Woodstock, Steel Bridge tunes rewind clocks

Save a bridge, build a bridge. This is what has happened in Sturgeon Bay.

What began as a fight to rescue the aging Michigan Street Bridge, above the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal, has turned into an annual and growing partnership between musicians who are diverse in age, level of celebrity and song style.

Songwriters, singers and instrumentalists will come from as far away as New Zealand (home to folk-blues artist Delaney Davidson) to participate in the June 11-14 Steel Bridge Songfest, which encourages camaraderie and collaboration. Music genre doesn’t matter.

So results might mix rap and country, jazz and punk rock, cello and banjo, accordion and slide guitar, strobe lights and Strauss. Anything goes during this celebration of original music.

Some of the creative energy turns into music for compilation CDs (Steel Bridge Songs: Vols. 1-4); proceeds from sales promote bridge preservation.

The Michigan Street Bridge, built of steel in 1930, faced demolition in 2000 because of deterioration. Local resident Christie Weber was among those who protested because of historic value; her songwriter brother Pat mAcdonald was among those who heard the rants.

“Instead of fighting it, maybe we can celebrate (the bridge) for one day,” Pat suggested, while in Spain with pop-rocker Jackson Browne. Both men traveled to Sturgeon Bay in 2005, for the first Steel Bridge Songfest. Momentum grew, and by 2008 the bridge had gained National Historic Landmark status.

About 150 bands/solo artists, most from Wisconsin, have confirmed they will participate in this year’s event. Not among them – yet – is Jackson Browne, but organizers remain hopeful because he has attended every fest since its inception.

Regional performers will mix with the nationally known, such as Jane Wiedlin of the Go-Gos and Vincent DeLorenzo of the Violent Femmes.

“For a small island community, we have a wealth of songwriters and musicians” in the area, Christie says.

Some of the jammin’ that turns into songwriting and new music is occurring at the Holiday Music Motel, an eco-friendly and newly restored 1951 business that is owned by a subset of the musicians. Each of the 18 motel rooms is wired to the upstairs recording studio, which means music can be professionally recorded from a guest room.

Christie says almost $1 million has been invested in the revamp, and she compares the property to a boutique hotel, “trendy,” with metal enamel furnishings of the era, “but we’re committed to keep costs accessible to the average person.”

As for the fest and “songwriter camps” that sprout from it: “The whole thing transcends music genre,” she says. “It’s about passionate songwriting.”

Steel Bridge Songfest occurs at 16 indoor and outdoor venues in downtown Sturgeon Bay, and access to much of it is free. A $25 pass provides admission to all weekend night venues. A $250 VIP pass also includes otherwise-private events, such as a musicians’ dinner.

For a map of venues and more: www.steelbridgesongfest.org, 920-562-1772.

For more about Holiday Music Motel, 29 N. Second Ave., Sturgeon Bay: www.holidaymusicmotel.com, 920-743-5571.

To make a donation toward steel bridge preservation, make checks payable to Citizens for Our Bridge, 311 Pennsylvania St., Sturgeon Bay 54235.

Maybe this is the summer to relive your youth, or to pretend to be your parents.

Janis Joplin and Jerry Garcia are long gone, but that won’t stop the revival of their music by tribute bands soon to gather at a rural Illinois airport.

The eight-band concert on Aug. 14-15 will acknowledge the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, the rainy and raucous rock music gathering of 500,000 people at a farm in upstate New York. This version takes place near Woodstock, Ill., which has only a name in common with the legendary 1969 event.

Performers – from Utah to Florida – specialize in the music of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Joe Cocker, The Who, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead, Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

For tickets ($20 for one day, $30 for both) to the event at Galt Airport, 5112 Greenwood Rd., consult www.galtfestivals.com. Music begins at 7 p.m. Aug. 14 and 3 p.m. Aug. 15.

Limited RV and tent camping are available by reservation. The family-friendly show goes on, rain or shine, during the same weekend as the original Woodstock.

The Illinois Woodstock, population 25,000, is 20 miles south of Lake Geneva. Woodstock’s quaint and tidy downtown, an easy walk from a Chicago Metra train stop (Union Pacific Northwest Line), is known for “Groundhog Day” filming in 1992 and a walking tour of movie locations is available.

For more: www.visitmchenrycounty.com, 888-363-6177.

Last: I love spending a laid-back afternoon in the summer sun (or shade), taking in good music at a community festival or rural watering hole. What are some of your favorites?

Trek to the Trempealeau Hotel, on the Mississippi River north of La Crosse, for free music on Thursday nights, through August.

The hotel, around since 1871, is known for its ground walnut burgers, savored by both vegetarians and meat eaters. Hike or bike nearby Perrot State Park. Hotel lodging, with a river view, starts at $40 per night.

In Madison, thousands flock to the Capital Square for free Concerts on the Square by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra at 7 p.m. on Wednesdays, June 24 to July 29. Bring a blanket and stake your claim to lawn space early; see www.concertsonthesquare.com for more.

Lesser known but terrific is the Marquette Neighborhood Association’s annual Waterfront Festival, June 13-14 along the Yahara River, and the Orton Park Festival, Aug. 28-30. Expect many types of music.

For more about these free events on Madison’s east side: www.marquetteneighborhood.org.