Steel Bridge Songfest is an annual, music festival held in beautiful Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin co-founded in 2005 by musician and friend of the proGram, Pat MacDonald. The event began as part of a grass-roots campaign to restore a historic bridge. The festival features a week-long collaborative songwriting workshop (the Construction Zone) where participants write songs inspired by the bridge. The songs are recorded on-site at the Holiday Music Motel and released as compilation albums. The Michigan Street Bridge (Sturgeon Bay Bridge) is a multi-span Warren/Parker truss bridge built in 1929 and dedicated the following year. It connects Wisconsin State Highway 57 to the Third Avenue business district, carrying motor and foot traffic over the Sturgeon Bay Shipping Canal. The structure is a Door County landmark, and appears in the official logo of the city of Sturgeon Bay. Its rolling bascule lift spans are unique in the country, and in 2008 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1995, continuous remote monitoring by Northwestern University’s Infrastructure Technology Institute detected new cracks in the track casting, later confirmed by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Though the cracks were repaired, a 1997 Programmatic Agreement amongst the Federal Highway Administration, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and Wisconsin State Historic Preservation Officer determined that the bridge did not warrant preservation and in 1999, the FHWA began considering plans to demolish and replace the bridge. It is during this time that Citizens For Our Bridge, a non-profit 501(c), was founded as “S.O.B.”s (“Save Our Bridge”). The group was formed by citizens opposed to the suggested destruction. Working together with ACHP and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, CFOB proposed a plan to rehabilitate the structure. To inform the community and raise funds to carry out the plan, Pat helped organize a small music festival. He enlisted the help of his longtime friend, singer/songwriter Jackson Browne, and Steel Bridge Songfest was born.
It’s been a few years, but I had the chance to catch up with our of bridge brother, Pat mAcdonald once again to help remind people of this unifying event. This year’s main events are taking place on June 14th and 15th at the Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Pat and I get into the history of why there would be a need for a festival about and for a bridge. We travel through the years leading up to this year’s event(s), pulling out many important aspects of the why the need was there, and how it all have evolved from the then until the now. For all the pertinent details, please head over to the SBSF website and make like a bridge and CONNECT.