Sturgeon Bay’s Steel Bridge Songfest

Steel and Bridges

Credit singer/songwriter pat mAcdonald (yes, that’s how the artist known for “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades” spells his name) for creating the all-volunteer Sturgeon Bay’s Steel Bridge Songfest. Founded in 2005 to preserve the tiny town’s 80-year-old Michigan Street Bridge, the four-day weekend of concerts this year will feature more than 150 pickers, strummers, songwriters, and singers from New Zealand to Chicago. Chicago groups slated to take one of a dozen stages scattered throughout Sturgeon Bay include Black Market Parts, Debra Hadraba, Ellie Maybe, Leilani Frey, The Maybenauts, Miles Nielsen, Robin Bienemann, Steve Smith, and Vee Sonnets. On the international music menu: Lowmountain’s Alan Tobin (West Cork, Ireland), Helly & the Dazers (Liverpool, England), and Solo per Adulti (Florence, Italy).

The festival is actually the culmination of a weeklong, collaborative songwriting frenzy, wherein many of the weekend’s acts brainstorm a slew of new tunes based on bridge metaphors. The resulting songs are then performed, recorded, and sold as CDs. (Volunteers keep three recording studios operating 24/7 with full-time engineers for documenting new songs.)

Free concerts happen from 6 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, June 9th, and Friday, June 10th, in the Martin Park band shell. Ticketed shows will fan out across Sturgeon Bay throughout the weekend. Organizers make the logistics easy: Thursday through Saturday, shuttles take concertgoers on nightly crawls from bar to bar and stage to stage. The fest climaxes on Sunday with a massive, three-hour group jam session tuning up at 2 p.m. in the Holiday Music Motel parking lot, followed by an after-party at a locale TBD.

GO Steel Bridge Song Fest; $20 for all-concert pass. Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin; 800-895-0071,

Where to stay: The Holiday Music Motel (30 N 1st Ave.; 920-743-5571, is generally sold-out way in advance to performers, but you might luck into a cancellation; rates range from $65 to $85. Otherwise, try the one of the cottages at the bayside Cliff Dwellers Resort (3540 N. Duluth Ave.; 920-743-4260,; rates start at $119 a night. Downtown, there’s the 126-year-old Inn at Cedar Crossing (336 Louisiana St.; 920-743-4200,; rates start at $75 a night.

Where to eat: The chef-owned Blue Front Café (86 W. Maple St.; 920-743-9218, offers casual, brunch, lunch, and dinner menus stocked with locally sourced dishes. The Inn at Cedar Crossing prepares baked goods daily from scratch and offers many fish dishes for dinner.


Photograph: Bill Kiel