Arts and Entertainment

your choices for the Chippewa Valley’s best in Arts and Entertainment

V1 Staff, illustrated by Erik Christenson

BEST MOVIE THEATER

1st Place: Cameo Budget Theatre
2nd Place: Micon Cinemas
3rd Place: Gemini Drive-In

Second-run and drive-in movie theaters were all but considered the Latin of moviehouses, meaning their kind have slowly waned and died off since their prime half a century ago. Whether it’s because of the financial commitment of most first-runs or the desire to experience something different, Chippewa Vallians have embraced the unique theaters this area has to offer. The Cameo Budget (315 S Barstow St.) is a second-run twin theater with a rich history downtown, not to mention the highly popular two-dollar Tuesdays for its family fare. Though not second run, Micon Cinemas (475 Chippewa Mall Dr) is a unique experience, too, as this family-centric theater often has special events such as screening football games, local movie premieres, and parties. Gemini Drive-In (6730 Hwy 12) is the single-screen, double-feature experience your parents told you about. Now if we could just keep the windows from getting foggy… – Trevor Kupfer
 

BEST LIVE MUSIC VENUE

1st Place: Stones Throw
2nd Place: Acoustic Café
3rd Place: House of Rock

Live music is a part of every city and a venue can make or break a show. Sound system, layout, and regulars can all influence whether to stay for a band’s set or not. That being said, Eau Claire has some venues that will make a lasting first impression and bring people back for more. Topping the list is Stones Throw (304 Eau Claire St.). A spacious stage, killer sound, and European pub feel make this bar a destination to see touring or local acts. It simply feels like a place where rock ‘n roll should be played. Second place Acoustic Café (505 S Barstow St.) is not only home to the tastiest cup of soup in town, but also to many intimate performances from artists ranging from bluegrass to classical guitar. The delicious food and friendly wait-staff make this café the perfect place to enjoy a relaxing evening of music. In third is the House of Rock (422 Water St.) exhibiting a lively vibe, a prime location on Water Street, and a reputation for the “world’s best Bloody Mary.” – Kyle Shaffer

Chippewa Choice: Dewey’s Roadhouse, 1 East Canal St.
 

BEST OUTDOOR MUSIC SPOT

1st Place: Phoenix Park
2nd Place: Owen Park
3rd Place: Campus Mall

Outdoor activities are an abundant commodity in the Chippewa Valley, but there are few that are both pleasurable and achievable for all ages and interests in the community.  Music – although moving and delightful indoors – when in an outdoor setting simply has a different feel; one that encourages communal participation and the sharing of locally bred art.  And the recent success at Phoenix Park has rejuvenated this collective interest in outdoor music. Thanks to events like The Sounds Like Summer Concert Series and The Taste of Eau Claire, Phoenix Park has been championed (once again) as the best outdoor music spot. Climbing up from a third place finish last year is Owen Park and its classic and irreplaceable band shell. The well-groomed park along First Avenue is host to various UW-Eau Claire music events as well as the yearly Coalition Blues Festival. Third place Campus Mall continues to hold an array of live music events through out the year including acts during UW-Eau Claire’s English Fest and the professor, alumni, and staff led Noon Tunes Series. – Mark Koenig


BEST ALL-AGES HANGOUT/VENUE

1st Place: Acoustic Café
2nd Place: Racy D’Lene’s
3rd Place: Infinitea Teahouse

When I was a sophomore in high school, I was introduced to something called the “underage show” in the Chippewa Valley. These were shows held every Saturday at the Stones Throw, downtown, for those between the ages of 16 and 20 ONLY! Shows usually started at 5 pm and went up until a half an hour before the bar opened and the 21+ crowd made their way in for the evening. I remember these shows being well-favored by a lot of ‘kids’ in the area, and most definitely credit them as my introduction to a the local scene. The show was short-lived, and when it went, the ‘kids’ returned to the strictly ‘all-ages’ venues where they’ve remained, hanging out, ever since. The best of these are the infamous hoagie palace, Acoustic Café (505 S. Barstow St.), the hipply furnished Racy D’Lenes (404 Riverside Ave.), and the newbie, Chippewa Valley’s only tea house, Infinitea (112 E. Grand Ave). – Kyle Frenette

Really?: More than 30 people like “Under the bridge downtown.”
 

BEST MUSEUM/HISTORIC SITE

1st Place: Chippewa Valley Museum
2nd Place: Paul Bunyan Logging Camp
3rd Place: Children’s Museum of Eau Claire

Local history is an important and ever-present entity in the Chippewa Valley; it’s under your feet, it’s in the trees, it’s in the river, it’s in your family, it’s in your words. Over time, local organizations have ingested information discovered through these sources of data and presented them to the community in our wonderful local museums. The Chippewa Valley Museum (1204 Carson Park Dr.) remains the areas favorite historical provider of information. The displays on the Ojibwe Indians, early city settlements and farm life along with various traveling exhibits continue to be important historical fixtures in the Valley. Up one spot from last year, the second place Paul Bunyan Logging Camp (110 Carson Park Dr.) educates visitors about the logging history via tours through the authentic logging camp complete with artifacts and memorabilia. Third place Children’s Museum of Eau Claire (220 S. Barstow St.) continues the mission to teach the Chippewa Valley’s parents and children in an environment of creativity, discovery and imagination. – Mark Koenig

Chippewa Choice: The Cook-Rutledge Mansion
 

BEST JAZZ BAND

1st Place: UWEC Jazz I
2nd Place: Sue Orfiield Band
3rd Place: The Jumanji

Contrary to what non-Midwesterners may think, Eau Claire is a hoppin’ spot for jazz music. From fusion to be-bop, the city is brimming with talented musicians playing everything from original compositions to standards. To anyone in the area, it may come as no surprise that first place goes to the nationally renowned UWEC Jazz I Ensemble. The group has recorded 12 CDs and has received the Down Beat Award for Best College Big Band five times. Second place belongs to the Sue Orfield Band, fronted by (as one would expect) Seattle native Sue Orfield. Having played tenor sax for nearly 30 years, it’s no wonder Orfield has been voted “best horn” by the Washington Blues Society for four consecutive years from 2001-2004. She brings her talent to a multitude of bands around the area, most notably fronting the group bearing her name. Third place band Jumanji is comprised of some very gifted musicians from Memorial High School. The sextet plays standards as well as originals, proving that even the young can swing.  – Kyle Shaffer
 

BEST SOLO PERFORMER

1st Place: Brian Bethke
2nd Place: Peter Phippen
3rd Place: Anna Johnson

The numbers don’t lie; Eau Claire is passionate about their local music. As the most voted category, these top three solo performers received more votes than any other nominee in any other category. Top finisher and Osseo native Brian Bethke rises above the sea of folksy acoustic artists with his authentic passion for his craft. Flute master Peter Phippen takes second as a nationally known innovator of his genre, performing concerts, workshops, lectures, and assembly programs for the last 15 years. Third place goes to singer/songwriter Anna Johnson, who has spread her soothing and sincere acoustic love across the region, from coffeehouses and radio stations, to hospitals, and music festivals. Fun fact: Johnson is currently attending the McNally Smith College of Music in St. Paul with a hefty scholarship, courtesy of rock legends Queen.  – Caitlin Heidbrink
 

BEST ART GALLERY

1st Place: UW-Eau Claire’s Foster Gallery
2nd Place: LE Phillips Mem. Public Library
3rd Place: Eau Claire Regional Arts Center

Last year’s champion of art display, the Foster Gallery, grabs first again for its refreshingly diverse array of exhibits. Located in the Haas Fine Arts Center on the UW-Eau Claire campus, this art space hosts regional and national exhibits and showcases student, faculty and international artists’ work from a myriad of styles and movements. L.E Phillips Library may be the center for written word, but it also takes second for its visual arts displays that feature local and regional works. And in third, ECRAC stays on the Best Of list another year, making a home for single-artist shows, as well as themed exhibits. Located on the main floor of the State Theater, this gallery includes fresh pieces from a wide selection of media. – Caitlin Heidbrink
 

BEST CULTURAL EVENT

1st Place: International Fall Festival
2nd Place: Chalkfest
3rd Place: Taste of Eau Claire

Webster’s Dictionary defines a festival as an event that allows participants to get outside, look at some crafts, and eat a whole bunch of stuff that they normally wouldn’t. We think. The dictionary is way over on the other side of the room… Nevertheless, western Wisconsin can throw some kick-ass festivals. International Fall Festival takes place in downtown Eau Claire in autumn, surprisingly, and features food, crafts, and entertainment with a slant towards the cultures of the world, especially those that have gone into the stew that is the Chippewa Valley. Second place Chalkfest is a brand new extravaganza that invites artists to compete kung-fu style with chalk, a sidewalk square, and all sorts of wacky fun and games. Taste of Eau Claire is both a festival and a challenge to all of the area’s gastro-intestinally gifted residents – come to Phoenix Park and imbibe morsels from dozens of local restaurants. Local festivals – a great excuse to eat cheese curds outdoors. – Eric Rasmussen

Chippewa Choice: Oktoberfest
Menomonie Pick: WinterDaze


BEST PUBLIC ART INSTALLATION

1st Place: Hands Across Eau Claire
2nd Place: 2 S. Barstow mural building
3rd Place: LE Phillips Memorial Public Library’s permanent collection

Driving around the Eau Claire area, one might be surprised to see random spots of color – in the shape of human hands, no less – peeking out among old and new buildings, shrubbery, and sidewalk traffic. Voted the Best Public Art Installation in the Chippewa Valley, the Hands Across Eau Claire display is a project of the Children’s Museum of Eau Claire. The 15 hands were all designed by local artists and are auctioned off to raise money for the museum. Coming in second is the 2. S. Barstow mural building, a colorful display of artwork on an otherwise nondescript downtown Eau Claire building. The murals were painted over boarded-up windows, of which the building has many, as it currently sits empty. Rounding out third place is the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library’s permanent collection, which features work by regional and local artists that rotates every six weeks. The work is chosen by the library’s art committee. Coming up is a six-week fall show by the Eau Claire Area Art League Fall Show, which will run through Nov. 25. – Emily Thierfelder

Up-and-Comer: The sculpture yet to be put in Phoenix Park.
 

BEST INDIE ROCK BAND

1st Place: Bon Iver
2nd Place: Jim Pullman Band
3rd Place: Daredevil Christopher Wright

Instead of taking these 125 words to tell you what you already know about Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), let’s instead use this space to celebrate the man that has become something of a legend overnight. Are any of us really surprised? When the world turned inside out after, For Emma Forever Ago came out, there was part of us that knew, deep down, this had to happen. Justin’s success hasn’t just brought the world to us, it has brought Eau Claire to the world. Even now we appreciate more and more what we have here, a vibrant and creative group of people making extraordinary music. You needn’t look any farther than the rest of this list to see that Justin’s talent isn’t a singular force in the Chippewa Valley. Jim Pullman and the Daredevil Christopher Wright are both fantastic, and are deserving of the critical press that is only starting to heap upon them. And it is for this reason that we should thank Bon Iver, not just for the music that awakened our hearts, but the cultural phenomenon that opened our eyes. – Ian Jacoby


YOUR FAVORITE LOCAL AUTHOR

1st Place: Mike Perry
2nd Place: Ken Szymanski
3rd Place: Andy Patrie

Mike Perry is what every young English major hopes to grow up to be: rugged, well spoken, and, let’s face it, cool as hell. When Perry writes about a tractor, it makes me want to ride a damn tractor. When Perry says he knows CPR, I want to go down to the YMCA and take a class again. When Perry writes about people throwing up all over the place – well, maybe there is an end to it. Let’s just say this, Perry is a master of small town life, but that might be skewing a little small. Sure, small town life is different than living in Manhattan, but the things that make Perry’s writing great are universal. Life, love, and death are all things that are touched on with subtle nuance. We should be happy to have him. Props also to Volume One contributor Ken Szymanski for coming in second again, as well as local writing guru and English teacher, Andy Patrie for making it in to the top three. – Ian Jacoby
 

BEST MUSIC FESTIVAL

1st Place: Rock Fest
2nd Place: UWEC Jazzfest
3rd Place: Wamfest

One might expect the top three local music festivals to be our biggest three (Rock Fest, Country Fest, and Country Jam) but that’s not entirely the case with a group of voter/readers who tend to be familiar with a little more than just the mainstream around here. However, the behemoth that is Rock Fest could not be denied, as the massive annual party in Cadott garnered the top slot this year thanks in part to bands including Stone Temple Pilots, Matchbox Twenty, Godsmack, and more. UWEC’s Jazz Festival is a really big deal in the academic jazz world, drawing thousands of musicians, families, and fans every spring. However it’s most likely their recent expansion by adding more community-based jazz events to their schedule that got them on this year’s list. Rounding out the top three was Wamfest, a three-day festival in August at the Wigwam Tavern in downtown Eau Claire, complete with a bikini contest, a massive beer bong, plenty of bands, and more. So I guess that one is like a mini-Rock Fest. Put the Jazz Festival in the middle and it makes for an interesting musical sandwich. – Nick Meyer
 

YOUR FAVORITE VISUAL ARTIST

1st Place: Laurie Bieze
2nd Place: Steve Bateman
3rd Place: Lori Chilefone

There are a startling number amazing visual artists around here working in everything from paint to ceramics to found objects. And since “art is in the eye of the beholder,” this category is less about the “best” artists and certainly more about the artists that a lot of people know about and like. Long-time artist and local legend Laurie Bieze, most known for her work in stained glass, ended up on top this year. In at number two is Steve Bateman, a well-known renaissance man who does everything from making massive (and amazing) junk sculptures to drawing your caricature at Oakwood Mall during the holiday season. And third place, Lori Chilefone, a quiet force in the local art community, is most known for her striking mixed media collages and throwback aesthetic. Both Chilefone and Bateman have been involved with the new Open Air Festival of the Arts that started two years ago in Phoenix Park. – Nick Meyer
 

BEST OPEN MIC

1st Place: Stones Throw
2nd Place: The Cabin
3rd Place: The James Sheeley House (tied)
3rd Place: The Mousetrap (tied)

Maybe you’re too cool for karaoke, but dig the concept. Maybe you’re looking to split from your band and start an acoustic solo project. Maybe you just like drinking and playing guitar, or, far more likely, you like watching drunk people make fools of themselves. No matter the reason, Stones Throw (304 Eau Claire St.) takes the cake for its Wednesdays with acoustic artist Brian Bethke, wings, and pint specials. Second place goes to UW-Eau Claire’s The Cabin (in Davies Center), a small, dark venue best known for The Wallflowers once playing there. Its open mic nights are reserved about once a month and often have students playing guitar or piano. The James Sheeley House (236 W River St., Chippewa Falls) and The Mousetrap (311 S Barstow St.) tied for third with their Tuesday nights with Jeff White and Sundays with Ultimate Frisbee’s Caleb Horne, respectively. – Trevor Kupfer

Durand Pick: Shari’s Chippewa Club, 106 W Main St., Durand


BEST THEATRICAL PRODUCTION OF THE PAST YEAR

1st Place: Rocky Horror Show
2nd Place: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
3rd Place: I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change

How do you do I … see you saw a … faithful production called the Rocky Horror Show. There was some hesitation about brining the 70s cult classic to this market a few months ago, but those folks over at Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild nailed it from montaging Science Fiction Double Feature, casting Miss Dee-Lovely, reserving shows at midnight, offering props, and playing the Little Grand. And you responded, so much so that they added more shows. Over the summer CVTG had similar success with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, giving the biblical tale and fresh twist. And, wouldn’t you know it, voters also loved February’s intimate, four-actor musical production I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, a fantastic and quirky love story once again from CVTG. They sure know what they’re doing over there. UW-Eau Claire and Eau Claire Children’s Theatre closely followed CVTG, taking fourth and fifth for The Threepenny Opera and The Music Man, respectively. Heyde Center for the Arts and Menomonie Theatre Guild made slashes, too, for Forever Plaid and Little Shop of Horrors. – Trevor Kupfer


BEST BLUES BAND

1st Place: Mojo Lemon
2nd Place: Howard Luedtke
3rd Place: Eau Claire Blues All-Stars

The four-man group that started in 1999 and went through a brief phase as Mojo Terry and the Boilermakers, Mojo Lemon, is your choice for the very best in blues music. This may be in part due to Josh Entzminger, locally believed to be one of the best guitar player in the area. The band plays everything from Bob Dylan, Buddy Guy, and the Allman Brothers to BB King, Muddy Waters, and your second-place choice, Howard Luedtke. There’s a reason why locals refer to him with the middle name “Guitar;” the man can shred. With his electric blues style, the Chippewa Falls native has played festivals and shows all over the state and Minnesota, even opening for George Thorogood and Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. Complete with soulful guitar riffs, spirited vocals by Adrian Klenz, and a melodic horns section, the Eau Claire Blues All-Stars are the local version of the Blues Brothers, cranking out favorites like “Messin’ with the Kid” with style. Trevor Kupfer


BEST HIP-HOP ACT

1st Place: Breakneck the Mage
2nd Place: Frozen Tundra
3rd Place: EFFIT Records (tied)
3rd Place: Romes (tied)

Bangin’ beats and off-the-cusp lyrics are the brand of killer hip-hop music, of which Chippewa Valley has no shortage. Hip-hop enthusiasts are loyal to small-town sounds, as Chippewa Falls’ own Breakneck the Mage triumphs in the battle for best hip-hop act. The local emcee has gained notoriety over the last two years performing his original lyrics in western Wisconsin and Minneapolis; rapping about everything from coffee shops to Hollywood. Growing in popularity since 2003 is the ever-evolving Frozen Tundra.  Now five-strong, this collection of performers from around the country has found its niche in Eau Claire, attracting followers with high-energy performances and angelic R&B vocal strains. EFFIT Records, standing for Entertainment for Free Independent Thinkers, follows as a culmination of locally-adored artists, Eff’d Up, The Suppliers, Duce, and Smoke Tricks. Tied with EFFIT is battle-rapper Romes. He’s got a way with words, slinging disses at lightning speed; Romes leaves spectators delightedly confused, caught between offense and admiration. – Carrie A. Weiss
 

BEST HARD ROCK/METAL BAND

1st Place: Drunk Drivers
2nd Place: No Loving Place
3rd Place: Phoenix

Hard rock and metal are admittedly different genres, and this category ended up leaning in the hard rock direction a little more than metal. Long-time local rockers the Drunk Drivers wound up first on the list this go around. Their first full-length album, “Balls, Sweat, and Beers,” came out way back in 1998 and they never looked back. Three discs later, including 2007’s “Model Citizen,” the Drivers are still on top of the local scene. Second place went to No Loving Place, another group who’s been pounding out moody, melodic metal for several years. Third place is held by the Chippewa-falls based Phoenix, the official Rock 92.1 FM house band, which plays more covers than original hard rock, but they’re just so good at it they were voted into this category. – Nick Meyer
 

BEST COVER BAND

1st Place: Sassy Magoo
2nd Place: Elements
3rd Place: Big Deeks

Taking on everything from legends Johnny Cash and the Rolling Stones to Katy Perry, the first place cover band, Sassy Magoo, has a laundry list of acts they’re willing to pursue for their audience. They’re hitting up Wisconsin bars in heavy rotation for the next year, making it hard to miss their ambitious cover line-up. Second place Elements is like a radio station, playing rock, pop, and country hits of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and today. And in the third spot, the Big Deeks are an on-stage explosion of country and rock hits. With a play list of classic to modern, they showcase a spectrum of rock across the decades. – C. Heidbrink


BEST JAM/BLUEGRASS BAND

1st Place: Bill & Dan’s Excellent Adventure
2nd Place: Easthill Bluegrass Band
3rd Place: Ultimate Frisbee Orchestra

Although some of you complained about the stuffing of “bluegrass” and “jam” into one musical category, the two genres have been sharing more stages than The Captain and Tennille – gradually expanding each other’s fan base. But jam took top honors in this year’s poll, with Bill and Dan’s Excellent Adventure at number one. Half of the band’s namesake, Bill Hamilton, says his musical mission is “To rock the hell out of everything, and/or have a lot of fun playing with these awesome guys, spread love and peace with the music, and get people dancing.” Commenting on second place, Bill said, “Much love and respect to Easthill Bluegrass, they are holding down the ‘for real’ Bluegrass, I love it.” Whether its bluegrass or newgrass, Easthill’s veteran pluckers turn in amazing shows. The jamtastic guys of Ultimate Frisbee Orchestra (seven men strong) took third. – Mike Paulus
 

BEST NEW FESTIVAL OR EVENT

1st Place: Chalkfest
2nd Place: Jazz in the Valley
3rd Place: All age gigs, Grand Little Theatre

Between the streets of Barstow and Farwell, Wilson Park overflowed with creative energy for Chalkfest, your choice for best new festival. As part of Eau Claire’s Summerfest, Chalkfest had registered artists join up to unleash their original chalk drawings on the park’s sidewalk, and increase the city’s street cred for community art. Your second choice is Jazz in the Valley, a month-long festival that includes an art crawl and jazz performances across the city at places such as Shanghai Bistro and the State Theater lobby. The third most appreciated addition is the all ages shows at Grand Little Theater (102 W. Grand Ave). Bringing in mostly rock bands like Meridene and The Daredevil Christopher Wright, this theater is fueling the local music scene. – Caitlin Heidbrink