Get me to Steel Bridge
I moved to Milwaukee in January to be around music and the people that make it. It may seem wild, far-fetched or plain counter-intuitive, considering that I was raised in and around New York City, the place where music happens.
It’s The Destination, you don’t have to tell me that. But I’m not as interested in the ends of music that “make it” on New York terms as I am in certain living room concert parties, and tiny stages lit by twinkling Christmas lights.
I came to Milwaukee because a unique set of conditions and opportunities arose that made it possible for me to build my days around listening, learning and making song.
If you haven’t noticed yet, I’ll tell you: there’s a lot of musical stuff happening here — from Summerfest, to the Milwaukee Symphony’s epic orchestrations, to the commissioning club and creation project of Present Music. This is a town filled with spaces and institutions made for music: the sophisticated Uilhien Hall, the ornate Pabst theater and Linneman’s starry stage are some of the obvious iterations. (Maybe it’s because Wisconsin is so cold? Whatever the case, the musical ways we warm ourselves are part of a long tradition that seems to thrive in the Midwest in particular, right under the upturned noses of the East and West Coast.)
It’s also happening in places like the vinyl library palace of the WMSE studio and the attics of Riverwest. These spaces and their attached characters tell a story of a town that is steeped in song. I find myself relating most earnestly to songwriters and music lovers; those folks who are committed, with quiet (or loud) compulsion to reflecting the world as they know it through composition and lyrical writing.
I encountered one of these characters at Linneman’s, a Milwaukee establishment where (in my case this winter) one can seek refuge from the cold, hear great original music, linger at the bar and watch a DVD of Roy Orbison live in concert. I came to its open stage, my own songs in tow, because I was new in town and I didn’t know a soul. While playing out at Linneman’s I’ve met a priest, a fair share of crazies and a slew of talented singer/songwriters, some of them awe-inspiring.
The “something” he recommended was Steel Bridge Songfest, an annual gathering of talented, industrious singer/songwriters, musicians and engineers from around the country, culminating in a huge concert series in Sturgeon Bay, WI.
I took his advice, and soon I will be writing to you from this very unique Midwestern musical enclave. The 6th annual Steel Bridge Songfest is one of Wisconsin’s rural summer gems, put on by the organization Citizens for Our Bridge, happening June 10-13. The “four days of music and discovery” draws in local acts and bands from around the country (and the world) to perform together on over 15 stages, for an audience of thousands.
In the coming days, before the concerts begin, I will be taking part in what’s known as the “construction zone,” a weeklong workshop of music composition and recording in with around 50 other songwriters from around the country. Every night, we play a game of spin the bottle to link up randomly for the purposes of composing. Sparks will fly as we explore what each other has to offer, to see what kind of magic and pop genius can happen when everything else falls away, and the mission is music.
Stay tuned. Or better yet, join me!