Destination Sturgeon Bay News

Steel Bridge Songfest – Through the Years

What started in 2005 as a concert fundraiser for a local historical monument, quickly turned Sturgeon Bay into the singer/songwriter capital of the state! Steel Bridge Songfest brings in roughly 30-40 musicians from across the U.S. every year. These musicians turn Sturgeon Bay and the Holiday Music Motel into their homes for roughly a week while they create new music. Each song is written and recorded here in Sturgeon Bay and then performed at the annual Songfest at Third Avenue Playhouse. This year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Steel Bridge Songfest will take place virtually via Facebook and YouTube Saturday,  June  12 at 7 PM. For more information regarding Steel Bridge Songfest, Steel Bridge Radio, and the Holiday Music Motel, please click here.

Take a look below to read about the history of Steel Bridge Songfest!


In 1999, the Wisconsin DOT makes plans to dismantle and replace the historic Michigan Street Bridge. Local preservation activists respond by creating "Save Our Bridge" (affectionately known as "the SOBs") which will later become Citizens For Our Bridge (a non-profit 501c3). 


A concert in celebration of the bridge's 75th birthday is organized "to raise  awareness and funds" for the preservation effort. In support, famed singer-songwriter Jackson Browne performs for free, along with 30 regional songwriters.  Great Lakes Yachts (now Center Pointe) donates the venue, and the concert is a  huge success. The money raised after expenses goes into a fund created by the  National Trust for Historic Preservation to help finance future preservation  efforts. 


Jackson Browne and the other musicians enjoy their time in Sturgeon Bay so  much that they sign up for Steel Bridge 2.0. Invited songwriters from across the  U.S. fill The Holiday Motel (located conveniently at the foot of the bridge) a week  in advance to write and record songs inspired by the bridge. They write in their rooms, on the lawn, by the water, and on the water. Impromptu concerts start popping up all over Sturgeon Bay and the city is alive with music. 


The Holiday Motel is purchased by a group of Steel Bridge musicians and fans (including Jackson Browne) who rebrand it as the Holiday Music Motel. The motel is the oldest in Door County and houses all of the musicians for Steel Bridge  Songfest. The bulk of the songs are written and recorded there as well. 


The Songfest, in need of a new venue, moves to the Holiday Music Motel. What better place to celebrate the songs written there? The parking lot is converted  into a concert venue and shows are performed Saturday and Sunday afternoons  of festival week. Jackson Browne performs there with a full band in 2013. 

PUB CRAWL (2006-2018) 

After the daytime shows, musicians scatter across Sturgeon Bay to perform at  local bars and restaurants. Up until closing time, attendees jump around from venue to venue to enjoy the songs written over the past week, along with other  original music by bands who come in to play on the weekend. 


With more than 20 music festivals under Holiday Music Motel’s wing and over 30 times that number of original songs to show for  it -- and with internet radio starting to show glimmers of strength -- "the Holiday" is ready to fulfill a longtime dream: "Steel Bridge Radio" is born! Holiday Music Motel becomes the world's first lodging establishment with its own radio station  broadcasting all self-made song content. 



Year-Round Events

Steel Bridge Songfest is so much more than a concert series every June. Citizens  For Our Bridge transitions into the Steel Bridge Creative Foundation to  incorporate all that the organization does on an annual basis. This includes two other annual music festivals (February’s Love on Holiday and  October’s Dark Songs), the expansion of Steel Bridge Radio, the Tambourine  Collaboratory arts incubator, and the new Steel Bridge Creative District. 


After years of hosting a pub crawl and two big outdoor concerts, Steel Bridge Songfest organizers pat mAcdonald and melaniejane decide it's time to  narrow their focus. Third Avenue Playhouse (TAP), the charming local theater, has become the prime venue for showcasing all the new songs, and everything else feels like a distraction. The pub crawl morphs into a single after-party each night after TAP, where musical mayhem ensues. 


Steel Bridge Songfest goes virtual! The Holiday Music Motel embraces change with artful videos for every new song. Steel Bridge 2021 livestreams on Facebook for one night only, Saturday, June 12 at 7PM!

Steel Bridge Songfest Timeline

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