good mug designs (save for ’98 and ’99, sorry), but this one is the best of them. It’s so good, in fact, that it wouldn’t be beat until two decades later.

2022 Musikfest Mug Ranking

2015Courtesy of Arts Quest

1. 2015 – Winner winner, Chick’n Cone dinner. This is the platonic ideal of a Musikfest mug. The design has got some real pep with a whole palette of colors that work seamlessly together. It maximizes the still relatively new (at that point) logo by building around it rather than trying to fit it into an unrelated design, and there are still nice Bethlehem affectations like the star and SteelStacks skyline. Looking at this must be what hearing Mozart in concert felt like—on the Wind Creek Steel Stage for good measure. I want to go where this sign is pointing. Just perfect.

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Connor Lagore may be reached at clagore@njadvancemedia.com.

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