If you want to better understand Door County’s music scene, whether you’re new in town or a beginner musician, local folk singer-songwriter Jeanne Kuhns has advice for you: go to an open mic.
“This community of musicians has many layers,” said Kuhns, who hosts a weekly open mic at Sturgeon Bay café, The Gnoshery. “There’s a lot of people just starting out, all the way up to professional musicians. The thing that’s neat about this community is that there’s a mix of these people at things like open mics.”
In Sturgeon Bay, four venues – Waterfront Mary’s, Tambourine Lounge, Kitty O’Reillys and The Gnoshery – host open mics regularly throughout the winter. Here’s a look at each of them from the people who know them best.
Waterfront Mary’s Open Mic
Where: Waterfront Mary’s, 3662 N. Duluth Ave.
When: Tuesdays at 9 pm
The host: In the past, this open mic has been hosted by Zach Vogel of Zach V Entertainment and Jamey Clark of local rock band Dirty Deuce, said Kiley Johnson of Waterfront Mary’s. Now, it’s headed by Adam Haste of the Adam Haste Band, who plays keys and guitar.
The musicians: In the days of the Steel Bridge Songfest, a music festival formerly organized by pat mAcdonald of Sturgeon Bay’s Tambourine Lounge, open-mic nights at Waterfront Mary’s often hosted groove sessions by musicians who were in the area for the festival, Johnson said. Now, local music-makers like Dirty Deuce and Steel Crossing are some of the venue’s mainstays.
Where: Tambourine Lounge, 59 N. 2nd Ave.
When: Thursdays at 7 pm
The host: pat mAcdonald, who co-founded the Tambourine Lounge as well as the Holiday Music Motel next door, hosts WRiTERS NiGHT, an originals-only open-mic night.
Kitty O’Reillys Open Mic
Where: Kitty O’Reillys Irish Pub, 59 E Oak St.
When: 6 pm on Fridays
The hosts: Local four-piece band Steel Crossing has been hosting Kitty’s open-mic nights since December, said Bill Gironda, who sings and plays guitar for the band.
Participants are provided with a PA system and backline, plus a full bands’ worth of instrumentation, including drums, guitars and bass. This makes for busy nights for band members – but it’s worth it for Gironda.
“I really love it because you never know who you’re going to meet,” Gironda said.
The musicians: Kitty’s open mics started off with an unexpected bang, filling up the room with around 60 people at Steel Crossing’s first night hosting, Gironda said.
Since then, the event has slowed down a bit, but it still draws regulars like Tony Besson, who plays guitar for Dorothy Scott and the Peacekeepers; Craig Konowalski, who previously starred in Northern Sky Theater’s Home for the Holiday show; John Welch of the country-rock unit John Welch Band; and members of Cool Bay Jazz, who play regularly at Sturgeon Bay’s Drömhus. One fan favorite, Gironda said, is the Black Bandits, a trio made up of a local father and his two young children.
Minstrels of the Door Open Mic
Where: The Gnoshery, 23 N. 3rd Ave.
When: 2-4 pm on Sundays. Musician signup starts around 1:30 pm.
The host: Jeanne Kuhns started hosting these open-mic afternoons in November, and she plans for them to run through the end of the off-season, around April or May.
According to Kuhns, “every open mic has a different flavor,” and the taste of the open mic at The Gnoshery is an especially welcoming one for beginner musicians.
Its laid-back vibe is ideal “for musicians that are looking for a place to present new material where they don’t have to worry about being perfect,” Kuhns said. “No one cares if they have to stop and start over, or if they use [pre-recorded] music.”
The musicians: Between the musicians and the other café-goers, the Gnoshery is usually a full house on Sunday afternoons, Kuhns said. About half of the open-mic group plays cover songs and half plays original music.
Regulars on the mic include Craig Konowalski; singer-songwriter Holly Olm; Jen Polster and Mike Bleck, who form the Americana duo Wagon Roots; Chuck Sully, whose poetry readings are often backed up by instrumental music from other open-mic participants; and Dave LeFevre, who treks up from Green Bay to Door County for the Gnoshery’s open mics.
Another regular is Kit Olsen, who sometimes takes a break from her shift at The Gnoshery by getting on the mic and singing.