Highway's Song

Check Your Ego at the Door: Transformation and Rejuvenation at the Steel Bridge Songfest

Singer-songwriters gather in the Song Construction Zone at the Steel Bridge Songfest. Photo by Kelly Avenson.

Singer-songwriters gather in the Song Construction Zone at the Steel Bridge Songfest. Photo by Kelly Avenson.

Pat MacDonald withe singer/songwriter/author Jon Kanis. Photo by Layne Sterling.

Pat MacDonald with singer/songwriter/author Jon Kanis. Photo by Layne Sterling.


James Hall leads performers on stage at the Third Avenue Playhouse. Photo by Ty Helbach.

James Hall leads performers on stage at the Third Avenue Playhouse. Photo by Ty Helbach.

Every June for the last nine years a musical miracle occurs in the ship building port of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Nestled just to the west of Lake Michigan (and 42 miles to the northeast of Green Bay), this relatively modest community in the heart of Door County (population 9,144) celebrates the onset of summer by throwing a week-long party that takes over the entire town. Championing its unique cultural heritage while simultaneously crafting a bacchanalian vibe of intense proportions, musicians and songwriters from all corners of the continent converge annually to create the unique zeitgeist that is known as the Steel Bridge Songfest (SBSF) – the world’s only collaborative, interactive songwriting event.

Not to be selfish or small-minded, I’m tempted NOT to tell you about how incredible the Steel Bridge Song Festival is, out of fear that it will become so popular (like perhaps what happened to the Burning Man Festival) that it somehow ends up forfeiting its immense charm. But you know how it is when you’re transformed by an experience and you just have to share the news with whomever you come in contact with (ask anyone who has been lucky enough to be involved with the SBSF and they’ll no doubt sing you a similar tune). And I must say that after 30+ years of interacting with the (oft-times gargantuan) egos of numerous musicians, the degree of humility and sense of community that the SBSF and this sleepy little hamlet inspires is nothing short of miraculous. It’s awe-inspiring really, and it all came into being when a group of concerned citizens from Door County exercised their sense of civic duty and insisted on taking action when part of their local heritage was under threat of being destroyed: namely the Michigan Street Steel Bridge that connects downtown Sturgeon Bay with the rest of the region. In the interest of “progress” some powerful players in the area decided that it was time for a change and they sought to shut down and replace the last operational steel bridge on the planet.

It’s true, by 2005 (when the argument became quite heated among the locals) the bridge was in dire need of substantial repairs, with many critics arguing that constructing a new, more modern bridge would alleviate traffic snarls and keep the flow of cars and boats moving much more efficiently. At the same time there were a large number of people in Door County who took great offense at the notion that the Michigan Street Bridge was an antiquated symbol from a time past. Eventually, in 2008, a compromise was made with the construction of the Maple-Oregon Street Bridge and the restoration of the Michigan Street Bridge.

Progress vs. Tradition

“Dedicated to honor those of Door County who answered their country’s call and gave their services in time of emergency.”

One of the main issues when it came to the discussion of demolishing the Michigan Street Bridge was the fact that the bridge was dedicated on July 4, 1931 as a memorial to all of the military veterans of Door County who had served the United States in times of war. To even whisper of demolition and revoking this patriotic symbol of appreciation was akin to sacrilege for a lot of folks, and it sparked a political crusade that lasted for years, with the unlikely silver lining being the creation of the SBSF. One of the primary voices of dissent in the initial push to keep the bridge from being torn down was Sturgeon Bay resident Christie Weber (Citizens for Our Bridge) and it wasn’t long before she was joined in her fight against city hall by the energies and passion of her brother, renowned singer-songwriter and musician Pat MacDonald.

It was in the spring of 2006 that the politics of Sturgeon Bay became personal for me when I was fortunate enough to cross paths with Mister MacDonald, an artist whose work I’d been enchanted with since the release of Greetings From Timbuk3 in 1986 (featuring the ubiquitous top 20 single “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades”). At the time we met MacDonald was on the cusp of unleashing Troubadour of Stomp upon an unsuspecting world (the 17th release of his illustrious career), while at the same time organizing the second Steel Bridge Song Festival. While the premier festival in 2005 was a big success in terms of raising money and promoting awareness, it was a modest one-day affair. By 2006, MacDonald decided to expand the parameters of the festival by upping the ante and having three days of music throughout the town and creating what he dubbed “The Song Construction Zone.”

During his time at I.R.S. Records (the label that Timbuk3 was signed to during the 1980s and early ’90s) MacDonald became involved in a songwriting roundtable that was instigated by I.R.S. president Miles Copeland. Copeland’s pitch was simple: at a locale in the south of France (dubbed “The Castle”) Copeland fronted all of the expenses for a broad cross section of professional tunesmiths to congregate and cross pollinate their talents for a fortnight, with the provision that whatever material was created during their time together would be 50% owned by Copeland. You could think of it as a working vacation and the arrangement produced some unlikely bedfellows, with MacDonald collaborating with scores of writers including Keith Urban, Imogen Heap, and Cher.

Talent Borrows, Genius Steals
No doubt there was plenty of fun to be had at the Castle but it still was a business arrangement at the end of the day. When it came time to put together the second Steel Bridge Song Festival MacDonald drew upon the model of the Castle and adopted all of the appropriate aspects for the Song Construction Zone. Simultaneously a social and artistic experiment, the first Construction Zone was birthed within the confines of the Holiday Motel, an 18-room lodge that was built in 1952, which sits at the foot of the Michigan Street Bridge. In 2006 a special arrangement was made with then current owners (Pete and Marilyn DeVaney) to commandeer the motel for an entire week, with a makeshift studio installed in Room 124 by ace Milwaukee recording engineer Steve Hamilton. The first group of songwriters were 30 in number and the general idea was to have everyone get together in a circle and play spin the bottle. The fate of the spin would break the songwriters off into groups of two or three or four and each group was to follow a very simple brief as laid out by MacDonald: write a song that somehow relates to the bridge. The options were as endless as your imagination; you could write about the bridge literally, figuratively, or metaphorically, not to mention take in aspects of the local culture in Door County and write about that as well. By 2006 MacDonald had already provided a number of stellar examples of what he was possibly going for, including “The Bridge Hater Song” and “Steel Bridge Song” (both from Troubadour of Stomp) and “Steel Yourself” (a collaboration with Jackson Browne).

If you think that it’s easy to write a song on demand about a particular subject, you ought to try it sometime. It takes discipline and focus. But amazingly that is what every group of writers for the last seven years has done in the Song Construction Zone. As evidenced by the eight volumes of compact discs that document each year’s output, the bridge motif has been twisted around so many times that the variations on the theme appear infinite.

Of course, while it’s highly encouraged to stick to the prescribed subject matter, not everyone complies and scores of “other” types of songs get written at SBSF that have nothing to do with the bridge or Sturgeon Bay. Sometimes you have to write from pure inspiration and set the bridge motif aside for a song or two, but eventually all songs bring you back to the bridge.

Transformation Day
The first Song Construction Zone was such a success that MacDonald and a consortium of others decided to purchase the Holiday Motel from the DeVaneys and turn it into the Holiday Music Motel, with the intention of transforming it into a destination location for musicians and tourists alike, to soak up the natural beauty of Sturgeon Bay and to make recordings while staying on the premises. The motel has had its share of growing pains since the acquisition (including a major fire and subsequent renovation in 2008) but in 2013 the property is in fine fettle, boasting a fully operational recording studio that’s available 365 days a year.

So how does one become involved with the Steel Bridge Songfest and the Song Construction Zone? Well, this extremely unique group of individuals all get together primarily based upon the alchemical instincts and aesthetics of one guy: creative director Pat MacDonald. (I think of him as an “artistic firewall,” who possesses an intuitive, discriminating wisdom of who will be able to function as a productive team member.) At the 2013 SBSF there were three fully functional studios that pretty much ran 24/7 (with the stellar engineering talents of the aforementioned Steve Hamilton, Billy Triplett, and Dan-o Stoffels). The protocol for recording material is fairly simple: once a songwriting team feels that it has a song worthy of recording, they audition the song for MacDonald. MacDonald might suggest a change or two or feel that the song is fine the way it is. At that point the song goes onto a signup sheet (first come, first served) and then that group goes in to the next available studio to record. Each group of composers is responsible for assembling their “band” (choosing who will play on the track), which also includes giving their transient outfit a moniker. The idea is to capture the material as quickly as possible so that the next band can get in and do their thing. Rarely does a group spend more than an hour or so on a particular track. Considering these conditions, the quality of the material that is created is astonishing.

After spending Sunday through Wednesday writing and recording, it then becomes necessary to shift gears into rehearsal mode so that these brand new compositions can be taken into the streets and out to the clubs and performed in bars, cafés, theaters, and on the main stage at the all day concerts, which take place on Saturday and Sunday in the parking lot of the Holiday Music Motel. All told there are over 150 acts that perform in 12 different venues over the course of four days.

The bottom line of SBSF and what brings all of us together in the first place is a sense of community that is created within the town and among all of the people who are inspired to congregate here. As for the compositions and the recordings that are generated at the Holiday Music Motel during the week of SBSF, they are also a kind of community property. The music made at the Holiday Motel is free to be used by the artists who create it (provided that proper credit is given to the respective writers and musicians) as well as within the SBSF organization to help promote awareness of the festival and to underwrite some of the substantial expenses that are incurred each year. (The festival and motel play host to many of the artists who are involved, including housing and feeding the artists while they are creating during the week).

In addition to the scores of volunteers who make the festival possible each year I must make a special mention of Melaniejane (MJ), Pat MacDonald’s “partner in crime” who serves as the manager of the Holiday Music Motel and keeps this train of wildly creative (and delightfully eccentric) personalities from derailing from its chosen course. (In addition to collaborating on the motel MacDonald and MJ also make music together as the duo Purgatory Hill, listed in the Steel Bridge program as being from “Heaven/ Hell, WI.”)

To express the entire range of feeling regarding my Steel Bridge experience this year is impossible to neatly summarize, as evidenced by the stream of 8,000 words that I managed to journal from these ten transformative days from June 8th through the 17th. I was one of 73 kindred spirits who came together for reasons shared and for reasons known only to ourselves. I was blessed to co-write six songs while in attendance, perform bass duties on three songs that I didn’t compose, and come back with the beginnings of another song that was completed when I got back to San Diego. I renewed ties with old friends, made countless new ones, and had experiences that you could never put a price tag on. By putting myself out there in service with others I managed to be a part of something that is way bigger than any individual, co-creating and participating in a community happening that transcends mere personal gratification.

For a blow-by-blow account of what went down, this extended version of the print edition contains a day-by-day synopsis of the various activities at SBSF, including song lyrics, personnel credits, and set lists from multiple venues. There are also hyperlinks to performances from the festival that will give a flavor of what a unique event the Steel Bridge Songfest is and how beautiful the people of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin are. Thanks everybody. I can’t wait for the next one…

SKETCHES IN A JOURNAL from Steel Bridge 2013 [June 8th through the 17th]

“Fueled by elation, sleep deprivation, and the proximity of respected peers, droves of driven souls churned out yet another year’s worth of tributes, tall tales, and ragged anthems. Fortuitous leaps of illogic brought chance continuity, driving this song cycle up into orbit, then gently back down again for its dazed and lovely last hoorah. However inspired the last batch of songs was, I see there’s always more where those came from and find myself increasingly looking forward to Volume Seven, Eight, Nine and TEN!” – pat mAcdonald, liner notes from Steel Bridge Songs Vol. 6 [2011]

Saturday, June 8th, 2013

6:30 AM PST. Take off from San Diego and arrive safely in Green Bay, via Chicago. Picked up at the airport by SBSF volunteer Nicole Henquinet (who is as sweet as could be) and have a pleasant drive before being deposited on the front steps of the Holiday Music Motel. Meet Melaniejane and immediately upon arrival I find out that I will be staying in Room 230 and that my roommate for the week is Craig Greenberg [from New York, NY]. It took me about five minutes before I accepted these cosmic arrangements and then – poof! – I surrendered my seven-year-long petty-minded grudge with him from SBSFII. It feels liberating and from that moment forward I instantly know that I have that much more creative juice available to bring to the table. I unpack and then decide to take a walk around town. Not much has changed since I was here last. Check out The Nautical Inn and end up at Poh’s where I run into Charlie Cheney [Fremont, MI]. After sharing a drink Charlie leaves the bar for Egg Harbor and (unbeknownst to me till the next AM) immediately totals his van by hitting a deer. Bounce over to the Stone Harbor hotel for a bit where the bar is hopping with a trio grinding out “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “Brown Eyed Girl,” and “Twist And Shout.” The clientele are having fun but I decide to go back to my room for one last blast of solitude before the deluge.

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

Wake at 9:30 AM. Feel like I’m still on California time. Spend the morning acclimating, changing guitar strings, and mentally preparing for the week that lies ahead.

“90 percent of this process is about listening.” I come down to the lobby around 2:30 PM and see Pat behind the front desk and his greeting to me is “welcome home.” The two of us go over to Kick Café on Third Avenue for lunch until 4:30. Discuss Space Kitty Blues (his new book) and get caught up after not laying eyes on each other for seven years.

At 6:30 PM there is a PA on the front lawn of the Holiday with tunes pouring out of the speakers from previous songfests. Everyone grabs a plate of food, Pat makes some introductory comments and then Melaniejane goes over the house rules for the week. Pat asks everyone who is present (73 different songwriters) to pass the microphone around and introduce themselves. After those formalities are addressed we all form a circle – the welcome mat from the motel is placed in the center and James Hall [Atlanta, GA] initiates the proceedings by spinning an empty Jameson Irish Whiskey bottle (the moment is captured beautifully by photographer Ty Helbach). Songwriters in groups of three split off and eventually I form a team with Stephen “Coop” Cooper [Madison, WI] and Jimm McIver [Seattle, WA], both of whom I’ve never met before.

I grab my acoustic and Jimm grabs his and we all retire to the diner to start writing. After searching all over the property for a quiet spot this location feels like it has the appropriate “mojo” (particularly for me as this was where the “Holiday Motel” song was written with Allan MacPhee back at SBSFII). The three of us talk for a bit, throwing out suggestions as to what we should write about. I recall Pat’s first words to me from earlier in the day (not to mention being Chris Aaron’s as well) and I suggest the title of “Welcome Home” and the next thing you know the three of us are tossing around ideas like a well-oiled basketball team. Within 90 minutes we are finished with our first song of the festival. We track Pat down and perform it for him while he videos us with his camera. Pat asks me to read the lyrics aloud and after a couple of questions tells us to put the song on the sign up sheet for the next available studio. Unbelievably, there are already five or six songs on the list.

“Welcome Home” by The Come Ons, written by Stephen Cooper, Jon Kanis & Jimm McIver in the diner area and room 124 of the Holiday Music Motel, 06.09.13 @ 10:35 PM. Engineered by Steve Hamilton 4:00-5:00 AM and 1:15-1:30 PM on 06.10.13. Personnel: Stephen “Coop” Cooper [lead vocal], Steve Hamilton [tambourine], Jon Kanis [electric bass, acoustic guitar, lead & harmony vocals, handclaps], Jimm McIver [electric guitar, acoustic guitar, harmony vocals, handclaps], Vee Sonnets [organ], Dan-o Stoffels [drums].

D / F#m / Bm / A / D
Don’t you ever wonder why you’re always wandering
When you know you’re always happy in your heart
You don’t ever have to look out any further
For the love you’ve had right from the very start

Chorus: [G / A x4]
Now tell me where do you think you could go
When your heart knows you’re already home
You’ve been searching all the time
For something you don’t need to find
So come home, Welcome Home
So come home, Welcome Home

Do you ever walk up to the edge and falter
At the bridge you haven’t crossed along the way
Would you even try to walk upon the water
If your fear held on for just another day

Chorus

[C#m / D / C#m / D / G / A]
The water is wide and high is the tide
Through death’s door walks the prodigal son
Meditate, now don’t you hesitate
Open your heart and you shall overcome

Repeat First Verse

Now tell me where do you think you could go
When your heart knows you’re already home
You’ve been searching all the time
For something you don’t need to find
I want to wipe away your tears
But you’re so far away from here
So come home, Welcome Home
So come home, [D / F#m / F / E / D7] oh baby Welcome Home.

Monday, June 10th, 2013

After Pat approves our first song I go into the diner feeling adrenalized about what we just created together and I immediately get to revving with Vee Sonnets [Chicago, IL] on The Who’s “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” [“cello, cello, cello, cello…”]. Vee is an absolute freak of nature (I mean that in the most complementary way possible) and a force to be reckoned with – a left-handed guitarist (and multi-instrumentalist) who plays the guitar strung for a right-hander and plays his chord shapes upside down (and sideways for that matter). We continue bonding over a 30-minute Who medley in the diner and I continue singing cover songs with him on the front porch of the Holiday until 3:30 AM. I have clearly met a soul mate. Jim, Coop and I get the call from Steve Hamilton to record “Welcome Home” @ 4 AM and we grab Dan-o Stoeffels [Madison, WI] to play drums. We run the song down twice and after a couple of overdubs (acoustic guitars, harmony vocals, and handclaps) are finished within an hour. When the session is over I hang out at the fire pit on the front lawn until 5:45 AM with my soon-to-be new buddies Charles & Renée Boheme [Madison, WI], where I witness the sunrise for the first time in ages. It feels amazing to be up at that hour. Exhausted but exhilarated, it takes all of my will to drag myself off to bed.

Wake at 10:30 AM. I find out from Steve Hamilton that he has a 15-minute window of opportunity (from 1:15-1:30 PM) and we overdub Vee’s Farfisa part onto “Welcome Home” where it is deemed “finished.”

Spend most of the afternoon with Danielle French [Calgary/Alberta, Canada] on the front lawn talking, writing and drawing runes from her bag of sorcery. We witness a baby bat fly right by our heads (and land in the bushes behind us) and we talk about the Abraham-Hicks book The Law Of Attraction. It leads into a conversation about monetary resources and not living a life based out of fear, all serving as fodder for our song “Transformation Day.” We get most of it written (two verses and the chorus) with Danielle thinking it should “modulate” and that Vee holds the missing link. We find him, go back to room 230 and Vee throws in that classic Pete Townshend D major chord (that runs up the neck) and I spontaneously start singing “ooh-la-la-la” and the song pretty much completes itself. Later (after dinner) Pat hears the song in the diner, makes a couple of suggestions (that slightly tweak and improve the lyric) and it is approved for recording.

Transformation Day” by The Dagaz, written by Danielle French, Jon Kanis & Vee Sonnets on the front lawn and in room 230 of the Holiday Music Motel, 06.10.13 @ 6:27 PM. Engineered by Steve Hamilton noon-1:00 PM on 06.11.13. Personnel: Danielle French [acoustic guitar, lead vocal], Jon Kanis [acoustic guitar, lead vocal], Manny Sanchez [drums], Ronnie Sanchez [electric bass], Vee Sonnets [electric guitar]. Vocal choir: Danielle French, Vincent Gates, Shiri Gross, Haydee Irizarry, Jon Kanis, Ellie Maybe.

I see you there shrouded in darkness
Feel like you’ve lost your sense of purpose
But I know that you can grow into anything that can be known
But I know in life there are no mistakes

Take it to heart
Take it on faith
Take it from me
You can no longer live
In the ordinary way
It’s Transformation Day

I hear the world is crumbing around you
Feel there’s no end in sight
‘Cause I know that all the gold can’t build a bridge to your soul
With radical trust I know you will thrive

Take it to heart
Take it on faith
Take it from me
You can no longer live
In the ordinary way
It’s Transformation Day
It’s Transformation Day

Climb no vocal x 2

Ooh la-la-la, ooh la-la-la, ooh la-la-la, ooh la-la x2

Ooh la-la-las // It’s Transformation Day.

At 7 PM all of the writers gather on the front lawn of the Holiday for our first listening party. There are something in the neighborhood of 17 songs already recorded – tunes that did not exist at this time the day before.

Miss Meagan Owens [Maui, HI] is one of the songwriters in the Construction Zone and her very talented brother Connor [Brooklyn, NY] has been given carte blanche to video any and all activities at the SBSF. When he’s not shooting a performance or a recording session he can usually be found in the lobby with his laptop editing together some of the footage that he has captured. He then posts his completed videos online, which of course serve to promote the SBSF to the world at large. One of the songs that was written and recorded on day one was “Little Black Ninja” and Connor’s video for it can be seen HERE.

After listening to the new material (and hearing a brief anecdote about how each song was created by it’s respective writers), we gather into another circle and spin the bottle again, this time into groups of four. I wind up with Mike Bleck (who goes by the nickname of “Digger”) [Sturgeon Bay, WI], Kory Murphy [Rockford, IL] & Troy Therrien [Sturgeon Bay, WI]. It is great to see Digger and Troy again after working together in 2006. Kory & Troy take off on an errand for 45 minutes and Digger shows me some lyrics that he was working on from the day before. It’s called “Jack” and it deals with Monstanto and their GMOs by metaphorically weaving in the Jack & The Beanstalk fable. By a fantastic synchronicity Pat & I were talking at lunch on Sunday about Jack & The Beanstalk and there’s something about the song that feels pre-ordained to me (and I immediately love his entire concept). When Kory & Troy come back all four of us work up a musical arrangement, conclude that each one of us should sing a verse (and all together on the choruses) and by 11 PM it is finished. Pat hears us wailing on the front lawn, videos us in the dark and approves it for recording (after suggesting a title change from simply “Jack” to “Jack & The Fox“). It goes on the sign-up sheet (which is getting quite backed up by now).

Jack & The Fox” by The Drunken Coyotes, written by Mike Bleck, Jon Kanis, Kory Murphy & Troy Therrien on the front lawn of the Holiday Music Motel, 06.10.13 @ 11:00 PM. Engineered by Steve Hamilton 10:00-11:00 PM on 06.11.13. Personnel: Mike Bleck [vocals], Wally Ingram [drums], Jon Kanis [electric bass, vocals], Kory Murphy [electric guitar, vocals], Troy Therrien [lead guitar, vocals].

[Am/Em]
Jack trades his cow
For the magic seeds he found
But the water from the hill
Left him laying on the ground

The magic seeds took root
They grew up to the sky
The shadow of the giant vine
Left the rest to die

Chorus: [F/G]
Jack trades his cow
For the magic seeds he found
But despite the giant harvest
They had to cut it down

FOX played the golden harp
And put them all to sleep
Round up all the children
And turn them all to sheep

The golden egg took it’s place
On the top shelf of the wall
Even the king’s horsemen
Could not break it’s fall

Chorus:
Jack trades his cow
For the magic seeds he found
But despite the giant harvest
They had to cut it down

Cut it down!

Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

After writing “Jack & The Fox” I walk over at Poh’s with Johnny Hvezda [Rockford, IL], Sarvin Manguiat [Ontario, CA], Ronnie Sanchez [Ontario, CA] and Alex White [Sturgeon Bay, WI], drinking a beer and having some pizza until George (Poh’s owner) kicks us out at 2:00 AM. The previous night’s sing-along around the fire pit is becoming a nightly routine and we all hang out (again) ’till 5:45 AM. Witness sunrise #2.

Wake at 10:30 AM. Rehearse “Transformation Day” with Danielle and play it a second time for Pat in Danielle’s room. It’s ready to record so we assemble our group (which, thanks to Danielle, now includes the Groove Session rhythm section of Ronnie Sanchez on bass and his brother Manny on drums) and we go in with Steve Hamilton at noon and lay it down in three takes. After assembling and recording a vocal choir it is deemed finished by 1 PM. I thank Ellie Maybe [Chicago, IL] for singing on the track and she says “Of course, I’d ooh-la-la for you anytime.”

Over the last couple of days I have seen very little of my roommate Mister Greenberg (he was feeling a bit under the weather upon arrival) but by Tuesday we’ve talked about our past differences and have arrived at a really cool place. During the past 24 hours I hear him fooling around with a brand new song on the toy piano in the motel and it’s starting to sound fantastic and I offer to play bass on it whenever he gets around to recording it. (To watch a video of Craig in the process of writing “I Won’t Leave It Alone” you can check it out HERE.)

At 6:30 PM everybody assembles on the front lawn for dinner and listening party #2. Another 15 or more songs are auditioned from the previous 24 hours of activity. The third (and last) spin of the bottle sends us off into groups of four again. This time I am in a group with Robin Bienemann [Chicago, IL], Carley Baer [Portland, OR] & Shiri Gross [Chicago, IL], but the timing is unfortunate as I am immediately called into the studio to record “Jack & The Fox” (with on-air radio personality James Larsen in attendance). We have a slight bit of behind-the-scenes drama when there are differences of opinion about who should be singing lead on the track. Eventually (to everyone’s satisfaction I believe) Digger sings the first two verses, I sing the third and Kory sings the last verse. After a couple of false starts the song is nailed on the third take and I am positively elated to be playing with Wally Ingram [Joshua Tree, CA], whom I feel is one of the greatest drummers in the world. Troy overdubs a little guitar, we finish off the vocals and then we are out. Steve Hamilton’s rough mix sounds fantastic.

As soon as the session for “Jack & The Fox” is over I walk down the hall to Dan-o’s studio and play bass on Craig Greenberg’s “I Won’t Leave It Alone.” By the time we are done recording I feel that it has all the hallmarks of a classic and it is great to record another track with Vee, Danielle and Dan-o.

Wednesday, June 12th, 2013

“I Won’t Leave It Alone” written by Craig Greenberg in room 230 @ the Holiday Music Motel, 06.11.13. Engineered by Dan-o Stoffels from midnight to 1:30 AM on 06.12.13. Personnel: Danielle French [glockenspiel, vocals], Craig Greenberg [toy piano, lead vocal], Jon Kanis [electric bass, vocals], Vee Sonnets [electric guitar], Dan-o Stoffels [drums].

Intro [F / Ab] x2

[F/Ab] Take something that I said, pour over and over
[F] Hear what you wanted
[Ab/Bb] twist over and over it’s wrong

[C/Ab/Bb/C] Yeah, I won’t leave it alone
[C/Ab/Bb/C] I will break you down
[C/Ab/Bb/C] And I will make us whole
[C/Ab/G]

[F/Ab] I tried to make us grow stronger, stronger
[F] But I won’t let you push me much
[Ab/Bb] longer, longer, oh no

[C/Ab/Bb/C] Yeah, I won’t leave it alone
[C/Ab/Bb/C] I will break you down
[C/Ab/Bb/C] And I will make us whole

bridge [Am / G / F // Am / G / Ab // Bb]

[C/Ab/Bb/C] Yeah, I won’t leave it alone
[C/Ab/Bb/C] I will break you down
[C/Ab/Bb/C] And I will take control

[C/Ab/Bb/C] Yeah, our time is now
[C/Ab/Bb/C] I won’t be turning away
[C/Ab/Bb/C] I won’t be backing down
[Ab/G]

After finishing off Craig’s song a large number of folks congregate into Dan-o’s bathroom to record vocals on Danielle French’s song “This Is Why I Drink.” It is just my luck to walk back into the studio at the precise moment to see Dan-o in his birthday suit. What a hunk, a hunk of burnin’ love the man is. They clearly have everything under control in the vocals department and I retreat to the fire pit where someone hands me a guitar and am happy to sing songs once again until 5:45 AM. Witness sunrise #3.

Wake at 10:30 AM. Go downstairs to find a number of groups spread out all over the property: in the diner, in the lobby and outside on the front lawn with everyone rehearsing their latest material, getting prepared to go into the studio to record. I hear Walter Salas-Humara [Flagstaff, AZ] playing a power-pop tune called “Like A Satellite” on an acoustic guitar in the lobby and instantly fall in love with it and offer to play bass on it. He says “sure.” I make a copy of the lead sheet, run it down once with him and it sounds great. Then I go outside and hear Clayson Benally [Flagstaff, AZ], Vincent Gates [Seattle, WA] & Robin Bienemann working on the hip-hop/rap tune “Battle Of The Bridges.” It is a Beastie Boys-styled pastiche that has a “battle” going down between the old Michigan Street steel bridge and the newer Maple-Oregon concrete bridge. That also sounds fantastic and I ask if they need a bass player for the recording. “As a matter of fact, we do.” I go grab my guitar and run the tune down a few times and then go immediately into Dan-o’s studio to record. Clayson lays down a drumbeat that gets looped into ProTools and I start laying down my bass part. Clayson insists that I play with my thumb (sans pick). Within the hour I have a blister (but the track sounds great). The very moment that I am finished recording my bass I walk out into the hall and I’m told that they are ready in Billy Triplett’s studio to record “Like A Satellite.” I walk in and there is Caleb Navarro [Sturgeon Bay, WI] & Charles Boheme sitting in chairs with acoustic guitars in their laps and Walter is behind the drum kit. Lena MacDonald [Sister Bay, WI] is singing lead in the control room. We run it down once and it immediately sounds great. The song requires three takes and is basically done.

“Battle Of The Bridges” written by Clayson Benally, Robin Bienemann, Landon Capelle & Vincent Gates on 06.12.13. Engineered by Dan-o Stoffels from 2:30-5:00 PM on 06.13.13. Personnel: Clayson Benally [drums, vocals], Robin Bienemann [electric guitar, vocals], Landon Capelle [rapping], Vincent Gates [guitar, vocals], Jon Kanis [electric bass].

Battle Of The Bridges – bring it on!
We got two bridges, only room for one
Battle Of The Bridges – bring it on!
We got two bridges, only room for one

MC: In this corner, built in 2008, still in it’s prime at 6 years old, fabricated out of pure homegrown concrete. Measuring in at 420 yards, and a half a million tons, the Maple-Oregon Bridge. Hailing from just 2 blocks north, built in 1929, an experienced veteran at 84 years, 400 yards and 450 thousand tons of cold hard steel, the last operational rolling bascule bridge in the world, Sturgeon Bay’s own Michigan Street Bridge!

This bridge, that bridge, which one to pick?
Cold steel or concrete slabs, place your bets
Winner takes all in this grudge match pound for pound
For 12 hard rounds it’s going down

MC: ARE YOU READY TO RUMBLE?

Battle Of The Bridges – bring it on!
We got two bridges, only room for one
Battle Of The Bridges – bring it on!
We got two bridges, only room for one

[The Maple-Oregon Bridge]: You’re cold like ice, I’m a hot potato
I will crush you just like a rotten tomato
You’re an ugly old bridge, tired and sore
I bet you can’t even raise it up any more

[The Michigan Street Bridge]: My span is long my gears are large
Show me what you got you can hit me with a barge
I see your frown and feel your skepticism
So get a load of my bascule mechanism

[The Maple-Oregon Bridge]: Your metal sucks, concrete is better
I watch you rust and fall apart in the weather

Battle Of The Bridges – bring it on!
We got two bridges, only room for one
Battle Of The Bridges – bring it on!
We got two bridges, only room for one

Bang! Bang! Ring that bell
Rise above the gates of hell
Bang! Bang! Ring that bell
Hot white stone vs. cold hard steel

[The Maple-Oregon Bridge]: You’re older than my gramps, break out the cane
We may look alike, but we’re not the same
Round and round you turn but people wait in line
‘Cause your rolling bascule is broken all the time

[The Michigan Street Bridge]: Are you on Maple or on Oregon?
You don’t even know what street you’re on
I’m hard like calculus, shine like a jewel
I might be old but I still look cool

Why fight when we can work in harmony
When my bridge is up y’all peeps can pass free

MC: Got the steel bridge coming up into view
Dropping the beats on the one and the two
No need to fight now which one’s to choose
Bridges unite, that’s what we shall do

Bang! Bang! Ring that bell
Rise above the gates of hell
Bang! Bang! Ring that bell
Hot white stone vs. cold hard steel

Bang! Bang! Ring that bell
Rise above the gates of hell
Bang! Bang! Ring that bell
Hot white stone vs. cold hard steel

[To watch Connor Owen’s video for “Battle Of The Bridges” click HERE.]

“Like A Satellite” written by Charles Boheme, Lena MacDonald, Caleb Navarro & Walter Salas-Humara on 06.12.13. Engineered by Billy Triplett in Room 237 & 238, assisted by Steve Smith from 3:30-5:00 PM on 06.13.13. Personnel: Charles Boheme [acoustic guitar], Jon Kanis [electric bass], Tarl Knight [keyboards, vocals], Lena MacDonald [lead vocal], Caleb Navarro [acoustic guitar], Walter Salas-Humara [drums].

[D] Taking a moonlight walk
[A] And I just can’t stop the words inside
[D] Having a silent talk
[A] With an old friend of mine

[G] Can it hold me tight?
[A] Can I trust it now?
[G] Or is it just an empty vow?
[A] Send a signal now, Like A Satellite!

[D/A/G] Like A Satellite x3

[D] I brought the wrong guitar
[A] And I don’t know how I messed that up
[D] Coming here long, long time
[A] Been filling the lonely cup

[G] Can it hold me tight?
[A] Can I trust it now?
[G] Or is this just an empty vow?
[A] Send a signal now, Like A Satellite!

[D/A/G] Like A Satellite x3

[Bm] Is it clear?
[D] Or is this fear?
[Bm] Does it understand
[A] And will it be my guiding hand?

[D/A/G] Like A Satellite x4

Will it be my guide? [Like A Satellite]
Flying side-by-side [Like A Satellite]
Be my lost guitar [Like A Satellite]
Be my Satellite…

When I walk out of the session for “Like A Satellite” I am disappointed (but not surprised) to find that Robin, Carley & Shiri have written and recorded an on-the-fly performance of the song “Under The Bridge,” a beat-poetry/be-bop type of song that I had nothing to do with, other than completely stand out of it’s way. I’m sorry that I didn’t get to participate in the session because it’s a really cool recording. They are generous and gracious enough to insist on giving me a writer’s credit. I consider protesting and then figure who am I to argue?

Under The Bridge” written by Carley Baer, Robin Bienemann, Shiri Gross & Jon Kanis. Written and recorded in the upstairs hallway of the Holiday Music Motel, 06.13.13 @ 4:30 PM. Field recording by Robin Bienemann. Personnel: Carley Baer [vocal], Robin Bienemann [guitar], Stephen “Coop” Cooper [saxophone].

[To hear the field recording of “Under The Bridge” click HERE.]

After recording “Like A Satellite” and hearing “Under The Bridge” I’m walking towards the entrance of the Holiday and “Johnny Rockford” (Mr. Hvezda) and Troy Therrien are playing their guitars and working on a new song and they ask me if I’ll help them with it. I go grab a notepad and after an hour or so we have an El Mariachi-type of scenario with Ennio Morricone-like overtones on a new tune entitled “The Bridge Of Cruelty.” We appropriately call our group The Banditos and it is whipped into shape by 5:00 PM. The three of us perform it for Pat and it gets approved for the studio sign-up sheet. And just in time because we need to get ourselves over to the Cherry Lanes bowling alley for dinner and our third (and last) listening party for the week.

The Bridge Of Cruelty” by The Banditos, written by John Hvezda, Jon Kanis & Troy Therrien in the entrance of the Holiday Music Motel, 06.12.13 @ 5:03 PM. Engineered by Steve Hamilton 2:30-4:00 PM on 06.15.13. Personnel: Jeneda Benally [trills], John Hvezda [acoustic guitar, lead vocal], Wally Ingram [percussion], Haydee Irizarry [vocals], Jon Kanis [electric bass, vocals], Manny Sanchez [percussion], Troy Therrien [lead guitar].

Time stands still
With a gun on my belt
I learned to draw
In a land that knows no law

My heart’s grown gold
But still I long for her touch
In a land that knows no love…

[wind]

With blood on my hands
Blood on the trail
Can’t out run the man
So I face my last stand

Smell home on the wind
And I’ll be buried in
This god-forsaken land
That knows no love.

[wind with gun shots]

Drive over to Cherry Lanes with Chris Aaron [Sturgeon Bay, WI], Wally Ingram and Landon Capelle [Sturgeon Bay, WI]. The Cherry Lanes bowling alley is a place where time has truly stood still: the ball returns for the half dozen lanes that are still functioning are relics from the mid-’70s and they look incredible. When we smoke on in most of our fellow collaborators are already there. There is a feast of pizza and fried chicken on the pool tables for dinner. The listening party this evening includes nearly 30 songs that were written and recorded in the previous 48 hours. Once again Pat asks everyone who is involved with each particular track to go up to the stage and have a band spokesperson talk about how the recording came together. It feels a bit like an awards ceremony and the vibe in the room is incredibly warm.

[One of the songs recorded in the first three days is the barn-burning “Givin’ Up The Ghost” by Delaney Davidson, Corrine Lee, Liv Mueller, Brett Newski [Milwaukee, WI] and Tomcat Joe [Milwaukee, WI]. To view Connor Owens’ video of them recording in Billy Triplett’s studio click HERE.]

After the listening party breaks up everyone goes their separate ways. I am told that there is an open mic going on at Poh’s so I go back to the Holiday and grab my acoustic and walk over to the bar to find Bruce Reaves [South Bend, IN], his son Jeremy, Chris Aaron and Wally Ingram on stage TEARING IT UP, loud with three guitars and no bass but kicking complete ass. I haven’t heard Bruce sing in years and he sounds really great. I park myself at the bar digging the music and drink a pint of Point lager and the bar starts to fill up. I realize before long that it isn’t so much an “open mic” as a free form jam that Chris Aaron seems to be running and soon Jim Schwall [Madison, WI] is up peeling the paint off the walls as well and I realize that if I felt like performing that it’s not going to happen here. It’s a supremely cool scene but just shortly before midnight my gut told me to take my guitar back to the Holiday Music Motel. So I did.

Thursday, June 13th, 2013 “Door County Appreciation Night”

When I entered into room 230 Craig was sitting on my bed in front of a Wurlitzer with Corrine Lee [Atlanta, GA] stretched out writing down lyrics and Louise Goffin [Los Angeles, CA] over in the corner. I come in, open the fridge, take out a PBR and sit down opposite of Craig & Corrine. Louise: “Well, now that we have an audience I guess we better get this thing together.” I sit quietly and listen to the song that they’re working on but after awhile it appears to me that the three of them are stuck, even though the tune is 75% (or more) complete. I am impressed by the take charge way that Louise seems to be running the session, but eventually start asking questions about what is going on with the action of the characters in this song: where are they going, what is being said, what is the story and how does it end? The lyrics continue to be tweezed, and I make a few suggestions, with a couple of them actually ending up in the finished version. When the song is finally deemed “complete” I type up Corrine’s handwritten lyrics and send them to LG via email. Before we break for the night I tell Louise that I’d like to play bass on this track and she says “sure” and the next morning tells me “hey, why don’t you put yourself down as a co-writer on that song we wrote last night.” “Cool, thanks.” It’s nice to be acknowledged. And I’m really glad that I listened to my intuition and left Poh’s the night before. What a supremely cool time back in room 230 and all because I was rooming with Mister Greenberg.

“Call Me At 3 AM” by Gi Gi Lee, written by Louise Goffin, Craig Greenberg, Jon Kanis & Corinne Lee in room 230 @ the Holiday Music Motel, 06.13.13 @ 2:56 AM. Engineered by Billy Triplett in Room 237 & 238, assisted by Steve Smith 3:30-5:30 PM on 06.14.13 and 12:30-2:30 PM on 06.15.13. Personnel: Louise Goffin [lead vocal, organ], Craig Greenberg [lead vocal, Wurlitzer], Jon Kanis [electric bass, tambourine], Freddie Lee [electric guitar], Dan-o Stoffels [drums], Clayson Benally [tambourine]. Vocal choir & hand claps: Stephen “Coop” Cooper, Vincent Gates, Statler Gause, Louise Goffin, Craig Greenberg, Shiri Gross, Haydee Irizarry, Jon Kanis, Liv Mueller, Andrea Wittgens.

[C/E7] Thank you for melting me
[Am/Bb] For opening the door to my heart
[Am/D7] I wanna be close to you
[G/E with G# in bass] And I never, ever knew
[Am/G] That you were on the menu, uh huh

Thank you for showing me
All the ways that I come apart
You put me together again
Can Call Me At 3 AM
I can find you wherever you are

[C/F] You roll me
[Eb/G] You move me
[C/F] You show me
[Eb/G] You hold me

Thank you for blessing me
For all the stuff that money can’t buy
I’ve never been here before
I couldn’t ask for more
You do it good and don’t even try

Thank you for not getting mad at me
For all the times that I didn’t call
I would’ve been there for you
And honey if you only knew
How often I started to
And then dropped the ball
Thank you

[C/F] You roll me
[Eb/G] You move me
[C/F] You show me
[Eb/G] You hold me

After finishing up our writing session for “Call Me At 3 AM” nearly everyone from the Construction Zone has come back to the Holiday (after all of the bars had closed) to congregate in Dan-o’s studio. For the next two hours (with Dan-o and Wally taking turns drumming) everyone is dancing up a storm and singing at the top of their lungs a tune that Wally wrote, where the entire lyric consists of: “Come on baby, let’s go out tonight. There’s a party going on and it feels all right. Uh huh huh uh huh huh.” They manage to sing these two lines for TWO STRAIGHT HOURS without a break. It’s incredible. One of those moments where you truly had to be there.

I pop my head in and out throughout the proceedings but it is truly a distorted funhouse of madness and reverie and I decide to go downstairs to the front lawn and commiserate with Charles, Renée, Vee and a the scant few that aren’t either asleep or dancing and singing in Dan-o’s. Hang out round the fire pit until 5:30 AM for the (now) mandatory witnessing of sunrise #4.

Wake at 10:35 AM. Go outside and rehearse “Through These Eyes” with Liv Mueller [Milwaukee, WI] (a song that we wrote together in 2006 at SBSFII) to be performed on Saturday evening at the Third Avenue Playhouse “All-Star Revue.” Delaney Davidson is also hanging out as the two of us rehearse (Delaney is the only member of the Construction Zone who hails from outside of the United States, coming all the way from New Zealand). [To hear our original recording of “Through These Eyes” from SBSFII click HERE.]

Thinking that there might be an opportunity to perform the “Holiday Motel” song with Chris Aaron, we go up to Room 229 and run that down a couple of times as well. Unfortunately, that never happens, but it is always fun to play with Chris nevertheless in ANY situation. [To hear our original recording of “Holiday Motel” from SBSFII click HERE.]

Although we didn’t do much work together this year, I could write another 10,000 words about my time playing together and hanging out with Chris from the summer of 2006. After bonding together at SBSFII I came back to Wisconsin for the entire month of August where he, his wife Lisa Bethke and myself performed as a trio at a dozen gigs throughout the state. We talked of forming a band together, but I wasn’t prepared at the time to move to Wisconsin. I have missed Chris and it is really great to see him.

After that I go over to Room 230 and start writing the lyric to a song entitled “Ready. Fire! Aim…” My time with Charles Boheme is beginning to leave a mark on my psyche. After writing the first verse I am called away and I don’t have time to finish it while I’m in Sturgeon Bay but I make sure to complete it when I get back to San Diego. I filmed a short video of the song on my laptop [you can watch it HERE] and it feels ready to be recorded in the studio.

“Ready. Fire! Aim…” written by Jon Kanis in room 230 @ the Holiday Music Motel on 06.13.13 and finished on 07.10.13 @ 3:33 PM. Personnel: Jon Kanis [acoustic guitar, vocal].

[Am/C/D/F]
The years have left a mark but now you’re feeling clean
A whole lot of magic moving in between
Style gorged with substance like Charles Boheme
[E] Ready. Fire! Aim…

You borrow trouble when you’re sensitive beyond a fault
Reflected in the pool of a vast tumult
In this steel blue sky you’re not ready to die
But it’s Ready. Fire! Aim…

[F/E]
Round and round, deep down, you know where it’s at
Feeling like the world is a welcome mat
The instigating few, but in a week or two
We’ll already have staked our claim [$$$$]

So c’mon pretty baby won’t you take my hand
As we glide beyond the manna of the Promised Land
One kiss seals the deal, I tell you m’am it’s sir-real
Ready. Fire! Aim…

[whistle/scat]

Everything that you believe you manifest as surprise
When the kingdom of heaven nests between your eyes
And the instigating few are looking out for you
Trail blazing all the same.

So don’t quit or throw a fit if it takes all night
C’mon and smile, quit the drama, it will be all right
It’s more fun than you can handle
But tell me now – what ain’t a gamble?
When it’s Ready. Fire! Aim…

At 5 PM I find myself down in the diner and the next thing I know I’m rehearsing with Chris Aaron & Louise Goffin for her gig at Glas Coffeehouse. I have 90 minutes to absorb two of her songs. I grab my acoustic guitar and Ronnie Sanchez’s bass and catch a ride across the bridge and hang out at Glas until it is time for Louise to play. The venue is hosted by Anna Sacks [Santa Barbara, CA] and is packed beyond capacity. Louise finds out that she can only play three songs (instead of four) so we end up cutting “New Year’s Day” from the set. When she gets up on stage she performs “It Started A Long Time Ago” [on ukulele],”The Heart Is The Last Frontier” [on piano] and “Clicking To The Next Slide” [on acoustic guitar, with Chris Aaron on slide guitar, Wally Ingram on percussion, and myself on electric bass]. It sounds great and you wouldn’t believe that this four-piece has never played together before this moment.

Many other performers come and go throughout the night and all of them are superb. I sit still long enough to catch James Hall perform his three-song set (including his classic “Here Comes The Trick“) and he is incredible. I stick around to perform with Jimm McIver on his set and we do a duet version of “Welcome Home” with me on lead vocal and the two of us on acoustic guitars and it is well received by the audience.

I pack up my guitar and grab Ronnie’s bass and go out to the parking lot where I run into a woman who is about to get into her car. “Excuse me m’am, but you wouldn’t happen to be going over the bridge into downtown would you?” “Yes, I am.” “Would you mind please giving me a ride as I have a gig I need to get to?” “Sure, hop in.” (This sort of familiarity with a “stranger” is rare in the big city, but not so in Sturgeon Bay.) This is my first time traversing the Maple-Oregon bridge and the lady in question tells me after a minute or two of conversation that she remembers me from 7 years ago when I was playing in town with Chris Aaron. Incredible. So much for us being strangers. And to think that I wasted any of my energy worrying for the past 45 minutes about being late for my performance at Untitled Used & Rare Books because this lovely lady drops me off right at the door and I end up being 15 minutes early. Berta Benally [Flagstaff, AZ] is on stage when I get there, singing a song with political overtones that I really like. Charles Boheme is acting as MC and Untitled’s owner Steven Link is being an incredibly gracious host to all of the musicians. The walls are teeming with classic literature and art of every stripe and I fall instantly in love with the place. Cariad Harmon [New York, NY], Victoria Vox [Baltimore, MD] & Carley Baer perform their brand new song “Echo” and it makes my night. In my sight they are three goddesses who sound like angels.

At 10:30 PM I am scheduled to perform and do a four song set: “Holiday Motel,” “Where Is Joe Strummer When You Need Him?,” “Jack & The Fox,” and “Welcome Home” [again as a duet with Jimm McIver]. Nicole Henquinet documents the moment by shooting a bit of “Holiday Motel” [you can watch the video HERE].

Friday, June 14th, 2013

After my set Robin & Jenny Bienemann [Chicago, IL] perform. Everyone sounds wonderful. I can’t believe how much talent keeps passing through the bookstore and I’m enjoying the moment so much that I can’t bring myself to leave. When the show officially ends at Untitled a group of 20+ patrons and artists congregate in the “backstage area” where Vee and I play Beatles songs until we are all dismissed by the generous Mr. Link at 3:45 AM (even Steven has to sleep at some point). The sing along continues back on the front lawn of the Holiday Music Motel until 5:45 AM. Witness sunrise #5.

Wake up at 11. Coffee. Spend the day recording the basic track for “Call Me At 3 AM” with Louise, Craig, Corrine & Dan-o and rehearse for the Third Avenue Playhouse gig this PM. [To view Louise Goffin’s video for the basic tracking of “Call Me At 3 AM” click HERE.]

Construction Zone Songwriters In The Round hosted by James Hall
at the Third Avenue Playhouse from 7-10 PM.

1) “Bridge Will Bring Us Home” [Carley, Robin, Meaghan, Anna, Mojo]
2) “Echo” [Cariad, Victoria, Carley]
3) “Battle Of The Bridges” [Vincent, Clayson, Robin, Landon, Jon]
4) “Ocean In 12 Notes” [Vincent, Jimm, Andrea]
5) “Little Black Ninja” [Kim, Liam, Dan-o, Haydee]
6) “Summer Love” [Haydee, Ruby, Brittany, Groove Session]
7) “The Way Things Go” [Geri X, Johnny Rockford]
8) “Brighter Day” [Chris A, Johnny Rockford, Kyle Collins, Wally, Jenny, Tony]
9) “Fall In Lovers” [Ruby, Coop]
10) “Like A Satellite” [Charles, Walter, Caleb, Lena, Tarl, Jon]
11) “Build This Bridge” [Liam, Tarl, Shiri, Lena, Haydee]
12) “Passenger Side” [Louise, Alex, Freddy, Cooper, Alex, Wally]
13) “Be My Bridge” [Tomcat, Delaney, Wally, Coop, Steve Smith]
14) “1,000 Songs To Save The Bridge” [Kim, Meaghan, Berta, Jeneda]
15) “Welcome Home” [Coop, Jon, Jimm, Vee, Dan-o]
16) “Child Of The Swallows” [Jeannie, Tomcat]
17) “Walk Away” [Jimm, Vee, Jeannie, Greg, Jim Schwall]

18) “Sweet Short Life” [Jenny, Craig, James]
19) “This Is Why I Drink” [Danielle, Shiri, Dan-o, Alex, Statler]
20) “Giving Up The Ghost” [Liv, Delaney, Newski, Tomcat, Corinne]
21) “Cross Me” [Victoria, Carley, Ellie, Manny, Wally]
22) “Home” [Cariad, Kim, Berta, Ellie]
23) “Mad, Mad World” [Geri X, Corinne]
24) “16 Hours” [Bruce, Sarven, Manny]
25) “Old Steel Bridge” [Kory, Delaney]
26) “Conversation Between Pirates” [Liam, Tarl, Michael Grabner, Ronnie]
27) “Back In My Day” [Cariad, David Woods, Danielle]
28) “Transformation Day” [Danielle, Jon, Vee, Ronnie, Manny]
29) “Curve Of The Earth” [Brett, Vee, Alex]
30) “Hollow Bones” [Lena, Caleb]
31) “Keep In Mind” [Lena, Statler]
32) “Water Into Wine” [Kory, Carley]
33) “I Won’t Leave It Alone” [Craig, Jon, Vee, Danielle, Dan-o]

This performance is one of my favorite moments of the entire week. It is a truly wonderful evening, with everyone on the show sounding tremendous. The entire affair is pulled off with the utmost professionalism (the changeovers from act-to-act run particularly smoothly) and I’m delighted to participate so much, performing on 3 songs in the first half and 2 in the second.

[For a taste of what the TAP room performance was like check out this video by Connor Owens of “Cross MeHERE.]

After the show is over at TAP I run into my old friend Roberta Chavlier in the lobby and we walk over to Rock’s Music Store where I am scheduled to perform a set at 10:45 PM. Danielle French is acting as MC and All Good Things [a duo from Green Bay, WI] are on stage when I get there (and they are really good). Next up, the incomparable Charlie Cheney, who asks Danielle to sing a song with him before asking me to come up and join him on his classic “Steel Bridge Tender” from SBSFII. Charlie does a couple more songs and then I perform my set: “Holiday Motel,” “Welcome Home,” “Transformation Day” [with Danielle] and “Where Is Joe Strummer When You Need Him?” I also catch sets by Cariad Harmon and Carley Baer (who both sound fabulous).

While I am performing at Rock’s there is a wild jam session going down at Poh’s where Louise gets up and plays drums. Mojo Perry [Milwaukee, WI] is so impressed that he wants her to join his band.

Saturday, June 15th, 2013

It is drizzling lightly just after midnight when I take my guitar back to the Holiday Music Motel. I have a drink at Cherry Lanes with Roberta (and her friend Jac) and a fight breaks out between a very drunk woman and some skinhead motorpsycho Neanderthal. Outside the Sturgeon Bay cops are prowling around en masse keeping the streets safe (several of them eventually parade through the bowling alley after word of the fight reaches them). Things calm down and I end up at the Mistebox burrito stand with 20 other musicians and share a burrito with Louise and Carley until 3 AM. Back to the Holiday Music Motel fire pit where the regulars are hanging out (Charles, Renée, Vee and many others). Play guitar and we trade off singing songs until 6:30 AM. Kim Manning [Los Angeles, CA] jumps up and does a few cheerleader moves (she was, in fact, a cheerleader back in high school) which includes the highly entertaining chant of: “Be aggressive, not passive aggressive!” For the first time in the entire week Pat comes out and implores all of us to please go to bed. Twice. Witness sunrise #5.

Wake up at 11 AM. Get over to Billy’s studio by noon to do overdubs on “Call Me At 3 AM.” I suggest to guitarist Freddie Lee [Milwaukee, WI] to “think like Steve Cropper” and the next thing you know magic is coming out of his axe. His first take: call. His second take: response. Next up Louise overdubs her organ and all of a sudden we’re in church. Then Clayson and I overdub a tambourine track before a choir of ten come in to triple track our vocals and handclaps. The song is deemed finished and Billy produces a great rough mix of the track. [To view Louise Goffin’s video for the overdub session entitled “Saturday Morning Gospel” click HERE.]

No sooner do we finish up with Mr. Triplett then Steve Hamilton is ready to record “The Bridge Of Cruelty” in his studio from 2:30-4:00 PM. By the time that The Banditos are finished the track sounds really rich (but as it is unfortunately one of the last songs to be recorded there isn’t sufficient time for us to walk away with a rough mix).

From 4:00-5:30 PM I walk over to the Stone Harbor hotel with Louise and hang out in Room 124 to get caught up with emails for the first time in several days (the internet has been down for the last couple of days at the Holiday due to excessive traffic). While I’m doing emails Louise cuts together her “Saturday Morning Gospel” video for YouTube.

At 5:45 PM I head back across the street and as I’m walking out of the Holiday Music Motel to go MC at Kimz Café & Gallery (from 6:00-8:30 PM) I run into Jackson Browne [Los Angeles, CA] who is munching on a burrito. We exchange a few pleasantries and then I’m off to Kimz. Lena MacDonald performs and she asks me to play acoustic guitar behind her while she sings her new song “Like A Satellite.” Fun. Also on the bill are Becca Richter [Waukesha, WI], Cariad Harmon (with Chris Aaron joining her for a song), Holly Olm & Nicole Henquinet [Sturgeon Bay, WI], Sara Zacek [Green Bay, WI] and Bill Gonnsen. I leave for the Third Avenue Playhouse at 8:15 PM after passing off the hosting duties to Corey Power [Houston, TX].

Get over to TAP for the “2013 Steel Bridge All-Star Revue” to find that the “Young Songwriters Showcase” is running an hour behind schedule. This causes some slight mayhem backstage, which can’t be helped by the fact that it is now pouring rain outside. I practice my guitar backstage and there is an eleventh-hour decision to cut some of the songs from the All-Star Revue, no doubt causing a few hurt feelings. I’m grateful that Liv and I get to perform “Through These Eyes.” When we get out on stage I introduced our ballad with “here is a song that Liv and I wrote together in 2006 at the very first Song Construction Zone. It is still unreleased but perhaps one of these days Pat will eventually put it out on the thousand song box set.” This receives a few chuckles. We performed the song beautifully and I relish the moment, spending most of the song looking at Liv (because, let’s face it, she’s gorgeous). Two minutes and ten seconds later (blink!) and it’s over.

After our performance I wonder aloud to Pat backstage about disappointing anyone by missing my set at Kimz and he is insistent that the main priority for all of the performers on the revue to be on stage as a group for the big finale of “Party On The Bridge” as led by James Hall. It turns out to be a truly electric moment and is captured in all of its glory by the lens of Ty Helbach.

After the TAP performance it is STILL RAINING HARD and I end up at Rock’s Music store again, hosted by Craig Greenberg. I perform a solo acoustic version of “I Love You More Than Words Could Ever Say” and “I Won’t Leave It Alone” with Craig on piano. Craig performs a couple of songs solo and then Louise performs two songs, including “The Heart Is The Last Frontier.” Louise and I walk over to the Red Room and en route Pat & MJ are helping a white van on Third Avenue get a jump-start. The Red Room is crazy packed with revelers, hot and sweaty as they groove to the Freddie Lee Band, who are blistering on stage. Freddie is shredding like Hendrix and Tony Menzer [Madison, WI] is laying down some righteous bass but I decide to bow out when Louise and James take off for Poh’s. When we get there Delaney Davidson is on stage and sounds positively ethereal. I go out onto the street and run into Andy Lubahn of Andy’s Automatics (who looks great with his new girlfriend on his arm) and talk for a bit to Sara Zacek, whom I met earlier at Kimz. She is a waif with soulful brown eyes and she keeps thanking me profusely for coming to Sturgeon Bay. Charlie Cheney pops by and then I decide to go back into Poh’s where Liv is now on stage and she blows my mind with her three-song set, which includes a Dark Song performance with James Hall on a tune entitled “It’s OK.” They are absolutely riveting. Jimm McIver asks me if I want to perform “Welcome Home” with him and I say sure, except that I don’t have my guitar with me. I ask James Hall if I can borrow his and he replies: “It would be an honor.” After Jimm does his three-song set Craig gets up on stage with a keyboard and does three tunes of his own. Afterwards, Craig and I do three shots of whiskey at the bar to celebrate and cement our newfound camaraderie. Then James gets up and performs another amazing trio of tunes that concludes with an extremely inebriated white boy rapper stumbling through the door and interrupting him in the middle of a slow emotional soul ballad. The sea change is immediate and Mr. Hall makes the most of the moment by breaking into a hip-hop song and inviting the “rapper” on stage with him to demonstrate his skills. Unfortunately, the kid isn’t very good (and with tongue placed firmly in cheek, James manages to simultaneously support the kid and take the piss out of him at the same time). The kid is elegantly whisked off the bandstand and without missing a beat James picks up at the exact same spot in the ballad where he was interrupted. I am stunned by how amazing this moment is musically and spirituality (Craig Greenberg: “That was epic. Top 3 Steel Bridge moments EVER.”). Mr. Hall is a Baptist preacher disguised as a musician who could convince an atheist to go to church eight days a week and after tonight I am a true believer. We all close Poh’s and linger on the sidewalk and Craig and I say that we will reunite in awhile, but that plan never comes off (he ends up partying with the Groove Session guys until sunrise).

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

At 2:30 AM I walk down Third Avenue with Vee and we run into a couple (including a rather buxom white woman who keeps bending over and asking Vee to smack her ass REAL hard, which he obligingly does). Her companion Tony refers to his nationality as “Blaxican.” He lifts up his shirt and has a tattoo running vertically down the right side of his chest from his nipple to his waist that reads B-L-A-X-I-C-A-N. Go figure. For a moment I ponder the need of writing a song entitled “Antonio The Blaxican.”

We arrive at Untitled Rare & Used Books and Haydee Irizarry [Chicago, IL] is on stage playing piano and singing a beautiful version of The Smiths song “Asleep,” weaving it into a medley with “You Are My Sunshine.” I love it. People in the audience are talking about how Haydee is a star in the making and they may very well be right. The gal is gorgeous, talented and extremely mature and well mannered for being 17 years young.

Tonight at Untitled Kory Murphy is the MC. Danielle French does “This Is Why We Drink.” Charles Boheme is prowling around (with his wife Renée, of course) and he has Steven Link show me his “Globe,” an antique contraption that elegantly holds a treasure trove of quality liquor. Some premium scotch and tequila appear and Charles gets up on stage with Troy and Kory to perform his spoken word composition “El Whiskey.” Charles’ love for Jim Morrison is never more apparent than in this moment. The poetry (and no doubt the booze) makes me introspective and I reflect on how differently some people in the world think, act and relate. I grab a piece of paper and write:

How to be more selfless in order to create a community of people who care for each other, look out for each other and have a common goal in mind with shared values that allows everyone to feel like they are contributing to the common good and are either recognized for their contribution or no longer have an ego that needs to be recognized.

As it gets closer to 3 AM limericks start flowing. Steven gets up and reads two of his poems. They are really cool and thought provoking, causing Mr. Boheme to remark “Keats be damned.” At 3:45 AM Steven closes the bookstore and I walk back to the Holiday for one last pass around the campfire.

I hang out on the wall of the parking lot @ 5:30 AM before walking across the Michigan Street steel bridge (for the first and only time on this trip) with Lena, Haydee & Alex @ 6:30 AM and witness my sixth and final sunrise in a row. Sleep from 7 to 11 AM. Up by lunchtime. Sit in the diner area having coffee and a bagel and Carley Baer asks me if I’ll video her performing her new song “All Roads Lead You Home.” I’m more than happy to oblige and another great performance is captured for posterity (you can check it out HERE).

Meanwhile, the Holiday Music Motel is BUZZING with people and activity, as THE BIG SHOW in the parking lot is about to begin at 1 PM. The question on everyone’s mind is “will it rain?” Either way, insanity reigns.

There is a main stage with lots of great performances going on (I’m whirling around all over the place and not really capable of keeping track of them all) and in between the set changes on the main stage there are short (two and three song) sets being performed on the balcony of the Holiday. Various Song Construction Zone performers are signing up to perform on the breaks and somewhere around 2:30 PM Coop, Jimm and myself (The Come Ons) get up to do “Welcome Home.”

Afterwards I get into a long conversation with James about having kids and the joys and occasional traumas of being a parent. After awhile Louise shows up and I end up playing bass on the balcony on “We Belong Together,” with James on vocals & guitar, Louise on vocals & tambourine, Chris Aaron on guitar and Wally Ingram on drums.

Shortly before our performance I discovered that in all of the activity of rushing around the grounds that I somehow lost my wire rimmed prescription glasses, never to be found. I put myself through a couple hours of anxiety (and beat myself up over it) until I finally surrendered my loss and accepted that I would need to buy new glasses when I get home. As mad as I was at myself for being careless I was not going to let this one unfortunate incident ruin my week. That would be ridiculous.

Jackson Browne took the main stage from 5:00 to 6:30 and he is in great form this year (as a good friend of Pat’s, Jackson has been a tremendous supporter of the SBSF and the Holiday Music Motel and headlined the first four festivals between 2005 and 2008). Jackson brought his own guitarist and drummer with him from L.A. and has Pat taking care of the bass duties. (I’m disappointed that the threat of rain caused Purgatory Hill’s set to be cancelled at the very last minute.) After Jackson’s set (where he had Craig Greenberg and Stephen Cooper come up on the encore to perform) there are three final numbers on the main stage including killer versions of “Battle Of The Bridges” and “Party On The Bridge.” It is another highlight of the festival to perform “Battle Of The Bridges” and to maintain my composure as Vee danced around dressed up as a panda bear with starburst sunglasses in a blue pajama jump suit (that was borrowed from Kim Manning).

I am invited to dinner at John Morton’s by Joe Owens and his wonderful family and afterwards catch a ride in the shuttle to The Hitching Post in Valmy where the after party for SBSF is going down. It feels triumphant, yet bittersweet. It’s tough getting around without my eyeglasses after dusk but I manage to make the best of it. James Larson of Steel Bridge Radio interviews me in the parking lot for nearly 14 minutes and it captures my state of mind in the moment [click HERE to listen to our conversation]. Talk with dozens of new and old friends and get up on stage with Jimm, Coop, Vee and Dan-o for one last rendition of “Welcome Home” before calling it a night. The bar shuts at 2 AM and I catch a ride back to the Holiday Music Motel in the Groove Session van. For the first time in seven days I hit the sack before sunrise at 3:45 AM.

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Wake @ 9:30 AM. Start saying goodbye to everyone and it can’t help but feel a bit on the melancholy side. I catch a stimulating ride to Green Bay with Tony Menzer at 3 PM and arrive at the airport around 4:30 PM. Hop from Green Bay to Chicago, and from Chicago to San Diego. I can’t remember ever feeling so fried or elated and yet when I get home all I can do is take out my guitar and play all of these new songs for my girlfriend that didn’t exist eight days before and I wonder how will I ever go back to sleeping regular hours again?

A day or two later I read a post by Craig Greenberg on Facebook and he managed to summarize what I’m sure many of us feel about the SBSF experience:

“I had talks with a couple of the other songwriters at Steel Bridge this year about how we’ll be able to integrate the week we just had into our “normal” lives… how you go from spending a bunch of days in the Holiday Motel “Construction Zone,” a truly alternative reality, where your only priority is writing (and recording) songs (there’s 3 studios built into rooms that run pretty much around the clock), back to doing things like buying groceries?? How do I refrain from replying to a normal everyday question like “Cash or credit?” with a line like “You just might regret it”… a response like this in normal society would draw looks of confusion and possibly contempt…

In the CZ we’re 50+ songwriters sleeping in close quarters, eating, breathing, crapping music. Conjuring up and putting down structured sound where there was none before. Any passing phrase or sound can spur a song at any minute, with so many creative individuals about sparks are just flying around the place at all times, and its just a matter of lassoing it in. It’s a creative cocoon, and different rules and laws apply…as long as the music is being well served everything else sorta just takes care of itself.

So again I ask, engulfed in dismay, how do we do it?
But nothing comes, and I throw up my hands…. ehhh screw it!”

So, after 8 days of activity I left Sturgeon Bay with a thumb drive containing 67 MP3s of rough mixes from the collective efforts of everyone at Steel Bridge Songfest 2013. Steve Hamilton told me that there were 5 more songs that were recorded but not mixed and another 5 songs that were written but not recorded.

Mere words are insufficient to express my undying gratitude. The SBSF would not be possible if not for the Herculean efforts of pat mAcdonald, melaniejane and the staff and volunteers at the Holiday Music Motel. A huge hug of appreciation goes out to engineers Steve Hamilton, Billy Triplett and Dan-o Stoffels. Blessings and boons to Ronnie Sanchez of Groove Session for allowing me the use of his spare bass all week long and to my roommate Craig Greenberg for helping to make the week so transformative. A big thank you also to James Larson and Bruce Reaves for all that they do to promote the SBSF. And last, but not certainly not least, thanks to Frankie Frey for encouraging me to take this leap and for supporting me in the endeavor.

I love each and every one of my amazing collaborators, not to mention all of the other wonderful songwriters and musicians that I didn’t get the chance to perform or write with (next year I hope!).

I raise a glass to the amazing spirit and generosity of the people of Sturgeon Bay and to the magic that resounds in the walls and foundation of the Holiday Music Motel. Thanks for an unforgettable experience and for welcoming me back so warmly. I carry you all with me wherever I go. Peace. & Love. xo

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