BLOG: Early Summer Groove

I knew Memorial Day weekend would bring sleepy Door County out of her nap and into the swing of summer. I didn’t know just how swinging it would be. Driving north to Sister Bay through Jacksonport on Friday evening, I found it decked out in tents for the Maifest celebration. The closed-up tents ready for the next day’s festival gave me excited anticipation for a weekend of merrymaking. In the next 36 hours I encountered a myriad of live music events, from raucous to restful, that set the tone for summer.

Saturday our dear friend Justin arrived for a visit, and my fiancé Tim and I entertained by grilling on our patio. After supper the night was young, so we drove over to Bailey’s Harbor for a few beers. I had heard that Wisconsin natives, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, would be playing for Door County Brewing Company’s one-year anniversary party. I had attended a performance by the Stevens Point bluegrass band in Green Bay a few months prior, and I was excited to see the group in a more intimate setting. We parked a block away and approached the brewery, which is on county road F. We could hear loud string music wafting from the bar, and there was a smattering of people enjoying their brews on the lawn in the dusky light.

When we opened the front door, the reason for the overflow was apparent. The tasting room was jammed to the hilt with beer-loving bluegrass fans. Undeterred, we wedged our way inside. The energy in the room was palpable. Horseshoes and Hand Grenades was playing in a far corner next to the bar, where an elegant antique-looking chandelier hangs above the band, and bare planks wall the performance space. The wood bears the words “Drink Local.” We could barely see the band’s five members for all the dancing fans crowded right in front. But the sounds of a banjo, guitar, harmonica, fiddle and upright bass belted through a single microphone, electrifying the entire room. The age range of those in attendance spanned kindergartner to seasoned country music lover. However, twenty-or-thirty-somethings made up the majority.

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In fact, while waiting patiently to order, Tim and I both bumped into people we knew, several of them. Even Justin ran into a former student. Over the party noise we exchanged hugs and shouted comments about how great the band was.

After a few minutes wait we made it to the bar where a busy but cheerful barman told us he was already out of at least one of the house-made brews. We ordered ales that came to us in tulip glasses. We chatted awhile longer with friends and then made our way closer to the band. I ran into still another friend from college, a jam music aficionado. My fedora-wearing friend was visiting from Milwaukee with his girlfriend and was thrilled to find that one of his favorite Wisconsin bands had made its way up to the peninsula.

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We grooved through a few more songs. The band played their original bluegrass music heavy on the harmonica and harmony of beautiful male voices. They also played some well-known tunes. The crowd especially loved their string interpretation of Meghan Trainor’s “All About that Bass.” Dancing, singing and sweating, the band members fed off of the room’s enthusiasm. We danced to the end of the set and cheered for an encore, which they delivered. The band’s guitarist, Adam Greuel, expressed his delight with the supportive crowd and promised to return. The whole room raised their glasses to this.

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Still riding the happy wave of dancing feet from the night before, on Sunday I made my way to Fish Creek to pick up my wedding bands. Main street was bustling, so it took me time to drive through town and find a parking space. I picked up the rings and was strolling back to my car when I heard guitar chords from a nearby coffee shop. I popped in, bought a chai and stayed to watch. The duo was called “Band of Seahorses.” The female singer was accompanied by a male guitarist. They covered “Falling Slowly,” a slow, bewitching song known from the film Once. The small group in the sunny shop quietly chatted, though most were relaxing into the music.

I only stayed for a few songs, then took my chai down to Sunset Park to check out the view. It was overcast, and at first glance I thought the park deserted. I heard more strumming and more singing and realized a couple was lounging on the grass giving a private concert to the seagulls. I sidled up and listened to a few songs. After a particularly lovely folk piece, I applauded, and we began talking. The couple told me they play with a bluegrass trio called Milestones around Evanston, Illinois, but they escape to Door County each Memorial Day weekend to relax and play music for themselves. They told me they’d played in the same spot the previous evening and had entertained young couples who didn’t want them to stop. I told them about my errand to pick up wedding bands, and this led to a song just for me. They played a gentle love tune I didn’t know called “Whisper Your Name,” originally written by Michael Johnson. The sound of waves washing on the rocks behind me was the perfect background to their notes. The moment was beautiful, and I thanked Mike and Irene. As I got up to leave, I found that several others had gathered in the park to listen, including an older couple that lauded Irene’s voice as I passed.

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Monday morning Tim and I recognized the holiday by attending a Memorial Day ceremony at First Baptist Church in Sister Bay. No patriotic event would be complete without rousing marches, which Gibraltar School band provided. The sanctuary was packed and everyone joined the men’s choir in singing “God Bless America.” Despite being in the throes of the most hectic weekend of the year, the community paused that morning and came together through song to honor its heroes.

Where else can you hear enjoy food and drinks while listening to live music in Door County throughout the year?

Glas Coffee House, Kitty O’Reilly’s, White Gull Inn, Husby’s Food & Spirits, Sister Bay Bowl, Mink River Basin, Gibraltar Grill, Fred & Fuzzy’s Waterfront Bar & Grill, Peninsula Pub, Stone Harbor Resort, Waterfront Mary’s Bar & Grill, Gilmo’s Bar & Bistro, Simon Creek Winery, Brick Lot Pub & Grill, Door County Brewing Company

Don’t forget to check the Calendar of Events to see when and where your favorite artists are performing.