For some it’s a homecoming, for others it’s a new home. They come from all across the country, and beyond. The Steel Bridge Songfest, and the accompanying Construction Zone songwriting project, brings artists from all over to Sturgeon Bay to rock the city for a solid week each June.
Begun by pat mAcdonald and sister Christie Webber to raise awareness and money to preserve the old Michigan Street Bridge, the festival has morphed into a point of pride for an artistic peninsula. That pride is displayed most prominently by the hundreds who volunteer to make it happen.
“It takes more than 300 volunteers to produce the festival,” says mAcdonald. “We are so thankful to the volunteers. Steel Bridge Songfest demonstrates social responsibility at work. It is organized by the community to benefit the community.”
The festival continues to raise money for the long term maintenance of the bridge, but has now become a regional draw filling hotel rooms, venues, and restaurants throughout the city and county.
Highlighted here are a few of the artists who will be making appearances throughout the festival:
Check out: “Kiss on Both Eyelids”
Worth Noting: Geri X was recently named best singer/songwriter in Tampa Bay for the third straight year.
Hometown: Pleven, Bulgaria, but moved to Florida in 2001.
Why Steel Bridge? “pat mAcdonald emailed me about being a part of it two years ago. It was absolutely the most awakening and intellectually stimulating experiences of my career. I tell people from all over the country about SBSF. The songwriters are all so talented it humbles you and motivates you reach higher in your career.”
Sounds like: Part folk, part indie rock and part Americana. “Whatever comes out of my brain, it comes out the way it does. I can’t even begin to try and sound like anything I want to sound like, I can’t force the muse.”
Influences: Lately, a lot of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. Some Radiohead, some Sunny Day Real Estate.
Summer plans: GeriX returns to the state July 1 to play the US Cellular Stage at Summerfest in Milwaukee.
Check out: McMurtry’s scathing “We Can’t Make it Here.” The anti-war critique was released as a free download in 2004, and fan -made videos have been viewed on Youtube over 250,000 times since.
Hometown: McMurtry hails from Northern Virginia but calls Austin, TX home today.
Why Steel Bridge? “pat mAcDonald opened up for us at a couple shows, and we were really impressed with him. He’s been asking me to come up and play for a couple years, and I could finally fit it in so I’m gonna fly up and do it solo.”
Sounds like: Lou Reed singing Bruce Springsteen songs in an authentic country vein. “Kind of like pat, actually,” McMurtry said, “but not quite as extreme. He’s out there on that stomp box, which he plays really well, and I’m not there yet.”
On playing “acoustic” sets: I don’t try to call it acoustic, because once you put a mic in front of the guitar, you’re not hearing just the guitar anymore, and it’s not acoustic, but an amplified representation of the guitar.”
Influences: Kris Kristofferson, Crazy Horse and The Band.
Summer plans: McMurtry is working on mixing audio for a live DVD filmed at the Paradiso in Amsterdam last February.
Worth Nothing: Wiedlin co-founded the Go-Gos, the first all-girl group to achieve huge popularity and write their own songs and play their own instruments.
Hometown: Oconomowoc, but now lives in Madison.
Why Steel Bridge? Wiedlin returns to Steel Bridge Songfest for the third year, bringing her talents to the Construction Zone as well. She was with founder pat mAcdonald when the inspiration for the songwriter’s “camp” hit.
“I met pat mAcdonald at a songwriter’s retreat created by Miles Copeland,” she says. “It was at this 400-year-old castle in France, and it was incredible.”
Sounds like: Solo stuff is similar to the GoGos. “I love party music – play sound, rock out, not super serious.”
Influences: The Buzzcocks. They play fast, noisy music that was still really melodic, and that was the goal of the GoGos.
Summer plans: A self-described sci-fi geek, Wiedlen is working on Lady Robotik, a comic book. She and boyfriend Travis Kasperbauer also produced an upcoming album from Whore Du Jour, another band appearing at Steel Bridge, and Wiedlin is finishing work on a track for a Velvet Underground tribute album.
Hometown: Beloit, Wisconsin, but now lives in West Hollywood.
Worth Noting: Ingram spent 2008 on the road as Sheryl Crow’s percussionist, but has played with Eric Clapton, Jackson Browne, Tracy Chapman, Crowded House, and Art Garfunkel.
Why Steel Bridge? “I’ve had a longstanding invite from pat mAcdonald and after battling cancer for a couple years, this is the first year I’ve been able to fit it in. I’ve had a lot of friends who’ve done it and loved it and I’m really excited to make it back up there.”
Sounds Like: Ingram calls himself a “groove-oriented drummer and percussionist specializing in accompanying singer/songwriters.”
Influences: “Clyde Stublbefied took me under his wing in Madison when I was 18. He’s a legend.”
Other shows: Ingram will be playing several shows in the area after Steel Bridge, including June 16 at the Sister Bay Bowl with Bobby Bryan and Chris Aaron and shows in Waupaca and Neenah to follow.