Rock No More

The House of Rock will shut its doors in July

Eric Christenson, photos by Kelsey Smith, Lee Butterworth

SHUTTING DOWN THE HOUSE. Among other things. Eau Claire’s House of Rock became the home of Decedent Cabaret – an annual, multi-night showcase of local musical talent.
SHUTTING DOWN THE HOUSE. Among other things. Eau Claire’s House of Rock became the home of Decedent Cabaret – an annual, multi-night showcase of local musical talent.

One of Eau Claire’s longest running music venues, the House of Rock, is closing this summer, its owner announced in early May. The Water Street rock club’s owner, Steve Geitz – who also owns The Grand Illusion and The Brat Kabin – is selling it to local developer John Mogensen at the end of July. The space will be converted to two rentable commercial spaces (which could mean a lot of different things from stores to restaurants) with apartments above, but neither will be licensed as bars. Until then, shows will continue through July, and the House of Rock aims to “close it out in style.”

“It’s my hope that there will be some energy and creativity generated for people to come up with another idea.” – Steve Geitz, owner of the House of Rock

“I’ve owned The G.I. since ’88 – I’ve been doing it for 30 years next year. I was 24 then, and I’m 54 now. Back then, 50 seemed so old. But it’s something I’ve been thinking about, downsizing one way or another,” Geitz said. “John Mogensen and I have been talking for years, if not decades. This just seemed like the right time to do it. It’s been something that’s been really tough to do. This is a tough decision to make, but it’s the right one for me at this time.”

The venerable Water Street venue has long been home to Decadent Cabaret, which will find a new home next spring, and has seen countless crazy nights of memorable live performances from almost every conceivable genre – from metal to hip-hop to blues to folk to burlesque to improv. If you get a look at the green room behind the stage, the wall is spackled with hundreds and hundreds of signatures, stickers, and messages from bands that have played shows there.

For Geitz, watching the House of Rock go is a bitter pill to swallow, but in terms of the Eau Claire music scene, he hopes the club’s closure will spark some enthusiasm for fostering a new space for the diversity of artists who took the House of Rock stage week after week.

“It’s my hope that there will be some energy and creativity generated for people to come up with another idea,” he said. “I hope venues realize that the bands are there, and you should treat them as well as you can, because they’re your bread and butter.”

The House of Rock has no doubt had an extremely heavy presence in the Eau Claire music scene over the last 17 years, and tons of local artists developed their sound on that stage. One of the venue’s long time sound engineers, Danno, said the House of Rock, which opened in 2000, will always have a special place in the heart of the local arts scene.

“I’ve been with Steve since the place opened and we have hosted some amazing shows over the years. It’s fun to think back to the early ’00s when the bands would just come out to enjoy the music and have a good time together, whether they were performing or not,” Danno said. “I got to see the birth of a lot of good projects along the way. Through the good times and the lean times, Steve always wanted to make sure there was a stage for the bands to play on and for live music to thrive. I hope someone seizes the opportunity to build the next stage that bands like Smack Davis, The Kingsnakes, Easychair, The Nicotines, Dinner With Gregg, or the Jim Pullman Band can come to life on – that someone like Justin Vernon experiments musically on, one that hosts some of the very first performances of Charlie Parr or Trampled By Turtles.”

At its heart, the House of Rock was a collaborative effort among the bar, the bands, booking agents, staff, managers, door people, artists, and more – and Geitz was quick to acknowledge the work that his crew put into the club.

“So many people have made the House Of Rock work – performers, my managers, my staff, all the sound techs, Danno’s been my sound tech since the beginning, different booking agents, Joey Gunderson, Nick Carroll. ... Having these people being on the same page and having them work together has been really rewarding,” Geitz said.

Employees of the bar seemed to develop a fondness for the music throughout their years of service. Brent Kuchenmeister has been a sound tech there for 17 years, and Measha Vieth has tended bar for two. Both had tons of warm memories at the club.

“House of Rock was pretty much my home base for 17 years. I’ve seen and worked a lot great shows over the years,” Kuchenmeister said. “I’ve seen everything from some of the best metal bands to DJs with spectacular light shows to Bon Iver practicing before their first U.S. tour on afternoons when the bar was closed. I loved the eclectic nature of the shows there. It catered to all, and that is something I feel is now lacking in the current music scene.”

“My love for local music has grown even more than I thought possible,” Vieth said. “I’ve had the pleasure of watching many talented artists perform while tending bar to the local music goers. This place will forever hold a piece of my heart.”

Jon Olstadt has performed at the House of Rock since the club first opened – first with Venison and now with the Drunk Drivers. He’s seen tons of artists come through and perform on that stage, and he praised Geitz for fostering an important cornerstone of the Eau Claire creative community.

“I can’t think of a local performer or band that didn’t play there. The House helped make Eau Claire music what it is today. I’m proud to call Steve a friend and appreciative of his help as a supporter and collaborator. He deserves a huge debt of gratitude for his contributions to our community,” Olstadt said. “The closing of House of Rock leaves a huge hole in this town’s lineup of music venues. There was nothing like it here. As we watch our city move towards building an arts-based creative economy, the closing of a venue like this illustrates the work that remains.”

Olstadt is working on one last musical mega-bash to say goodbye to the club in late July. Until then, the House of Rock will keep hosting shows over the next two months, slinging drinks, and letting the good times roll.

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