Holiday Music Motel: It’s all about the song

No one knows the trials of extended road travels like musicians. The grind of nights on the road and one motel after another can kill even the heartiest spirit. Perhaps that is why motels are cited in the lyrics of so many great songs. Artists from PitBull to Bruce Springsteen and even Jackson Browne in his 1977 hit song The Road (…blues in old MOTEL rooms, girls in daddy’s car, you sing about the moon and dream about the stars) are just a few artists with lyrics that reference nights spent in a motel.  

photo: Ty Helbach

When the legendary musician and songwriter Pat mAcdonald (yes that is how he spells his name) and his sister Christie Weber wanted to come up with a grassroots fundraiser in 2005 to preserve a historic bridge in his hometown of Sturgeon Bay , a city in the county seat of Door County Wisconsin, Pat immediately thought of a benefit concert. Bringing artists to the small town, he decided to house them all together at a local motel. After all, it seems that motels have continually been a source of inspiration for musicians everywhere.

Pat always loved the collaboration of songwriters coming together. He co-wrote songs for many of music’s biggest names including Cher, Aerosmith, Keith Urban and The Police. He would even travel every year to the south of France, where Peter Frampton would host collaborative song writing events. This despite having achieved commercial success as a musician in his own right. In 1987 Pat was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist with his band Timbuk3 and their Billboard Top 20 hit song “The Future So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” For Pat it was never about commercial success, but the chemistry and creativity. 

To help ensure the success of that first benefit concert, Pat called on his friend Jackson Browne for help. “I was thinking he would do one song on the bridge called Some Bridge…It ended up turning into a day-long event that he headlined,” said Pat. Thousands came to watch and building on the huge success of that inaugural event in 2005 the Steel Bridge Songfest began. The following year Pat invited more of his song-writing friends to get “lots of songs about the bridge.” And to house them all he rented out an old motel with a cool neon sign called the Holiday Motel. 

Built in 1952, the original Holiday Motel opened two months before Kemmon Wilson opened his first Holiday Inn in Memphis, TN, which is likely why the independent property was able to keep the name. Fast forward to 2007, Pat had brought together a group of investors including Jackson Browne to buy the Holiday Motel and make it a permanent home. As Pat says “…with the purpose in mind that we would fill the motel with songwriters and collaborate.” Once the purchase was complete the name changed to the Holiday Music Motel. They immediately added a recording studio and even have their own radio station called Steel Bridge Radio that plays the songs recorded at the motel. All the songs are available to download with the funds raised going to underwrite the Steel Bridge Songfest costs. “The music events and the motel are so intertwined that they can’t really be completely separated,” said Pat.

One of the early song-writing collaborators was musician MelanieJane Jane (yes she spells her name that way too). By 2011 she began managing the Holiday Music Motel and running the logistics around the Steel Bridge Songfest. “It’s a lot of balls to juggle, planes to land and plates to spin all at the same time,” says MelanieJane half-laughing, but you get the feeling she wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.

In addition to a cool neon sign, recording studio, and Pat and MelanieJane, what really sets the Holiday Music Motel apart is that it is almost perfectly preserved in its original 1952 form.  

Almost all the bathrooms still have original fixtures. The diner, added in 1953, still has the original stools, countertop and linoleum floor. And the 18 guest rooms all have the 1950s Simmons line of steel case furniture that was designed for that new hotel company called Holiday Inn. “People that stayed here years ago will walk into a room and be surprised that it looks the same,” MelanieJane said.

With the Holiday Music Motel as your home base, you can go out and explore some cool roads. Destination Door County features five must-ride roads including 100 miles of coastline and 66 miles of rustic road along the Door County Coastal Byway. But before you do, make sure you download some great music from Steel Bridge Radio. To quote my fiancée Amanda, “The right song blaring in your helmet sets the tone for the whole journey…” and after all, it’s all about the song!

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