Door County’s most beloved music venue isn’t a bar, an auditorium, or a classic theater, but a 100-year-old dairy barn nestled among fields in the middle of the peninsula.
Dr. Steve Ellmann is the jack-of-all liason.
He’s been in bands since he was eleven, played trumpet for the Norfolk Symphony while attending the Virginia School of Music, he’s toured Europe with an 18-piece big band.
“I’ve been involved with music my entire life,” Dr. Ellmann said “it makes my soul feel better.”
Years ago, Dr. Ellmann, who at the time was managing a bar in Fish Creek, Wisconsin, would hire his father’s Dixieland Jazz band to play over the Memorial and Labor Day holidays.
“And we jammed the place,” Ellmann said. “Until I decided to find and hire six Dixieland musicians to come and play at the bar, six nights a week. I immediately needed a place for them to stay. So I found an old farm house with eight bedrooms, six for the band members and two for my bartenders. One of the bartenders was my brother, David.”
Steve eventually pursued his PhD, while his brother ‘bought the farm.’
“He turned the house and some of the out-buildings into a summer residence for kids that worked for the county,” Ellmann said. “Over time, local folk groups and musicians would do impromtu shows in the barn for whatever they could make by passing the hat.”
Then one year David threw a Labor Day weekend party.
“It was for all the kids that had worked up there all summer,” Ellmann said “not just at his place, but throughout the county. For 5-bucks a head there were all the brats and corn on the cob you could eat, and all the beer you could drink, and music until everybody fell down (laugh).”
It eventually became slightly more formal in that they held intimate folk concerts in the barn loft, and bigger shows downstairs with lights and sound.
“I’ve been running lights along with Stewart Dawson who has worked with the Albuquerque Opera Company, for a long time now,” Ellmann said “He’s crazy, but good (laugh). And I’ve been doing the sound since the inception, and producing the shows at what’s known as ‘Camp David.’ David booked the bands and organized things. It’s a family affair. My mother, until she passed away last November, used to bring flowers for all the concerts and decorate the stage. My sister Carol has now taken over flower duty.”
In July, the Fishstock Concert Series at Camp David Party Barn will begin its 21st season of bringing acclaimed musicians to the most unconventional of stages. Established favorites like Memphis picking extraordinaire Eric Lewis and songwriter Chris Irwin return, joined by the likes of jazz virtuoso Janet Planet and the acoustic swing of Mal-O-Dua.
“I’m really excited about this lineup, with favorites returning and some new blood invigorating the stage,” Ellmann said. “We’re maintaining the vibe and aesthetic of the place that people love, that makes it so special, but with some new sounds to attract new audiences and some new technical advancements to make it easier for people to attend.”
The Fishstock Concert Series gave bluegrass and folk music a Door County platform two decades ago, introducing acts from around the country to Door County audiences in a barn where the setting sun squeezes through cracks in the barnwood. Musicians like Lewis, Tommy Burroughs, Jimmy Davis, and Karen Mal have since become staples of the peninsula’s music scene with a genre rarely heard before the venue with a funny name opened its doors to them.
“We do a regular season,” Ellmann said “musicians come from all over the country to play and sing…it’s a unique singer/songwriter venue.”
None of the people who work at Camp David get paid.
“We don’t have any big money behind us,” Ellmann said “we either make it at the door, or it comes out of my pocket. We’re competing for the audiences who go to other local free concerts that are funded by the room tax dollars. We’re trying real hard to make it survive.”
Fishstock is even becoming higher tech by now selling tickets in advance online for the first time.
Follow the signs down the gravel driveway off County Road F and Maple Grove Road just east of Fish Creek. Park in the field where you’re welcome to tailgate. You’ll find seating in the barn for 150, and more room outside under a newly built over-hang roof, over the slab in the barnyard where they will video-project the show going on inside on the side of the barn. They offer free Collectivo Coffee, and soda, and tea.
“Or you can bring a bottle of wine,” Ellmann said “maybe a cigar, hangout and enjoy the music.”
To learn more about Fishstock, see the 2016 concert schedule, and buy tickets, visit fishstockmusic.com or find it on Facebook at www.facebook.com/fishstockmusic.
Sunday nights at Camp David Party Barn All shows start at 7 pm 3127 County Road F, Fish Creek, WI 54212 fishstockmusic.com
JULY 3 Karen Mal and Friends
The acclaimed Austin-based songwriter and veteran of seven seasons on the American Folklore Taheater stage brings her captivating voice and intrumentals back to the Fishstock stage.
JULY 10 Paper Birds
Paper Birds is a four-piece indie folk/pop band featuring captivating folk/pop from two of Door County’s favorite songbirds, Katie Dahl and Claudia Russell, with spot on accompaniment from Bruce Kaplan and Rich Higdon.
JULY 17 Chris Irwin and Friends
Chris Irwin marks his 17th annual Fishstock concert this year. A former American Folklore Theatre performer, this Memphis guitar picking extraordinaire might be the peninsula’s most popular musician, playing a mix of acoustic music, including country and bluegrass, and always shares the stage with great local musicians.
JULY 24 Eddie Biebel and Vickie Basar
Original mountain ballads and folk music from the Ozarks. Eddie’s dynamic guitar playing and earthy warm baritone blend perfectly with Vickie’s soaring heartfelt vocals to create something new, fresh and exciting.
July 31 Mal-O-Dua
What happens when Django Reinhardt meets Merle Travis? A new style of acoustic swing is born! The duo pulls from a wide range of sources including early French pop, traditional Hawaiian music, Gypsy jazz, Kentucky finger-picking, Western Swing, Parisian waltz, and the American standards songbook to name a few. These styles are blended to create a fresh new sound.
AUG 7 Tim Grimm and Carolyn Carter
Original mountain ballads and folk music from the Ozarks and the Midwest. Carolyn’s voice and guitar are authentically heart warming as she tells of life in the Arkansas mountains. Tim is her Midwest counterpart as he tells of life and times in the Midwest.
AUG 14 Jay Whitney and Friends
Enjoy the masterful guitar and “down home” vocals of Big Mouth veteran Jay Whitney and his talented friends. Whitney’s bluesy, soul-filled style has wowed Door County audiences for 30 years.
AUG 21 Janet Planet
A productive recording artist, performer, teacher and clinician, her concert schedule takes her to universities, jazz festivals and clubs across the USA and internationally.
AUG 28 Jimmy Davis and Friends
Memphis Male Vocalist of the Year. Organic folk, blues, and country. He’ll charm with his honest lyrics and realistic songs.
SEPT 4 Eric Lewis and Friends
The final show of the season always packs the barn. Flat picker extraordinaire, steel guitar and acoustic guitar. If it has strings he can make it sing, and in this amazing final show, he brings an array of friends to the stage to sing you into fall.