Steel Bridge Song Fest // A festival started to raise funds and awareness for the old steel bridge in Sturgeon Bay, WI.
A number of years ago, due to certain codes, a proposal was made to tear down the old bridge and put up a new bridge. There was an uproar from the locals who appreciated the historical value of the old bridge and a music festival was birthed to bring the community together and protect the bridge. The local voice was heard and not only did they fix up the old bridge but another new bridge was added to the roadways. Steel Bridge continues to flourish, no longer needing to focus on saving the bridge, they put their efforts towards bringing in musicians from all over the world for a week of songwriting (Construction Zone) and a weekend of acts that celebrate the old historical bridge. The festival works with local venues to host the bands, builds community and brings commerce via fans into the small town. Construction Zone is a week long songwriting “camp”. Professional musicians come from around the globe to write songs in a group setting. Over the course of a week the groups record and perform the songs and in the end a compilation CD is made with funds going to support the festival.
Three years ago our family band, The Hollands!, was invited to perform on the main outdoor stage at Steel Bridge Songfest. After the performance Pat MacDonald, one of the organizers, spoke with my mom about us coming back, specifically for me to be involved in Construction Zone. This past summer the timing worked out in our travels, allowing us to come back to Wisconsin for the festival. I was incredibly excited and honored to be asked to be apart of the Construction Zone / Steel Bridge Song Fest. I was looking forward to learning and writing with other musicians, and gain experience in the music industry. I went into the week, hopeful and wide eyed.
We arrived on Sunday evening after the initiation dinner, which meant I missed the first round of ‘spin the bottle,’ a game used to determine groups of 3 or 4 musicians. There were two others who were also late, Miss Meghan Owens and Eric Mcfadden, due to flight complications and so the three of us were paired together. Melanie Jane, the director of the festival, said that I should go home and come back in the morning. She gave me their numbers incase I needed to call them, for meeting times. I went to bed excited and nervous to meet them. The next day, when I got to the Holiday Music Hotel to meet my group, they still hadn’t shown up. Being new to the whole situation, I panicked. Everyone else was almost done writing their first song, some even recording and moving to a new group. I was frantic, texting and calling both Meghan and Eric. Where were they? They both showed up a few hours later, nonchalant and relaxed. I was a little confused and wondered how they could be so calm. We were so far behind! I wanted to get cracking and start the writing process. I wouldn’t say that I’m an extremely punctual person, but I definitely like to stick to the plan.
I came into the situation, excited but also insecure in my own songwriting abilities, specially amongst these rock and rollers (I’m a folkie you know). Everyone there already knew each other and had worked together before. I was a new-be. I was the youngest member in my group and had never written with anyone besides my family, The Hollands!. I was nervous that I wouldn’t have anything to offer. Once I realized the flow of the culture, I settled down a bit and we ended up writing a song within the hour. It went a lot smoother than I thought, which was really cool to experience. Both Eric and Meghan were very kind and seemed glad to work with me. They encouraged and included me, they listened to my ideas and asked my opinion in the most genuine way. All around it was a great, a bit stressful in the beginning, but memorable experience. The song we wrote had a blend of jazzy elements as well as some Bosa-nova guitar and sing-a-long lyrics. Recording was so much fun, with the only downside being that the recording session was at two in the morning. I had gone back to our bus around midnight and shortly after I went to bed, Meghan called to tell me that we needed to recored RIGHT NOW, because there are no other times to do it! I got dressed and she picked me up and we stayed until four in the morning. It was a little hectic and I was a bit groggy, but we got it done. The experience ended up turning out to be really cool and we were pleased with our song.
The next day I met with a different group to experience the process all over again. The night before, after dinner, I was able to participate in the nightly “spin the bottle’ game and was paired in a group with Craig Greenberg and Jimm McGivver. I felt a lot more confident this time around, with my initial experience under my belt. Working with these two gentlemen was magnificent. We had an instant chemistry and a melody almost immediately, thanks to Craig. It was a cute, catchy little tune that became my favorite song of the whole week called “With A Kiss.” Jimm contributed the most to the lyrics. I loved just watching the way he really thought about all the words and wove them together. He is master lyricists. The song allowed for a duet and I sang alongside Craig, while strumming my ukulele. I loved singing harmony with Craig. It was fascinating to hear the way my voice sounded with another person, especially a male voice. Our song was recorded the next morning. It was pretty easy compared to the previous recording, mostly because we were awake.
My third and last group was with two beautiful ladies, GeriX and Jeneda along with the accompaniment of the youngest CZ member, Hayden . I was really excited for this group because everyone kept saying how lucky we were to be paired together. Many said we would blend well together. The song we wrote was a little different than the others, more melodic and urethral. We decided to try a different approach and were creative with all of our layers and textures. We came up with the idea of a Pirates of the Caribbean theme, focusing on the Sirens in the third movie, as well as an inspiration from the three women (sirens) in Oh Brother Where Art Thou. We were trying to create a sleepy hypnotic melody meant to lure our prey. It was definitely fit for a spooky sea based movie soundtrack. We used lots of different materials that included, large water jugs, empty bear and alcohol bottles as wind pipes, synthesizer keyboard, bells, and breathing sounds to layer over the top of our song. The recording process was easy and laid back. It was finished in about an hour and a half. I was feeling pretty good about the fact that all my songs were done. There were others who were joining together to make new groups on there own and write even more songs. There were actually quite a few people I would have liked to write with, but late nights and being a first timer wiped me out.
I think all my stressing caught up to me because the next day, as I came down with a horrific stomach bug. It was the most extreme experience of pain I have had in a long while. I couldn’t eat or keep anything down. It was a wonder how all of these musicians were able to sustain themselves in such an environment. I was only on day four and I was already dead. I started to understand, why the overall response when asking how someone is doing was, ‘exhausted.’ The night I got sick was the first night of the festival and the Construction Zone Songwriters Showcase at the Third Avenue Playhouse performance. My song with Craig and Jimm was picked for the line up which was such an incredible honor. I was so excited but so queazy. I ended up in the bathroom up until five minutes before going on stage. We played the song with ease and excellence, thank Jesus. And, straight after the performance I went home in hopes of being able to sleep it off for our Hollands! performance the next day.
Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep. I ended up sitting in the front of our bus, by myself, thinking about the past few days. Beyond my personal experience and how it benefited me, I began recapping on all of the conversations I had with different people, taking note of the spiritual elements at play, noting the cultural biases and dynamics of this rock and roll world. I understand that it’s easy to see from the outside and in the long run, I could be wrong, but I kept thinking about how amazingly talented many of these folks were yet how there was a dryness present, almost like they were starved for affirmation. As much as I appreciated the actual process I noted there was a general language that revolved around personal accomplishments, almost as if to remind oneself that they were worth something, taking full credit for everything. I suppose that is pretty common for everybody, in every walk of life, but it seemed especially true in this performance based world. It just seemed so unnecessary because to me they were all beautiful human beings even before any of them opened their mouths or strummed a guitar. I don’t’ think there is anything wrong with acknowledging your accomplishments and sharing the amazing things that were given to you, but humility is such a beautiful thing and acknowledging from whom those gifts came from is important to me. Having my parents along for the week, and gleaning their spiritual wisdom was such an important part of my week. They talked me through the rough patches and encouraged me to preserver, to be a light, even when I wanted to give up. They tried to offer me perspective by showing me to see a bigger picture in it all and reminded me to soften my heart and trust during times that were difficult. They reminded me that I was there for a reason. And, even when I’m down, God is faithful.
My experience for the week was definitely a learning experience. I had a hard time adjusting in the beginning but it was good for me as a person who is engaged in the music business and the culture that goes with that business. I gained knowledge in songwriting and musicianship. I learned how different technicalities and art can be combined. I learned how to actually sit down and write with others and that it’s okay if a song doesn’t turn out how you expected. I also learned compromise is so important when writing with other people. I understand that there is a connection that happens when you write a song with someone. You don’t have to know anything about them, but when you sing together, a certain bond is formed. The Construction Zone artist talked about how we were all family. And, in a sense we are, specially having shared on such an intimately creative level. I learned that I need to be and surround myself with people that love and trust if I am ever going to have a chance swimming upstream.
All in all, my experience there was life changing. It’s funny how the first part of the week, I was so unsure of my footing and I just wanted to leave but by the end, I had a familiar place amongst these kinfolk. I’d like to go back, to participate in the Construction Zone again. Thank You to all those who walked with me during Steel Bridge Song Fest Construction Zone, and that you for including me in your family.