Thursday, Jul. 30th, 2015

You Can Own a Lion in Wisconsin but You Shouldn't

(Not a pet.)
(Not a pet.)

In one of the less controversial cat-related stories sweeping the country, there seems to be a lion of some kind prowling the streets of Milwaukee. Police were initially skeptical that a big cat was wandering the streets, but 14 phone calls, two police sightings, and one grainy cell phone video later, they're taking the possibility more seriously. On July 27 around 7pm, police at 30th St. and Fairmount Ave. responded to an eyewitness sighting of the animal. First sighted on July 20, the possible-lion is instilling feelings of caution, shock, and skepticism throughout the city.

Above: Kind of clear as day cell phone video screen cap.
Above: Kind of clear as day cell phone video screen cap.

The mane questions are: what kind of animal is it, and how did it get into the streets? Jill Carnegie, a 43 year veteran of exotic animal rescue, believes that because it is too small to be an African lion, it is likely a mountain lion. As for how it got out and about, experts are divided. Some suggests that while cougars are more common further north in the state, it's possible that one has moved out of its habitat and into the city. However, other experts have suggested that it is more likely an animal that someone had been keeping as a pet.

As a pet, you say?

As it turns out, Wisconsin is one of only five states in the Union that doesn't prohibit the importation of exotic, big cats. While local ordinances usually prohibit owning them within city limits, there is no mandatory registration system for owning them. It's just suggested that you let the police know you're keeping a fabulous white tiger in your rec room.

Because no internet-famous 21st, century animal is complete without one, the notorious cat has opened a Twitter account to proudly share his whereabouts with the people of Milwaukee. Watch this space for updates on the Mysterious Milwaukee Cat.


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Wednesday, Jul. 29th, 2015

Bumblebees Are Awesome: Local Short Film Showcases the Buzz

Bumblebees are important, and they're in danger. Pesticides and habitat destruction are threatening the survival of the native bumblebee, and if they die out we will suffer massive consequences in food production and wildlife. But some people are working to make sure that the workers can keep on buzzing.

"Native Pollinators: The Bumblebee" is a short film created by Joe Maurer to draw attention to the plight of the bumblebee in the Midwest. The film also appears in "Prairie Enthusiasm! Protecting Our Natural Heritage", a feature length documentary also directed by Maurer.

"Our native Bumble bees are super cool, under-appreciated little flying rockstars," says Maurer. "We need more awareness of our native pollinators. They are really interesting to learn about! The buzz about (non-native) honeybees is great but we need to be more critical about the use of pesticides in agriculture relative to native bees. Unfortunately in places in China, they've noticed the absence of native pollinators and it's already too late. They've nearly wiped them all out. We also need more garden cities. Eau Claire could be like that. A city of pollinators."

"Native Pollinators" was created by Maurer, with ecology help from Mark Leach and Reena Bowman (UW-Stout), local artists Lori Chilefone and Jyl Kelly, and music by Deirdre Jenkins, Lucas Stangl, and Eric "Pedals" Thompson.

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Tuesday, Jul. 28th, 2015

The Most Widely Available Beer in Wisconsin

Let there be lite.
Let there be lite.

Wisconsin may consume more beer than the rest of the country, but that hardly makes us alone in our love of the stuff. Every region has its tastes; from the big three macrobrews, to the blue ribbon, to beers so obscure that no one's even heard of them yet. When visiting an unfamiliar bar or restaurant, crawling through the beer menu can be a head-scratching experience. This map, put together by Pricenomics, measures 6,000 bars and restaurants and over 20,000 different beers, showing which beer you're most likely to find on menus in any given state.

Today in Wisconsin's unsurprising beer news ... <a href=
Today in Wisconsin's unsurprising beer news ... get a closer look.

If you like Miller Lite, you're in luck: you've got a 62% chance of finding on a menu in Wisconsin. There are a few more interesting Sconnie stats to come out of this, though. It looks like those numbers are coming from everywhere but Milwuakee, because 69% of bars and restaurants in Milwaukee carry New Glaurus Spotted Cow, 43% carry PBR, and 69% don't carry Miller, Bud, or Coors Lite. Madison (unsurprisingly) has the distinction of being tied with St. Louis for having the most PBR available. Maybe we should consider a little more variety in our refreshments. I say we should have national "try a new beer day." 

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Friday, Jul. 24th, 2015

5 Things in Which Wisconsin Is Number 1 (Other than Cheese and Cranberries)

Number one, baby.
Number one, baby.

1. Milk Goats

Wisconsin may be No. 2 in milk cows, but our Dairy State nickname holds true when it comes to milk goats. With 46,000 of them, we’ve got 13 percent of the U.S. total, according to a 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Goat milk – much of which is made into excellent cheese – is higher in protein and calcium and lower in sugar than moo juice.

2. Dry Whey (Human Food)

What exactly is whey, other than part of Little Miss Muffet’s preferred snack? Well, it’s the liquid byproduct remaining after milk curdles. When it’s dried, whey becomes a protein-rich powder than can be used in everything from baby formula to baked goods. Wisconsin produces more than 300 million pounds of dry whey annually.

3. Mink Pelts

Draping oneself in the fur of these weasel-like critters hasn’t been the pinnacle of fashion since Jacqueline Kennedy’s heyday. Still, Wisconsin raises more than 1.2 million mink who are destined to be transformed into pelts. That’s about one-third of the nationwide total.

You can't beet Wisconsin, baby.
You can't beet Wisconsin.

4. Beets

Lovers of this ruddy root – borscht eaters, unite! – have Wisconsin to thank for growing nearly half (well, 47 percent) of the processed beets in the U.S., These may seem like an old-fashioned vegetable, but in Wisconsin, the beet truly does go on! (Sorry, couldn’t resist the pun.)

5. Cattle Genetics Exports

Where do little calves come from? Far from a cow and a bull frolicking in a field, the process usually boils down to technicians with very long gloves wielding frozen straws of – well, “bovine genetic material” is as delicately as we can put it. Wisconsin exports $91 million of the stuff annually, more than half of the U.S. total.

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Wednesday, Jul. 22nd, 2015

GALLERY: Eaux Claires at 360°

Dat yarn, though.
Dat yarn, tho.

Volume One contributing photographers Luong Huynh and Lee Butterworth worked hard over a sweltering two days of live shows at the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival (Friday and Saturday, July 17 and 18). Luong took a little time to grab these fun 360° shots of some of the shows, letting you look around at one of the most talked about music festivals of the summer. Enjoy!

HOTTEA Installation - Festival Entrance 

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

The National - Lake Eaux Lune Stage, Friday Night

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

DoomTree - Flambeaux Stage, Friday Evening

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

The Local Store - The Homegrown Village

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

The Mouth of the St. Coix (Astronautalis)

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

The Lone Bellow - Lake Eaux Lune Stage, Friday Afternoon

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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Monday, Jul. 20th, 2015

Recapping Eaux Claires 2015

Bon Iver closing the fest on Saturday night, July 18.
Bon Iver closing the fest on Saturday night, July 18.

Eaux Claires is the coolest festival in the country and it’s ten minutes from my house. 

The sights and sounds were unlike anything this area has seen before, with 22,000 attending the music and arts fest at the festival grounds, just southwest of Eau Claire. Yeah, there were bands. They were playing on stages. That’s usually where other music festivals stop trying.

But Eaux Claires boomed with creative, experimental energy all brewed in the brains of its curators Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Aaron Dessner of The National, and creative director Michael Brown. We witnessed a festival chock full of art, music and savvy blending of the two, all with a pinch of collaboration and endless contributions from Chippewa Valley-ans of all kinds.

Entering Eaux Claires under art from HOTTEA.
Entering Eaux Claires under art from HOTTEA.

The local Eau Claire magic many of us feel on a regular basis was on full display at the festival with gorgeous muggy weather all weekend, a warm inviting atmosphere, a full sky of stars at night, and a ruckus of a thunderstorm overnight between days.

The collaborative nature of the festival shares creative DNA with Vernon’s whole career. We saw it happen. The bleak, solo vibes of the debut record that made him famous gave way for 10 years of making songs with old friends like Ryan Olsen and the Cook brothers and new ones like Aaron Dessner and Kanye West (Oh, and despite some fans’ signs and wishful thinking, Yeezy was not present at the festival this year).

A rare festival appearance from Sufjan Stevens on Saturday evening (July 18).
A rare festival appearance from Sufjan Stevens on Saturday evening (July 18).

So naturally, Vernon utilized every possible spare second he had to hop on stage with his friends, from shredding guitar with the Blind Boys of Alabama to yelping fluttering auto-tune with his old buddy Josh Scott’s band Aero Flynn. He joined The National during their Friday night headlining set, he crooned with The Staves, and he received personal thanks on stage from many of the acts he helped bring here. He was having a blast in his hometown.

Countless acts with or without Eau Claire ties proclaimed their love for this place and the spirit behind the Eaux Claires festival.

During his wildly impressive set, Sufjan Stevens remarked how his time in Eau Claire while finishing his newest critically-acclaimed and heart-crushing album, Carrie & Lowell was spiritually healing and how the landscape of our area had showed him true nature. He doesn’t normally play festivals, but for Eaux Claires, he happily made the exception calling it “a picture of abundance.

The No BS! Brass Band – one of multiple acts interacting with the crowds.
The No BS! Brass Band – one of multiple acts interacting with the crowds.

And then there’s Bon Iver’s climactic festival-closing set, an emotional array of the band’s best – and their first live performance since 2012. The 90-minute show saw on-stage collaborations with a good chunk of the full festival lineup with shiver-inducing harmonies from The Staves, a few verses by Josh Scott, orchestral flourishes by yMusic, triumphant horn blasts by the No BS! Brass Band, earthy sax tones by Colin Stetson, and more.

Finally after a powerful set, Vernon and co. launched into two brand new songs (somewhat quelling the buzz that Bon Iver is finished) before Justin Vernon sat center stage with an acoustic guitar and played “Skinny Love,” with the entire crowd singing along – all the words. It couldn’t help but feel as though everything, for just a moment, had come full circle here in Eau Claire.

And maybe it will time and time again for years and years to come. But there’s something magical about being there for the beginning.

The final night's 22,000 listeners.
The final night's 22,000 listeners.

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Eaux Claires reviewers praise fest’s personality, intimacy, quality [updated]

Now that we’ve all exited under the undulating rainbow of yarn for the final time, salved our sunburned skin, and caught up on our sleep, we take a moment to see what others have written about the inaugural Eaux Claires festival, which brought 22,000 people from far and wide to commune together and enjoy the flourishing fruits of musical and artistic creativity.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Set on lush green bluffs above a scenic bend in the Chippewa River, Eaux Claires felt like a turned corner,” wrote Chris Riemenschneider in the Star Tribune. “Not only has the Upper Midwest finally landed a hip rock fest that can contend on a national level, it landed one that seemed uniquely Upper Midwestern.” The article’s headline summed it up well: “Eaux what a fest: Justin Vernon's hometown experiment pays off.”

Ryan Leas of Stereogum wrote that while big music festivals can blur together ...

“Every now and then, there’s something else, something like Eaux Claires – aggressively local and personal, the vision of a few individuals executed as clearly as possible rather than a business interest designed to be as big as possible.”

Like may reviewers, Leas praised both the eclectic, laid-back nature of the two-day event as well as “Bon Iver’s climactic festival-closing set,” which included some new tunes: Watch Bon Iver Debut Two New Songs At Eaux Claires Festival »


In a lengthy recap, Cecilia Johnson of Billboard noted the festival’s “genre-blurring excitement” and laid praise on numerous headliners, including The Indigo Girls and Sufjan Stevens, the latter of whom was notably verbose: “I never play festivals – I have such a fear of crowds – agoraphobia, social anxiety,” Stevens said.

“The last two days have been proving all my fears wrong. It’s been like a 48-hour episode of My Little Pony.”

Read more in Johnson’s articles about day one and day two of the festival.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Piet Levy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also offered a detailed recap of day one and day two. Among others, Levy heaped praise on Eau Claire native Phil Cook, a former Vernon bandmate:

“With spirited songs reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Band, and executed by a spry seven-piece band of his own … it turned out to be the ultimate feel-good set of the fest.”

Spin Magazine

Numerous reviews lavished praised upon Justin Vernon and Bon Iver, as in the Spin article headlined “Bon Iver Keeps It In the Family At Triumphant Eaux Claires Set,” which noted the overarching theme of collaboration at the festival in general and during Bon Iver’s performance in particular (although, as writer Harley Brown noted, some attendees held out hope for a Kanye West cameo, too).

noisey - Music by VICE

Writing for Vice’s music blog, Noisey, Andrew Winistorfer said the festival almost transcended the idea of a music festival (although, as his headline noted, it was “Hot as Hell”). He praised the quality of the musicians featured – noting that it was a coup to book the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Corbin (aka Spooky Black) – as well as the idiosyncratic localness of the whole affair:

“Through sheer force of will, Vernon has taken Eau Claire, Wisconsin, from maybe the fifth most important city in Wisconsin 10 years ago to its most culturally relevant. Thanks to his fame, there’s a nationally talked about Eau Claire music scene. … Eau Claire might still seem unpronounceable to people from out-of-state, but now it’s the site of a major music festival that drew more than 20,000 people to a city that only has a population of 65,000.”

City Pages

Meanwhile, City Pages gushed that:

“Eaux Claires proved itself to be one America’s truly special music festivals.”

In his day one review, Alex Rice wrote that instead of corporate “homogeneity,” the fest grounds “were instead defined by creative director Michael Brown’s colorful light decorations, interactive art installations like Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s Forever Love, and the natural beauty of Foster Farms, surrounded by the Chippewa River and two lakes.”

The Current

Blogging for another Twin Cities media outlet, The Current, Andrea Swensson noted that mud, heat, and high prices often lead musical fans to question whether attending festivals is worth the trouble. However, she wrote:

“At the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival this weekend, I couldn’t believe just how many times I found myself shaking my head in disbelief, goosebumps rising on my sweat-soaked arms and mouth literally hanging open in awe as one soul-shaking moment after another unfolded on the ground’s multiple stages.”

Swensson’s passionate summation of the festival is followed by a spectacular photo gallery, so be sure to keep scrolling.

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

Finally, close to home, Nate Jackson’s review in the Leader-Telegram marveled at Bon Iver’s evolution from playing hometown coffee shop gigs to filling a massive field at a festival he created.

“I feel very humbled to be anywhere with all the musicians who’ve played and all these amazing people who have come to the fest this weekend,”

... he quoted Vernon as telling the audience. “Eaux Claires, that's a thing. That’s an actual thing right now.”

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Thursday, Jul. 16th, 2015

For Real: Huebsch building will become restaurant, apartments

The long-vacant former Huebsch laundry building in downtown Eau Claire soon will be reborn as a mixed-used building featuring a restaurant with river’s-edge seating on the ground level and apartments above, according to designs from a local developer.

Jack Kaiser, who helped successfully transform the sprawling Uniroyal Goodrich tire plant into the multiuse Banbury Place, will bring his plans for the century-old Huebsch building, 101 N. Dewey St., before the city Waterways and Parks Commission on July 22. Kaiser bought the four-level brick building in 2003, a year after Huebsch Services moved out.

“The timing’s right,” Kaiser says when asked why he finally decided to serve up long-awaited plans for the building, which sits on a narrow strip between the downtown bike trail and the Eau Claire River. He cites ongoing commercial and residential development in and around downtown, including the Confluence Project a few blocks downriver, as motivating factors.

In the coming weeks, the proposal will go before the city’s Waterways and Parks Commission as well as the Plan Commission. Assuming plans are OK’d, Kaiser hopes to begin work on the building by Labor Day and to have the project finished by next summer.

The Huebsch building has been vacant for more than a decade, and has been the subject of continuous speculation and some criticism. However, Kaiser waited on the remodeling both because of his focus on other projects (including Banbury Place) and the economic recession. If successful, the project will be the culmination of two long-sought-after civic goals: the hunger for a downtown restaurant with a river view and the desire to do something with the vacant structure.

Mike Schatz, the city’s economic development administrator, says he’s excited by the news. “It is one of the most frequent questions we get: ‘What is going on with the Huebsch building? Why isn’t something being done?’ ” Schatz says. The site has been eyed by the city for redevelopment and has a lot going for it, Schatz says, including proximity to the bike trail, the ability to offer riverside restaurant seating, and the chance for apartments in a renovated historic building, which have proven popular downtown.

“That is a key entryway to downtown now that Galloway Street is used so much,” and having a spruced-up building at the corner will help welcome visitors, Schatz said.

Turning the building’s ground floor into an eatery has always been Kaiser’s goal. Originally, he says, “We really wanted to be able to find the person to put in the restaurant.” However, the ideal eatery tenant has not emerged, so Kaiser is gambling that beginning the renovation now will attract the right restaurateur later. While the exact nature of the eatery isn’t set in stone, at least one thing is clear: Kaiser will be leasing the space, not getting into the restaurant business. “I promised myself I’m not going to fry hamburgers or pour beer,” he quips.

Kaiser hopes to make use of the nearly 20,000-square-foot building’s old-fashioned industrial chic as well as make modern upgrades. Inside, brick walls, wooden timbers, and hardwood floors are already exposed, and will largely remain so (though the vast, echoing spaces will need interior walls and other repairs and remodeling). Outside, brick columns will remain uncovered but the brick and wood surfaces between them will be clad in a stucco-like exterior (similar to what was used on the Chamber Building across the street, which is also owned by Kaiser’s firm).

The south and east sides of the building be edged by a 1,600-square-foot deck overlooking the river that will be able to comfortably seat 100, says architect Bill Anderson. While the building’s west side is on the street, the new main entrance will be on the east side, facing the parking lot. That entrance will be part of a new addition that will include stairways and an elevator.

The upper two floors will be transformed into 10 apartments – some with two bedrooms, some with one – with style and amenities reminiscent of the International Harvester Apartments, which are part of Banbury Place. The bottom level will include banquet seating for 40 to 80 people, while the ground floor will be devoted to a yet-to-be-determined restaurant that will seat 120. Kaiser plans to add some elements – stairwells and bathrooms, for example – but the bulk of the space will be left open to allow flexibility for the eventual restaurant tenant.

Kaiser says the building served as a business incubator of sorts at the turn of the last century. Originally the Gotzian shoe factor, the building was home to the Huebsch Laundry Co. as early as 1914. In 2002, the company, now known as Huebsch Services, relocated to a new facility on White Avenue. It appears that within a few months the venerable building’s much-anticipated next chapter will begin.

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