by Maddy Schierl, [email protected]
Although a bridge might seem to be an unlikely inspiration for an annual music festival, the Steel Bridge Songfest considers Sturgeon Bay’s historic Michigan Street Bridge to be a “great symbol of strength and joining together.” In fact, the bridge has inspired collaboration and creativity since the 1990s, when a grassroots group called Save Our Bridge (SOB) formed with the goal of saving the bridge from demolition. In 2007, the same spirit that created SOB served as a catalyst for the first annual Steel Bridge Songfest.
This year, the Songfest will take place at Third Avenue Playhouse (TAP) on June 14 and 15, 7:30 pm. For five days prior to the Songfest performances, talented writers from around the country will participate in an immersive songwriting experience called the Construction Zone, hosted by Sturgeon Bay’s Holiday Music Motel. Each night, writers will be sorted into groups of three through a giant game of spin-the-bottle.
Then, in a process described by co-founder pat mAcdonald as “more of an art experiment” than a workshop, the random groups of writers will collaborate to write original music. In the SOB tradition, artists are encouraged to draw inspiration from the bridge that this festival aspires to make “the most sung-about bridge in the world.”
Finally, after writing, recording and producing their newly created songs, the artists will perform them live at TAP for the first time – shows that, for the artists and audience alike, are electrifying and unlike any other festival experience. “The audience is part of the artistic process,” said melaniejane, a key Steel Bridge organizer since 2007. “During the TAP shows, the process is still in motion.”
The Steel Bridge Songfest experience is so compelling that Cathy Grier – a Steel Bridge Songfest veteran and one of this year’s slated artists – moved from New York City to Door County specifically to be a part of the festival and the participating artistic community. She described the Steel Bridge Songfest as “one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever heard about or participated in. We write, and then we record, and then we perform the songs live, that’s what makes it so unique to me.”
Thirty-four artists are on board for this year’s Songfest. From Lillie Lemon’s indie electro-pop to Sam Lyons’ blend of pop, R&B and country, the sounds and styles of this year’s artists are diverse and innovative. Established musicians such as “percussionist extraordinaire” Wally Ingram work with up-and-coming artists such as Midwestern Americana singer-songwriter Genevieve Heyward.
Although all of the artists are top-notch talents, mAcdonald emphasizes the importance of their ability to collaborate. “It’s not just about talent,” he said. “It’s also about people’s ability to play well with others. The key is to be playful, to not take yourself too seriously.”
According to Grier, “You never know what you’re going to get when you’re dealing with raw creativity.” At Steel Bridge Songfest, you may not know exactly what you’re going to get, but that’s all part of the fun – and it will all be good.
Visit steelbridgesongfest.org to learn more and purchase tickets.