Originals Only at WRiTERS’ NiGHT

Getting on a mic and performing in front of an audience takes guts. It’s even harder when the work you’re performing is your own, and maybe you’re releasing it into the world for the first time.

Musician pat mAcdonald gets it. That’s why he’s careful to make the atmosphere of WRiTERS’ NiGHT – an originals-only open mic he hosts at the Tambourine Lounge in Sturgeon Bay – a welcoming one.

“I think people need a lot of support, especially when they’re a new songwriter or they don’t write that much,” mAcdonald said.

The audiences at WRiTERS’ NiGHTs seem to understand this too; they tend to be quiet during performances, actively listening to whoever’s onstage, mAcdonald said.

That trend is due in part to the layout of the Tambourine Lounge, a repurposed interior-design showroom. The room is part of the multi-story, arts-incubation building – The Tambourine Collaboratory, or The Tambourine – which mAcdonald co-owns with his partner, melaniejane, and a group of other owners. 

The centerpiece of the intimate lounge is a small, elevated stage decked out in gold streamers, on which sits some of the equipment a WRiTERS’ NiGHT participant might need – mics, a drum kit, a keyboard. Additional instruments and gear are stored in rooms off of the stage.

“There’s nowhere to hide,” given the lounge’s small size, mAcdonald joked. And unlike many open-mic venues, it isn’t part of a bar or café, meaning everyone in attendance is there for the performances. Many of them – up to half some nights – come just to listen, settling down at the “bar” in front of the stage or the seating area to its side.

The uniquely attentive audiences at WRiTERS’ NiGHTs can rattle performers’ nerves, but mAcdonald is quick to quell any jitters.

“I feel that it’s my job to keep the mood from getting too serious,” mAcdonald said. “I provide comic relief when people feel nervous about playing. I take that part of the job seriously.”

In addition to the lounge, The Tambourine building houses studios rented out by artists. Labyrinths of rooms above and below the Tambourine Lounge are populated by longtime local musicians like Eric Hagen and Zach Vogel, as well as visual artists like Stephanie Trenchard and Chelsea Littman. Other rooms serve as video-recording studios, a sprawling music archive, “classrooms” for music lessons and space for the huge record collection of a local architect, among other things.

WRiTERS’ NiGHT started off in the lobby of the adjoining Holiday Music Motel, an LLC that collaborates with Steel Bridge Creative Foundation, formerly known as Citizens for Our Bridge. That non-profit runs the events that operate out of The Tambourine, including concerts and WRiTERS’ NiGHTs as well as the former songwriting gatherings, Steel Bridge Songfest and Dark Songs. From its start in the motel lobby, WRiTERS’ NiGHT migrated to a studio space upstairs, then to The Tambourine in 2014.

As an originals-only open mic, the focus of WRiTERS’ NiGHT is less on the performance and more on the writing itself – hence the name, mAcdonald said.

Singer-songwriters make up the bulk of WRiTERS’ NiGHT performers, but they’re supplemented by bands and spoken-word artists, including poets, storytellers and comics. Musicians typically play a two-song set; other performers get an equivalent time slot. 

During WRiTERS’ NiGHTs, mAcdonald can be found at the soundboard, tuned in to each performance.

“I love hearing people’s creations,” mAcdonald said. “Even if they’re crude, there’s always some kind of spark in there.”

He also records the sets. Currently, those recordings haven’t gone anywhere other than to performers who request them. But mAcdonald has thoughts of eventually combing through his archives to make a “best of” album or compile a particular performer’s work.

“Some regulars have played so many songs over the years that there’s probably a live-album’s-worth” of recordings, mAcdonald said.

Some of the talent onstage at the Tambourine Lounge only forayed into their medium because of WRiTERS’ NiGHT, according to mAcdonald. For example, a cover band that makes the rounds at Sturgeon Bay’s other open mics recently wrote their first original song because they wanted to perform there.

Another performer, former Door County Poet Laureate Ralph Murre, started off reading poetry at WRiTERS’ NiGHT. He was first accompanied by others, then he picked up the guitar to accompany himself. Still others started writing poetry with the intention of performing at the event, knowing they could get feedback, mAcdonald said. 

“I get to see people develop over years,” mAcdonald said. “Some people have really flourished.”

And supporting that development is an art of its own, with its own payoff.

“I decided I was going to be a fan of everyone,” mAcdonald said. “I was going to be supportive and part of their process of feeling good about playing. For some reason, that rubs off on me. I feel good being a part of it.” 

WRiTERS’ NiGHT takes place every Thursday at 7 pm. The Tambourine is located at 59 N. 2nd Ave. in Sturgeon Bay.


Want to get a taste of the music created at The Tambourine? Tune into Steel Bridge Radio, a continuously-running online playlist that includes songs written at The Tambourine’s many events through the years, like Steel Bridge Songfest and Dark Songs. 

The radio is currently online-only at, but organizer pAt mAcdonald has plans to form a terrestrial radio station that would broadcast the music to the Sturgeon Bay area. 

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