Gift Horse Presents!: Kicking Up the Door County Music Scene

It begins like this – a song comes on the jukebox at the Sister Bay Bowl, or Bayside, or the Red Room in Sturgeon Bay. The conversation begins – I saw them in Milwaukee, or Madison, or Chicago. They were great live. One of the best shows I’ve seen.

And then, like clockwork, someone will always ask – Wouldn’t it be great if they came to Door County? The others in the group nod wistfully, and some laugh, knowing that it will probably never happen. Door County is just too small.

Recently, four local companies have come together to create Gift Horse Presents!, a collaborative effort for live concert production based in Door County. The companies – AdMack Design, FM 106.9 The Lodge, Peapod Public Relations and Marketing, and the Peninsula Pulse – have a goal of forming long-term relationships with national touring acts and agencies and promote quality music events on the Door Peninsula. To these four companies, Door County has the potential to be anything but small in the world of live music programming.

“When Dave (Eliot) and I began talking about it, he was wanting to do more of what the Pulse started off doing – promoting live music – but wanted to do it on a larger level,” Adam Mackintosh, owner of AdMack Designs, said. “It made sense to me, because I had started a while ago, which is all about promoting the scene here – posting information on local bands, venues, and concert schedules. We both wanted to move live music forward in the county.” Mackintosh made his way to the peninsula from Portland, Oregon after coming here initially to play Steel Bridge Songfest in 2005. He fell for the area right away, specifically the haven it created for artists of all types.

Mackintosh started Dante’s, a music club in Portland, in 2000, and the acts he booked there earned it a reputation for being one of the city’s best live music venues. Dave Eliot knew that Mackintosh was the ideal one to move the project forward. “I had known plenty of people that booked shows in Door County, but not anyone with Adam’s experience in terms of large-scale acts,” Eliot said. “At first he planned to be more of a consultant, but the more we spoke about it, the more we felt there was a real opportunity here.”

Mike and Carrie Mesic, owners of the new FM 106.9 The Lodge radio station in Door County, and Melissa Ripp, owner of the creative services firm Peapod Public Relations and Marketing, were quickly called in to be a part of the endeavor. “I knew a time was going to come when I could put all of this energy to use,” Ripp laughs, talking about her love for live music and her hope for the Door County music scene. “There have been significant strides made in the past few years – more venues in the county are consistently booking live music of all types. I think all of us want to grow that scene. There is no reason why more regional and national acts can’t play a venue in Door County – it’s a beautiful spot, and there’s a captive audience.” Mike and Carrie Mesic agree, saying, “Getting a wider variety of acts here is what appealed to us. There’s so much good stuff out there.”

Even though the company was formally created in May 2009, Gift Horse is already setting its sights on its first effort – a large-scale Songwriter Showcase at the Door Community Auditorium on Thursday, June 16. Mackintosh and others conceived of the Songwriter Showcase in 2007 in an effort to promote original music composition among amateur and seasoned musicians (see accompanying article). The Showcase at the DCA will be different than the previous showcases at other venues, focusing on nationally touring act Chris Simmons with supporting local acts.

“The concert at the auditorium is a starting point, and the presence that Gift Horse will have in marketing strength alone is huge,” says Eliot. Eventually the group plans to branch out with helping live music venues on the peninsula with their bookings as well as the promotion for the shows through Web, print, and radio presence. And while the owners of Gift Horse realize Door County is a smaller area, they all agree that it won’t stop them from trying to bring big names to the peninsula.

“We’ve been kicking around bands from a lot of genres,” says Mike Mesic. “There’s no reason that Door County couldn’t be a stop on some of these artists’ tour schedules.”

All companies agree that it’s a love for music – and a love for the place in which they all choose to live – that makes the idea of Gift Horse even more viable. “We all love live music, and we all want to see it grow in Door County,” says Carrie Mesic. “With this effort, it doesn’t seem like it’s out of reach.”

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