Tuesday, Jan. 24th, 2017

Library's New Makerspace Offers Chance to Explore

THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX. The Dabble Box (bottom photo) is a new makerspace at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire. During a recent open house, 10-year-old Ryan Grzyb (top) played a video game with do-it-yourself Play-Doh controllers. The same system can be used to play a virtual piano with bananas (middle).
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX. The Dabble Box is a new makerspace at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire. During a recent open house, 10-year-old Ryan Grzyb (top) played a video game with do-it-yourself Play-Doh controllers. The same system can be used to play a virtual piano with bananas (below).

If you’re looking to pick up a new skill, discover a new talent, or dust off a rusty one, then the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library’s new makerspace, the Dabble Box, has just the tools to help you find your spark and craft up your dreams.

While there are several places in the Chippewa Valley with a do-it-yourself multipurpose programming space, most are found in schools or geared toward manufacturing and come with a cost. With the Dabble Box, folks of all ages get free hands-on learning opportunities where they can explore a number of areas.

Thanks to many generous donors, the Dabble Box offers a 3D printer, vinyl cutter, and LEGO Mindstorms robots along with a variety of smaller robots and coding equipment. There are also more common household items such as sewing machines, yarn, and basic crafting supplies. In the near future, you might even be able to check out kits on knitting, coding, learning music, and more. The Dabble Box is located behind the information and reference area on the library's main floor in a room that previously housed a dozen public Internet computers, which have been relocated.

So how did the name “Dabble Box” come about? According to Isa Small, the library’s programming and communications services manager, it wasn’t an easy task. “Our team discussed dozens of names while trying to define the space as it is now while still leaving room for how it might grow,” Small said. “Eventually, we settled on ‘Dabble’ because we already had some name recognition with DIY Dabble, our monthly craft program for adults and because it captures the essence of what we’re striving to achieve: a space where customers can play, make, and share. We want learning to be a fun experience.”

This new makerspace will enhance your library-going experience on several levels. Many folks visit the library to check out books, movies, or games to take home and enjoy. They may also listen to lectures, enjoy artwork, or take part in book clubs. With the new makerspace, your library-going experience can also include hands-on understanding with opportunities to ask questions and socialize with others dabbling alongside with you.

“We want to foster a culture of creativity and innovation,” Small said. “What we really specialize in is connecting people with ideas whether they are read in a book, or inspired by a craft program, or shared by another customer working on a project in the Dabble Box.”

There are definitely lots of cool things in store for the Dabble Box. According to Small, the sky’s the limit! In February, there will be more than 40 hours of open lab time along with a number of programs with specific projects. As the makerspace continues to grow, Small and her team hope to get more community members and organizations involved in sharing their knowledge and expertise in order to diversify the programming opportunities.

The next time you visit the library, be sure to check out the new makerspace where you can take dabbling to a whole new level by freeing your imagination, meeting new people, and uncovering the creative genius inside you.

For more information about the Dabble Box, and to see a schedule of open lab hours, visit www.ecpubliclibrary.info/dabble-box-makerspace/. A full calendar of open labs and project-specific programs can be found in the library's newsletter.

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Monday, Jan. 23rd, 2017

Search for Transit Hub Site Narrows to Downtown Lot

The Eau Claire City Council recently approved a resolution giving Oregon, Wisconsin-based Gorman and Co. the exclusive right to negotiate with the city to build a transit center on a city-owned parking lot on Farwell Street, next to the historic Schlegelmilch House.
The Eau Claire City Council recently approved a resolution giving Oregon, Wisconsin-based Gorman and Co. the exclusive right to negotiate with the city to build a transit center on a city-owned parking lot on Farwell Street, next to the historic Schlegelmilch House.

A company that built a mixed-use public transit center in La Crosse that includes apartments and commercial space is in negotiations to build a similar facility in downtown Eau Claire.

The Eau Claire City Council recently approved a resolution giving Oregon, Wisconsin-based Gorman and Co. the exclusive right to negotiate with the city to build a transit center on a city-owned parking lot on Farwell Street, next to the historic Schlegelmilch House. The site, also sometimes referred to as the Wood Motors lot, was one of nine potential transit center sites identified in a study completed last year. If and when it is built, the new transit center would replace the current structure, a Spartan concrete-block building on the 400 block of South Farwell, which was meant to be temporary when it was built in 1984.

“It’s a somewhat unique facility, being a combination transit transfer facility, mixed-use, and housing.” – Jay Winzenz, City of Eau Claire finance director, on the proposed transit center

Jackie Pavelski, chairwoman of the city’s Transit Commission, said the current bus hub – which is unheated and lacks restrooms or other amenities – no longer meets the city’s needs and is considered an eyesore by some. 

Last year, the city issued a request for proposal to developers to come up with plans to build a new hub for the city’s bus system. Gorman was the only company to respond, and the only site they were interested in considering was the Wood Motors lot.

City Financial Director Jay Winzenz said he wasn’t surprised that only one of the sites drew a developer’s interest. “It’s a somewhat unique facility, being a combination transit transfer facility, mixed-use, and housing,” he said. The other sites identified in the study – which include the block across North Barstow Street from the so-called Block 7 parking lot, as well as another block on North Barstow that includes a parking lot along the Eau Claire River – post more challenges to potential developers, particularly the fact that they would require the acquisition of private property. By contrast, the Wood Motors lot is owned by the city.

The city set rough parameters for the project: It would include 66 residential units, some reserved for low-income residents; 100 parking spaces; 18,000 square feet of commercial space; 4,000 square feet of space for the transit center; and room for a dozen city buses.

Winzenz noted that the City Council’s Jan. 10 vote is only a first step. In the coming months, city staffers will work with Gorman to create a site plan for the project. Next, the developer will apply for low-income housing tax credits and federal transportation investment grants to help fund the project. Currently, the city’s 2017 capital budget includes $6.25 million for the transit center, including $5 million from such grants, with the balance coming from the city itself and other sources. In a best-case scenario, ground could be broken on the new facility in the spring of 2018, Winzenz said.

Pavelski, the Transit Commission chairwoman, said she was surprised that only one site drew a developer’s attention. Considering that growing numbers of young Americans are eschewing car ownership, Pavelski believes public transportation is only going to become more important in the future. “If I had any misgivings (about the project), my only thought is will it be big enough that it will meet those future needs,” she said.

The City Council approved the resolution on an 8-1 vote. The only council member to vote against the measure was Kate Beaton. In an interview, Beaton said she had hoped the City Council would wait to get more input from the Transit Commission as well as from transit users before giving the go-ahead on negotiations. “To me, the community was clearly crying out for involvement,” she said. In addition, Beaton said she was disappointed developers weren’t interested in the other proposed sites.

That being said, however, she said she’s supportive of building a new transit center, especially one that includes affordable housing. “I think anything we do is going to be an improvement to our transit system,” Beaton said. “That structure we have there is simply inadequate.”

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Saturday, Jan. 21st, 2017

Chippewa Valley Writers Guild Launches New Season of Summer Retreats

A weekend writer’s retreat hosted by the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild at the Cirenaica lodge just outside of Fall Creek. Photo: Justin Patchin
A weekend writer’s retreat hosted by the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild at the Cirenaica lodge just outside of Fall Creek.

This month, the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild announced its second season of weekend retreats for writers looking to push their craft to the next level. Last year, these summer “residency” programs featured a fantastic lineup of writers in multiple genres – from fiction to poetry to memoir to radio – each leading their own 3-day weekend at the Cirenaica lodge, nestled within a patch of hilly woods amid the farm fields just outside of Fall Creek.

Each weekend included workshopping sessions, one-on-one time with the experts, craft discussions, and a special gathering/Saturday night reading where participants can show of their work. The price of admission also included a fantastic on-site chef and plenty of social opportunities with fellow writers. As a writer from last summer puts it, “I used to think writing was a solitary experience, but after the residency I realized the importance of community and the energy derived from a community of writers.”

Participants also had the option of paying a little more to stay overnight at the lodge.

The summer residencies for 2017 look to be equally engaging. You’ll find all of the features mentioned above with an all-new set of experts.

Acclaimed writer and professor Allyson Goldin Loomis will cover narrative non-fiction (June 8-11). Award-winning novelist Nickolas Butler will focus on the theory and practice of fiction (June 22-25). New York Times best-selling author June Melby will dig into memoirs (July 6-9). Former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Max Garland will discuss how poetry can locate and recreate ourselves in the world (July 13-16). And finally, veteran writing teacher Marsha Qualey will explore young adult fiction (July 21-24).

To get more details about the residencies, to apply for them, or to learn more about the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild and its many events, visit cvwritersguild.org

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Tuesday, Jan. 17th, 2017

Big Bluegrass for Blue Ox 2017

Blue Ox 2015
Blue Ox 2015

The lineup for the third annual Blue Ox Music Festival was released this morning, and it definitely keeps up its trend of curating one of the finest roots and bluegrass festivals in the country amongst the pine trees of Paul Bunyan country at the Whispering Pines Campground in the outskirts of Eau Claire. 

Now in its third year the fledgling music fest is flying high with an absolutely stacked lineup of bluegrass greats like the Punch Brothers, Greensky Bluegrass, the Sam Bush Band (who’s played all three years of this thing), and Railroad Earth; alt-country staples like Son Volt and the Drive-By Truckers; and even some local flavor courtesy of the Chippewa Valley’s own Evergreen Grass Band, Them Coulee Boys, and LASKA. And of course, Blue Ox’s band behind the wheel Pert Near Sandstone – who have curated and hosted the fest since it’s conception – will play two nights of music.

Blue Ox 2016
Blue Ox 2016

More artists are expected to be announced in the coming months, but here’s the full lineup:

Pert Near Sandstone
Punch Brothers
Greensky Bluegrass
Drive-By Truckers
Railroad Earth
Sam Bush Band
The Infamous Stringdusters
Son Volt
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
Grateful Ball
Keller & The Keels
Jeff Austin Band
The Travelin’ McCourys
Dead Man Winter (feat. Dave Simonett of Trampled By Turtles)
The Steeldrivers
Split Lip Rayfield
Willie Watson
Henhouse Prowlers
Rumpke Mountain Boys
Billy Strings
Colter Wall
Trout Steak Revival
Dead Horses
White Iron Band
Them Coulee Boys*
Evergreen Grass Band*
Joseph Huber


Coming June 8–10, Tickets on Sale Now

Blue Ox, which kicks off its eclectic three-day party from June 8 to 10, despite this only being their third summer in existence, has quickly risen the ranks to become one of the coolest roots music festivals in America, and we can take it all in right here in the Chippewa Valley. 

“Between the lineup, improvements and additions to our festival venue, and the incredible fans we have, it is going to be a fantastic year,” says Jim Bischel, the executive director of Blue Ox as well as Country Jam. "We can’t wait until June.”

Tickets are on sale from now until January 26 at a special introductory rate. General admission three-day tickets are $145, and children under 13 are free with a paid adult – and remember, unreserved tent camping and parking is included in the general admission pass. To learn more about the festival, tickets, and camping, head to  www.blueoxmusicfestival.com

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Friday, Jan. 13th, 2017

Rock Fest Announces 2017 Lineup

Hot off one of their biggest and explosive years to date, Rock Fest is looking to capitalize on that success with a no-holds-barred lineup of rock majesty in 2017. Heading up the star-studded lineup is Slayer, Avenged Sevenfold, Rob Zombie, Korn, Megadeth, and the Insane Clown Posse. 

Fans should be excited to see Avenged Sevenfold on that list for the second time in three years and the return of Rob Zombie, who had to cut his headlining 2014 set way short because of vocal issues. It’s pretty cool to see Slayer on there too, who’ve won Grammys with their pioneering punk-thrash sounds and touring the nation, rocking every which way for over 30 years.

“We’re extremely excited to continue to be able to put on such a massive event for rock fans,” says Wade Asher, a promoter for Rock Fest. “This year’s bill features a great mix of current and past rock acts including some unique performances we’ve never had.”

And there's local bands!

You might see some familiar names on the list as well: Eau Claire hardcore band Stare Across are featured on the lineup as well as 7’s Catacomb, a supergroup of Chippewa Valley musicians from different cover bands that started rocking some original music this past year.

VIP Gold tickets are already sold out, but other tickets, campsites, and fan pit passes are on sale now at http://bit.ly/GetRockFest17Tix or via the Rock Fest corporate office at 1.800.326.FEST. All levels of VIP sections have sold out the last four years and are expected to do the same this year, so snap ‘em up quickly! 

There’s over 70 bands coming to this thing in Cadott in 2017 (see below) – from all kinds of genres like rock, metal, hardcore, classic rock, punk rock, thrash, doom, alternative rock, and more – and any true rock fan will be kicking themselves if they miss out. To check out the full lineup and order tickets now, head to rock-fest.com.

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Wednesday, Jan. 11th, 2017

Former Brewing Projekt Brewmaster Co-Launches Altoona Operation

Eric Rykal (left), who’s brewed beer for both Lucette Brewing Company and The Brewing Projekt, has teamed up with Mike Blodgett to launch Modicum Brewing in Altoona.
Eric Rykal (left), who’s brewed beer for both Lucette Brewing Company and The Brewing Projekt, has teamed up with Mike Blodgett to launch Modicum Brewing in Altoona.

Eric Rykal knows beer. Starting as a homebrewer long ago, he’s grown into a seasoned professional brewing master, crafting tons of imaginative beers and local favorites with both Lucette Brewing Company in Menomonie and The Brewing Projekt in Eau Claire over the past seven years or so.

Now, the same beer fanatics who’ve enjoyed Rykal’s creations can look forward to brews blending old and new from his new business venture: Modicum Brewing Company. Joining him and helping build the brewery from square one is his business partner, Mike Blodgett.

“There’s a lot of beers, beer styles, and traditions of brewing that aren’t being explored, and those are the ones that are most appealing to me.” – Eric Rykal, Modicum Brewing

Both men have a passion for beer; however, neither had anticipated becoming entrepreneurs. Blodgett has been a civil engineer with the state Department of Natural Resources for 30 years and has always liked the idea of owning his own business – and now the timing and inspiration has never been more perfect.

“Knowing Eric, this guy needs to brew beer,” says Blodgett, “and I’m in a position in my life where I’m getting ready to retire from my day job and would love to transition into something like this that makes people happy.”

As for Rykal, starting Modicum Brewing is about offering something both creative and different. After years of honing his technical skills and experimenting with recipe formulation, he’s ready to dive in and explore on his own.

“There are a lot of beers, beer styles, and traditions of brewing that aren’t being explored, and those are the ones that are most appealing to me,” he says. “A lot of the beers we’re going to start out with are New World takes on Old World styles.”

Together, Rykal and Blodgett bring the perfect combination of experience. Rykal intends to create great beers, and Blodgett has been diligently working to design a unique space to drink. The ideas behind both drink and space, however, are guided by the definition of Modicum found on the company’s web site: “a small quantity of a particular thing, especially something considered desirable or valuable.” It’s all about making a spectrum of special beers people love and less about high -scale distribution; their beer will only be available on-site.

“We’re not trying to rewrite the book,” says Rykal. “Just making small little tweaks that should all add up to a new experience.”

Modicum Brewing’s variety of beers will certainly cater to all palates, but Rykal says he’s interested in Old World brewing traditions. His new brews will be heavily influenced by Belgian brewing traditions and classic European flavors with subtle but impactful changes.

Rykal and Blodgett acquired a space at 3732 Spooner Ave. in Altoona, which makes Modicum Brewing that city’s much-deserved first brewery. The building has a varied history. Most recently, it was Word of Life Bible Church, but it also contains a bank vault from its more distant past as a credit union. With Blodgett’s expertise in civil engineering, you can anticipate a thoughtful and creative atmosphere. He expects to be able to seat around 75 people. In addition to the taproom, the space will include an event room for special occasions and large groups.

“We want to create a really nice experience for people of all walks of life to come in and have a craft beer,” says Blodgett.

Rykal described their plan for the space as “a coffee shop that serves beer instead of coffee.”

The steady growth of craft breweries is a cheerful addition few are complaining about, especially in the Chippewa Valley. They make great beer we can all rally behind. For the owners of Modicum Brewing, it’s about creating a world-class experience with a local focus to bring people together.

“I think it’s just the authenticity of the place. There’s a good chance the owner’s there or the guy that made the beer is there,” Rykal says. “It’s not coming from some nameless factory far away; it’s being made by these people right here. It’s less about the product itself and more about the experience while having the beer.”

Rykal and Blodgett are in the process of building Modicum Brewing from the ground up, and have anticipate a public opening in June this year.

To follow Modicum’s progress and read more about their beers, find them on Facebook page or head to www.modicumbrewing.com.

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Tuesday, Jan. 10th, 2017

LISTEN: New Music from J.E. Sunde

J.E. Sunde now feels adored.
J.E. Sunde now feels adored.

A new record is on the way from singer/songwriter J.E. Sunde called Now I Feel Adored, releasing on March 3. Iowa-based label Cartouche Records announced the forthcoming sophomore LP, a followup to his excellent 2014 album Shapes That Kiss The Lips Of God, on Tuesday.

Alongside Sunde, the new record features the core group of musicians that make up his touring trio – Andrew Thoreen (Har-Di-Har) and Shane Leonard (Kalispell, Field Report) – and a guest appearance by PHOX’s Monica Martin for a duet called “I Will Smile When I Think Of You.” The new album was primarily recorded at Honeytone Music, an independent recording space in an old Victorian house in Neenah, Wis.

“Fundamentally, I want to make incredible songs. And I think incredible songs – whether they have a symphony orchestra on them or it’s a cappella – work,” Sunde says at the beginning of a “making of” video for Now I Feel Adored. "I want to write music for lonely people ... I have this sense of putting words to that in a way that hopefully somebody will recognize themselves in these songs."

Watch the video, directed by Zach Johnston, below.

You can order different preorder packages for the new record – which include vinyl, CDs, lyric cards, photos, and even a handful of signed vinyl test pressings – at www.cartoucherecords.com.

JE Sunde, the making of "Now I Feel Adored"

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Library Hopes to Put Free Books on Eau Claire Buses

A new effort to put free books on Eau Claire Transit buses isn’t just a way to give riders something to do if the Wi-Fi goes out (although that’s not a bad idea, come to think of it). It’s also a serious effort to get more books into the hands of children and adults as they cruise around town on city buses.

As early as late spring, all 22 city buses could be outfitted with special racks filled with books that people can read on the ride or bring home if they want to – free of charge. Consider it a road-bound riff on the Little Free Library movement that began in Hudson a few years ago and spread throughout Wisconsin and the world, with literally thousands of book-filled boxes springing up at homes, businesses, and schools. In this case, the free books will be close at hand for people who rely on city buses for their transportation.

“The books will hopefully begin to flow through the buses like they do through the little libraries,” explains Bob Eierman, vice president of the Board of Trustees at the L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire. Eierman compared the Books on Buses effort to the Book Bike the library launched last year, although this project will be less expensive and complex than that pedal-powered mobile library. While items checked out from the Book Bike have to be returned to the library, books from the buses will be free to keep.

The suggestion for Books on Buses came from City Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle, who observed a similar program in 2013 while on vacation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Emmanuelle thought the program was novel (no pun intended), and filed the idea away for a few years. When Emmanuelle met the library’s new director, Pamela Westby, last year, Westby asked if she had suggestions for the library. Emmanuelle mentioned the Books on Buses concept, and the idea soon caught hold in Eau Claire.

Tom Wagener, Eau Claire Transit manager, said both bus drivers and Transit Commission members have been supportive of the idea. Wagener sees it as a way to help improve literacy among people who might be on the bus, whether they’re children or adults. In fact, a bus ride may provide the perfect impromptu opportunity for a parent and child to share a book.

Shelly Collins-Fuerbringer, youth services manager at the library, says the library is pursuing a small grant to pay for book racks. Other than that, the program should have minimal startup costs, in part because she expects books to come from donations or from volumes discarded from the library’s collection. While the project is still in the planning stages, it’s already received support from the necessary parts of city government.

“I’m really excited about it,” Collins-Fuerbringer says. “I think it’s going to be a great program. With the Book Bike, I think our goal was to surprise people, and I think this will surprise people.”

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Thursday, Jan. 5th, 2017

Eau Claire Stone Company Gets Big Break on Tiny House TV Show

Stonework is by Silvermine Stone Co.
Stonework is by Silvermine Stone Co.

The tiny house trend is coming to a tiny Chippewa Valley community, and a local business is part of it. An episode of Lifetime’s reality TV series Tiny House Nation: Family Edition shot in Fairchild, southeast of Eau Claire, will be broadcast on the cable network at 9pm Thursday, Jan. 5. The episode, titled “Tiny Family Obstacle,” features a couple seeking to build a smaller house to help bring them closer together with their adolescent offspring before the kids fly the coop.

In addition to the local setting, the episode features a product made by a local company: Silvermine Stone Co. of Eau Claire. Stack-N-Tack is stone veneer siding that can be installed without mortar. (In other words, you don’t have to be a stonemason to build attractive pillars, sills, or hearths.)

Tiny House Nation: Family Edition is an offshoot of Tiny House Nation, which airs on FYI, one of Lifetime’s sister networks. According to a press release, “The series follows host John Weisbarth and renovation expert Zack Giffin as they travel across America showing off ingenious small spaces and the inventive people who live in them. Along the way, they help families design and construct their own mini dream homes, each no larger than 500 square feet.”

The description for the local episode says the home in question is 750 square feet, which in tiny home terms must make it a mansion. Learn more about the show.

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Wednesday, Jan. 4th, 2017

Bon Iver Cancels European Tour, Prairie Home Companion Appearance

Early Wednesday morning, Bon Iver announced the cancellation of their month-long European tour, which would’ve launched on Jan. 22 in Paris. In addition, the band has also cancelled Justin Vernon’s upcoming appearance on A Prairie Home Companion (Jan. 14). According to a note published to Bon Iver’s social media accounts (see below), the cancellations are due to “personal reasons.” All the tickets will be refunded.

The Eau Claire band’s next performance is slated for April at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Los Angeles.


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