A Modest Musician: Elliot Goettelman Contributes to Door County’s Music Scene

On any given week, throughout the year, it’s not difficult to find Elliot Goettelman on a stage near you – he hosts an open mic at Mojo Rosa’s on Saturdays, another at Glas the first Friday of every month; he performs as a part of The Bent Elbows at The Corner Café on Sunday mornings; rocks out with The Offseason at bars throughout the county; and regularly participates in The Holiday Music Motel’s songwriting events. The newlywed and small business owner even dabbles in some stage acting.

Elliot Goettelman (second from right) performs with fellow musicians (left to right) melaniejane, Chris Aaron, and pat mAcdonald at Poh’s Open Jam in Sturgeon Bay. Photo by Len Villano.

“Door County’s a small place,” says Goettelman. “It’s nice to do little things to stir it up.”

Goettelman, the owner of Green Door Drafting & Design by day, turns to music in his spare time – practicing his instrument of choice – the guitar, listening to a wide range of music, attending concerts, writing songs, and performing, while encouraging others to do the same during his regular open mics.

For all his involvement in Door County’s music scene, it’s hard to believe the self-taught musician didn’t become serious about playing music until college.

“My parents always listened to good music: The Beatles, Steely Dan,” recalls Goettelman. “My mom and I had a huge love affair with Frank Sinatra. Music was always around.” His parents even forced the reluctant Goettelman to attend a Pink Floyd concert in 1994. “I was in middle school, it was Fourth of July. I was like, ‘I don’t want to go!’” laughs Goettelman. “And my mom was like, ‘No! You are going to see this!’ So I was like, ‘Fine!’” He drove down to the concert with his friend Rob Gay, who currently performs with Goettelman in The Offseason. “Rob wanted to be a rock star and it brought us a closer together. That show blew my mind!”

Once in high school, Goettelman says he began to appreciate “good music.” “I went through all the popular stuff from the ‘60s and ‘70s, discovered Summerfest, then Green Day exploded. I got to see the last Grateful Dead show by chance!” Attending that show was “monumental,” says Goettelman. “I fell in love with all their music, went through the whole catalog and then I really started devouring music like it was food.”

Goettelman also attended a slew of local shows. “I have memories of Camp David – great shows there! There were great shows at [Door Community Auditorium]. I got to see Michael Hedges there, Ladysmith Black Mambazo,” recalls Goettelman. “Woody Mankowski used to get up on the bar at The Bayside and play clarinet or whatever it was he was playing.”

Goettelman also has fond memories of watching local musicians perform, especially The Johnsons. “That was Bob Starr, Jim Kniffer, Ben Larsen, Michael Raye – all friends of my family,” he explains. “They would play at parks and festivals. Ben Larsen and Bob Starr are a big reason I wanted to play music.”

Sports distracted Goettelman from seriously playing music during high school, though he did pick up a guitar at a girlfriend’s house. “I looked at a chord book. I just figured out how to go through the chords and move my fingers and I was like, ‘Oh, I can do this,’” he explains. “The first song I ever figured out to play was ‘Helplessly Hoping’ by Crosby, Stills & Nash.”

While attending college at Madison Area Technical College, most of Goettelman’s friends enjoyed playing video games and watching sports, but he focused on teaching himself to play guitar. “I never performed back then. I was figuring out [how to play] online or sitting down and listening to a song and figuring it out myself.”

Goettelman performs with longtime friend Rob Gay (on drums) at Husby’s in Sister Bay. Photo by Len Villano.

When he returned to Door County after college, he and Gay began playing together. Goettelman attended local shows and open mics, primarily those hosted by Zach Vogel.

“Zach was doing an open mic at The Nautical and I decided it was time to go and try it out,” recalls Goettelman. “Open mics are really good for people who are really bad at their craft and want to get better. I think about five years ago when I used to play open mics at The Nautical or The Red Room, I was horrible.”

When Joshua Gregory – a lifelong friend of Goettelman’s who currently performs with him in The Bent Elbows and The Offseason – returned to the county after living in Madison, he started an open mic at The Hitching Post. “I would go there Wednesday nights and help him get people up and down.”

Once Vogel departed the county (he has since returned), Goettelman says, “There was this void of open mics and I thought, ‘Alright, let’s do a good open mic, make it available to all ages, and make it kind of a show.’”

Goettelman and Gregory approached Glas in Sturgeon Bay and now host a successful open mic the first Friday of every month. “We have people drive up from Green Bay and play,” says Goettelman. “We make is super comfortable, nobody is judging anybody.”

Goettelman begins his open mics by playing a small set himself or whoever he is hosting with – sometimes Josh Gregory, Rob Gay, Nick Hoover, John Hvezda, or Ryan Thompson. He then opens the microphone up. “We get performers that are all different levels,” he says. “We try to be really good supporters and coaches.”

During his open mics, and performances with The Bent Elbows or The Offseason, Goettelman also tries to incorporate original music. “I’ve always been more of a performer. I picked up guitar because I wanted to play my favorite song,” he says, “But I really do believe anyone who wants to play music should write songs, because you get better at it; every song you write, you get a little bit better.”

Goettelman is challenged and satisfied creatively and musically in Door County. “I thought about getting out there and touring, not for me,” he says. “I’d rather be in a good bar band and have fun a few times a month, and just be modest about it.”

Check out our Events Calendar to catch one of Goettelman’s open mics and performances throughout Door County.