Gearing up for Steel Bridge: Festival has its issues, but we err when we lose sight of its benefits

Steel Bridge Songfest doesn’t officially start until Thursday night, but artists have already begun to arrive for the Construction Zone songwriting workshop. While most of the musicians coming to Sturgeon Bay this year are not marquee names, their music deserves our attention and support.

I’ll admit that when I started doing interviews for our Steel Bridge previews a couple months ago, I didn’t recognize many of the names. But I’ve been stunned by the depth, variety, and quality of their music. Geri X is fantastic, and James McMurtry is stunning – a mix of Steve Earle, Springsteen, and Waylon Jennings.

The festival gets a bum rap from many in the city and county, and the organizers themselves will tell you they can do better, and they are improving communication and organization. But regardless of any shortcomings, at the end of the day Steel Bridge Songfest is a plus for Door County tourism and for the music lovers who live here.

The festival brings thousands of visitors to the peninsula, filling hotel rooms, bars, and restaurants in the city. These are visitors of a different brand. For one week at least, streets fill with young faces in an increasingly aging county, bringing a new niche to fill a massive gap in our customer base.

Talking to the musicians themselves, from Jane Wiedlin to Kim Manning to Delaney Davidson, it’s clear we’re winning something else with this festival as well. These artists become great Door County ambassadors. They love this community, they love our environment, and they love this festival. They go home and spread the word to other musicians and friends, building our reputation beyond baby boomers and retirees.

Yes, Steel Bridge has its problems, as does Fall Fest, Winter Games, and the 4th of July Parades. But these all help bring people here, and add to the breadth of the Door County experience. It’s easy to focus on what’s wrong with each of these events, and things can certainly be improved in each, but we shouldn’t lose sight of the benefits they bring as we work to fix the problems.

The story of Door County would be pretty dull if it were just galleries, just fine dining, just the landscape, just lighthouses, just nightlife, or just music. But all of these together make for a great read, and a great experience. Why not embrace them all?