Monday, May. 22nd, 2017

Is Eau Claire the “best small town” in Wisconsin?

Phoenix Park, Eau Claire
Phoenix Park, Eau Claire

Here’s yet another internet list on which we find the fair city of Eau Claire.

Thrillist’s recent rundown of THE BEST SMALL TOWN TO VISIT IN ALL 50 STATES explores America’s small towns as inexpensive travel destinations, saying, “They’re ideal for young kids and retirees, two groups who favor the chiller things in life: short walks, sunny parks, uncrowded beaches, unhurried conversations. Small-towners also dig on taffy, chicken-fried steak, old-timey train stations, historical markers, quirky festivals, driving barefoot ... nodding hello to strangers, and other things that never really go out of style.”

Take that as you will.

Most towns on this list have populations in the 500-20,000 range, but Eau Claire took the Wisconsin spot despite its 67,500+ citizenship.

To no one’s surprise, Thrillist cites Justin Vernon and the upcoming Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival as reasons to visit. But they also mention our new downtown hotels, favoring The Oxbow for its locally sourced food and unique amenities. They also namecheck Phoenix Park and Lazy Monk Brewing while praising our trails and waterways. Here’s the full blurb on Eau Claire:

Wisconsin: Eau Claire

Population: 67,680

Eau Claire is a hair over our 60k population cap, but it's still one hell of a spot to spend a low-key weekend. Bon Iver frontman and Eau Claire native Justin Vernon chose this city to set up camp for the Eaux Claires Music Festival -- head there in June to see the likes of Feist, Wilco, and Chance the Rapper. Two hip boutique hotels just opened downtown, our favorite being the The Oxbow, with locally sourced grub at The Lakely, a stage, and an art gallery -- plus, every room has a phonograph with free vinyl records to rent at the front desk. But don’t hole up in your room. Surrounded by lush farmlands, Eau Claire earned its name for its crystal-clear waters, so take advantage of the stunning river trails and over 1,000 acres of parks. At the relatively new Phoenix Park, you can hit the farmers market, then cross the river to Lazy Monk Brewing for craft beer flights (the rye IPA is awesome). -- D.N. and Josh Mellin, Thrillist contributor

Travelers looking for a small town twofer are in luck as nearby Stillwater was the pick for Minnesota.

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Friday, May. 19th, 2017

Eaux Claires Goes Huge on 2017 Art Installations

The Big Eaux will return to Eaux Claires in 2017.
"The Big EAUX" will return to Eaux Claires in 2017.

The Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival is just about four weeks away, and they just announced their mind-bending slate of visual arts, performance pieces, sound installations, artistic collaborations, and literature events that will happen at Troix on June 16 and 17. Getting a glimpse like this at some of the experiential works the curators have planned is making the festival more real than ever.

This year, we’re seeing festival mainstays like The Banks evolve into different landscapes, new works from artists featured at Eaux Claires past like VNESSWOLFCHILD, Chuck-U, and Chippewa Valley native Davy Sumner’s sound installation work. We’ll get to see tons of wild new ideas play out, including some seriously large-scale sculptures, live painting, murals, dance performances, new stages with new designs, and a "Mom Booth,” where a bunch of real moms (even some of the artist’s moms) will hang out and talk to fest-goers and give hugs and motherly life advice. And lest we forget “The Big EAUX” installation by Eau Claire’s Antic Studios greeting you on the way into the grounds. Plus, we’ll get to see the work of Eau Claire artists Holli Jacobsen, who’s creating a “Moss Cave” in the woods, and Kevin Michael Scheid, who will make tons of balloon art and release them during musical performances.

If you head over to the www.eauxclaires.com, you can see the full digital presentation of the lineup (and also learn more and buy tickets). Here’s the arts lineup in full:

"Partitioning”

Artist: Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels (New York, NY)
Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels is an Australian-American sculptor who makes large-scale installations inspired by fantastical blueprint drawings.

“Fluid Process"

Artist: The Pickup Music Project (Boston, MA)
"Fluid Process" is an interactive sound sculpture that makes music with falling water.

“Tremolos"

Artist: Intermedio | Eric Blyth, Sam Ferris-Morris, Justin West (Cincinnati, OH)
“Tremolos" is a multichannel speaker installation that explores the physical expression of amplitude modulation.

“no [space] for time"

Artist: Concrete Pig (Minneapolis, MN)
This installation eludes any sense of reality we are accustomed to. Another world altogether, scratches in film, media consumed, past forgotten. All in an illusion where rocks float to the surface.

“SOURCE"

Artist: Erlend Neumann (Hudson, NY)
This sculpture exemplifies Neumann’s sculptural approach of minimal yet complex forms which can have multiple arrangements which work with the physical and the negative space.

“Sparreaux"

Artist: Erlend Neumann (Hudson, NY)
Expanding on the work displayed in Neumann's “SOURCE" installation(s), The design for the “Sparreaux" stage is a take-off from the classic tweeter design found in loud-speakers. The intention is to create a structure which is beautiful and can assist in the projection of sound naturally through its form.

“The Banks”

Artists: Michael Brown and Clearwing Productions (Eau Claire / Milwaukee, WI)
The next evolution of the "The Banks" continues the creative initiative set out from the first two editions of Eaux Claires. The mission of this performance space is to alter how audience and artist interact with an emphasis on incorporating experimenal video and audio elements to produce a unique viewing environment. For Troix, "The Banks" will be an experimental venue-in-the-round that is set amongst the woods and encourages audiences to move around the performance area and experience impromptu sets from multiple vantage points.

“The Ampools”

Artists: Michael Brown and Carl Faber (Eau Claire, WI / Portland, OR)
Lighting designers Carl Faber and Michael Brown have been collaborating together since their introduction at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2005. Expanding on their work from previous editions of Eaux Claires, "The Ampools" is a site-specific lighting installation that encompasses the entire festival grounds. This year includes more area to discover in the woods as you explore Eaux Claires at night.

“The Big EAUX"

Artist: Antic Studios (Eau Claire, WI)
Returning for its third incarnation at Eaux Claires, "The Big EAUX" is a 3D-mapped art installation by Antic Studios - a local production company widely known for intricate stage designs and stunning visual content.  Standing at close to 8' tall and 40' wide, the installation is a perfect reminder of our place and time over the weekend.

“Mom Booth”

Artist: Andy DuCett (Minneapolis, MN)
Ask about life’s big questions, get a hug or some help with your homework, and grab some sunscreen from Mom. Staffed by real moms from the local community, including mothers of artists at the festival, the "Mom Booth" is an opportunity to engage with the familiar notions of motherhood and see how they change from person to person.

“The Woods: A Way of Seeing Things" from 2016.

“The Woods: A Way of Seeing Things"

Artists: Krista Stout, Sol McCormick, and Joseph Stout (Minneapolis, MN)
Making its second appearance at Eaux Claires, "The Woods" is an invitation to see things. It's an invitation to look past the meadow's mown grass to where things are a little shadier, a little more secret, a little wilder. 

“Crickets"

Artist: Chris Kallmyer (Los Angeles, CA)
One thousand live crickets are amplified throughout the Eaux Claires woods. Installed in their natural environment, the crickets create a sound that points to memory, the passage of time, and the poetics of place.

“The Living Room"

Artists: Andy DuCett and Chris Kallmyer (Minneapolis, MN / Los Angeles, CA)
An Upper Midwestern living room planted in the Eaux Claires woods. Come take a nap, watch the trees from the couch, or listen to some sounds on our vintage stereo console. If you're lucky, those sounds may just be impromptu listening sessions of unreleased music from our artists and friends.

“NEON FOREST GALAXY”

Artist: Kristina Rolander (Milwaukee, WI)
For Eaux Claires III, Kristina will create an immersive stage design uniting art, audience, and performer in a heightened sensorial experience. With diorama-inspired structures, hanging elements, and handpainted backdrops, the musicians will perform inside a custom-made environment. By utilizing specific paints, the colors will transform under different lights, from day into night. The stage design itself will never change, however one’s perception of it will. The final piece will be a truly site-specific work, infused with the spirit of the surrounding forest, prairie, and land. 

“Eddy Currents"

Artist: Davy Sumner (Los Angeles, CA)
Eddy Currents is a mechatronic percussion instrument, named for a shared phenomenon between loops of electrical current and analogous circular motions in rivers. Steel spheres are propelled by electromagnetic forces to create abrupt attacks and granular decays as elements in a spatialized, chaotic composition. Residual energies from the coiled magnets are funneled to create underwater eddies that visually echo and sustain the electrical pulses of the music

“WORMS"

Artist: VNESSWOLFCHILD (Detroit, MI)
A roaming and evolving performance art project taking form in different shapes and configurations throughout the festival. The less you know, the better your interpretation.

“DECORUM"

Artist: John Mark Creative (Minneapolis, MN)
John Mark is a Choreographer and Creative Director whose clients include Lizzo, Har Mar Superstar, Weird Al Yancovik, Tickle Torture, the Afghan Whigs, Little Scream, the New Pornographers, and many more. “DECORUM," an original dance series for Eaux Claires, is inspired by PSA's from the 1960's and other questionable guides to life.

"Balloon Artist"

Artist: Kevin Michael Scheid (Eau Claire, WI)
Kevin Michael Scheid inflates balloons of different shapes and sizes during concerts, as a form of performance art. He sets them free over large crowds in hopes of encouraging participation, while creating wonderment and spreading joy. All are invited to interact with, play, and have fun with the balloons throughout the duration of Eaux Claires III.

“Crescent Field”

Artist: Kelie Bowman (Brooklyn, NY / Sunset, SC)
Kelie Bowman's current body of work explores the ephemeral qualities of light by shifting depth and distance in a still medium. "Crescent Field" portrays multiple landscapes at once as if looking through a kaleidoscopic horizon. These large-scale murals encourage a considered connection to our environment and speak of shifting landscapes, rising waters, and exploring the vastness of space and nature.

“The Driftless Area: Trapezoidal Study"

Artists: Burlesque Public Works Division (Minneapolis, MN)
This installation will be a base layer consisting of three walls, separate yet together, which will become a composition built up of layers of painted and physical typography and signage. 

“We Were Seeds"

Artist: Landon Sheely (La Crosse, WI)
Classically untrained and foolishly optimistic, Landon Sheely hopes to hearten the viewer, often using childlike form and idealism, typically through print, but also making common use of any medium that doesn’t require patience or precision.

“Live Painting by Justin Orvis Steimer"

Artist: Justin Orvis Steimer (New York, NY)
Justin Orvis Steimer will live-paint during the festival in reaction to the music being created around him.

“Where Peggy-O Meets Mandolin Rain"

Artist: Casey O’Connell (San Francisco, CA)
This mural was orignally created during Eaux Claires 2016, with its completion following the close of the festival. Troix marks the first time this work has been made accessible for public viewing.

“CHUCK-U Coloring Wall"

Artist: Chuck-U (Minneapolis, MN)
Chuck-U is a prolific illustrator and artist making his second appearance at Eaux Claires. He draws strange creatures in strange environments in a style that can be described as “very linesey” as in, he uses lots of lines. At this year's festival Chuck will be creating a site-specific work that encourages audience and participants to help fill in the lines and color the wall as the piece evolves.

“The Poetry of Eleanor Perry Smith"

Artist: Eleanor Perry Smith (Denver, CO / Milwaukee, WI)
Eleanor Perry-Smith is a performance poet and writer. Her work blends classic verse with contemporary grit.

"Eaux Claires Literary Program"

Narrator: Michael Perry (Eau Claire, WI)
Writers: Dean Bakopoulos & Alissa Nutting, Mary Cutrufello, Guante, Daniel José Older, Patti See
This year fest features lots of writers, and again they will meet fest-goers in a quiet place. And in the spirit of collaboration and crossover, the writers will all appear and pop up in other contexts throughout the grounds.

“Moss Cave"

Artist: Holli Jacobson (Eau Claire, WI), with Lang Jacobson, Elizabeth Harclerode and Dagmar Beckel-Machyckova
"Moss Cave" is a sheltered bed of moss that encourages visitors to stop, rest, listen, and return to the festival with renewed energy.

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Tuesday, May. 16th, 2017

The Great Pagoda Rescue

Salvaging the pagoda in May 2014.
Salvaging the pagoda in May 2014.

The saga of a quirky piece of Eau Claire’s architectural history took a positive turn recently when a local business offered space for the storage and repair of the iconic roof topper from Woo’s Pagoda Restaurant.

Chippewa Valley Door Co. in Chippewa Falls responded to a public plea from the Chippewa Valley Museum for indoor storage space for the 18-foot pagoda structure, which has been kept outside since 2014 when it was salvaged before the well-known Chinese restaurant was demolished. Another business, Live in Eau Claire, has offered to restore the pagoda, but it needs adequate indoor space in which to do so.

Chippewa Valley Door Co. is offering the use of a building with 14-foot doors and 20-foot ceilings, providing plenty of vertical space for the pagoda, said owner Rob Bearrood. The company, which installs and services garage doors, recently purchased the building that houses the Chippewa Herald, 321 Frenette Drive, Chippewa Falls.

Bearrood said he decided to offer the space after hearing media reports that the Chippewa Valley Museum would cease pursuing restoration efforts unless indoor storage was found. Chippewa Valley Museum Director Carrie Ronnander – who set that ultimatum in April – said she was excited by the offer. “It still has to go all the way through,” she noted, “but we’re much further along than we were before.”

Eau Claire construction firm Market & Johnson has offered to move the pagoda, but a date hasn’t been set.

Since it was salvaged in May 2014, the pagoda has been stored outdoors next to Banbury Place on Galloway Street. However, it has deteriorated because of exposure to the elements. Live in Eau Claire had previously offered to repair and display the structure at the Local Lounge, its restaurant on North Clairemont Avenue. A recent fundraising dinner at the Local Lounge netted $3,000 for the restoration project, which will cost an estimated $15,000, Ronnander said.

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Friday, May. 12th, 2017

It's True: Eau Claire's House of Rock to Close This Summer [UPDATED]

The House of Rock (Photo: Jesse Johnson)
The House of Rock, 2013 (Photo: Jesse Johnson)

One of Eau Claire’s longest running music venues, the House of Rock is closing this summer, they announced Thursday. 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.”

"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 the hundreds and hundreds of signatures, stickers, and messages from the bands that have played a show there.

Decadent Cabaret 2017 at the House of Rock. (Photo: Kelsey Smith)
Decadent Cabaret 2017 at the House of Rock (Photo: Kelsey Smith)

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 into fostering a new space for the diversity of artists that 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 been 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.”

The House of Rock at heart was a collaborative effort between 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.

The House of Rock, 2017 (Photo: Andrea Paulseth)
The House of Rock, 2016 (Photo: Andrea Paulseth)

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.

Photo: Lee Butterworth
2016 (Photo: Lee Butterworth)

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Monday, May. 8th, 2017

PREX CLAIRES: Live Local Music on the Eve of Eaux Claires

For all of the music and art that actually happens at the two-day Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival (June 16-17 this year), the last two years have seen plenty of activity before the fest, with local musicians and show organizers throwing all kinds of events all over the city on the Thursday before, hoping to attract festival goers who showed up early. Not to mention the festival itself has thrown shindigs of their own with Phil Cook both years – at the Whispering Pines campground in 2015 and The Lismore in 2016).

However. This year a collaborative effort between Downtown Eau Claire Inc. and Blugold Radio 99.9FM will shine a collective light on all of the pre-fest events happening on June 15, when you can catch local music at different venues across downtown Eau Claire. They call it "Prex Claires." You'll find some of your local scene faves, and maybe a couple surprises as well.

Several shows are already booked on the Thursday before, including OXBEAUX, the official pre-Eaux Claires concert at The Oxbow Hotel and The Lakely featuring The Shouting Matches, Field Report, Dem Yuut, and Idle Empress. And of course, we'll have a special night of Volume One's own Sounds Like Summer Concert Series in Phoenix Park that night, too. But there will be tons of other shows going on around town, and Prex Claires hopes to pull them all together under one big umbrella in an effort to get as many people enjoying themselves downtown as possible.

In the Eaux Claires organizers' recent Reddit AMA, Creative Director Michael Brown talked about this, saying one of the festival's goals is for the Eau Claire community to take charge and start booking shows, events, and other cool stuff before and around the festival: “Our dream is for all of downtown Eau Claire to engage with the festival and start booking shows on Thursday night. Even Wednesday night! There are so many venues in town.”

“Our goal is to introduce visitors to our vibrant Downtown community and amazing local music," said Kyran Hamill, of Downtown Eau Claire, Inc. “Prex Claires is a great opportunity to get to know our community before spending the weekend at Foster Farms.”

The full slate of music events and lineups happening in downtown will be released soon, but participating venues will include The Oxbow, The Plus, The Mousetrap, The Brewing Projekt, Acoustic Café, Dive, and The Fire House.

To stay up to date on Prex Claires happenings, follow along with Downtown Eau Claire, Inc. and Blugold Radio 99.9FM.

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JUST LOOK: Eau Claire's Creative Economy Week Events

It should come as no surprise to anyone who has watched the cultural renaissance in Eau Claire over the past decade that the arts aren’t the icing on the economic cake: In fact, around here they’re more akin to economic meat and potatoes. And it’s this growing realization that Creative Economic Week (May 13-20) is meant to celebrate and amplify.

Locally, the week will be marked with panel discussions, the launch of a new professional organization for designers, a walking tour of downtown art galleries, and much more, including musical and theatrical performances.

Eau Claire is one of a number of Wisconsin communities taking part in the second annual Creative Economy Week. Locally, the week will be marked with panel discussions, the launch of a new professional organization for designers, a walking tour of downtown art galleries, and much more, including musical and theatrical performances.

“During Creative Economy Week we’ll shine a spotlight on the strong and growing arts and culture economy in Eau Claire and the Chippewa Valley,” said Mike Schatz, executive director of Downtown Eau Claire Inc. and the city’s economic development director. “We want to recognize the efforts and importance of the creative class workers that add to the quality of life we enjoy in Eau Claire.”

The week is the brainchild of Arts Wisconsin, a statewide arts advocacy group based in Madison, and the League of Wisconsin Municipalities, which represents cities and villages across the state. The week was established to highlight the major impact the arts have on our lives – and our pocketbooks.

So what exactly is the “creative economy”? Arts Wisconsin defines it as “the intersection of the creative workforce, creative industries, and creative communities.” And the creative economy a bigger swathe of the entire economy than you might think. The arts encompasses everything nonprofit museums and symphonies to for-profit photography, architecture, and graphic design businesses. According to a study recently released by the National Endowment for the Arts, more than 91,000 people work in the arts and cultural industries in Wisconsin, earning $5.2 billion annually. Nationwide, the arts and culture sector contributed more than $730 billion to the American economy. That’s a whole lot of creativity!

Here’s a rundown of the Creative Economy Week events in Eau Claire. Full details here.

Saturday, May 13

3-5pm: State of our Creative Economy (kickoff event), The Lakely, 516 Galloway St.

6pm-midnight: The Brewing Projekt’s Two Year Anniversary, The Brewing Projekt, 2000 N. Oxford Ave.

7-9pm: Boats & Bridges CD Release Show, Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St.

Monday, May 15

6-8pm: State of Our Visual Art & Design (conversation and networking), Artisan Forge Studios, 1106 Mondovi Road.

7-8:30pm: State of Our Literature (conversation and music), The Gallery at The Oxbow, 516 Galloway St.

7-10pm: Monday Jazz Sessions hosted by Michael Shults & Jeremy Boettcher, The Lakely, 516 Galloway St.

Tuesday, May 16

6-8pm: State of Our Theatre (conversation), The Plus, 208 S. Barstow St.

7-8:30pm: Writing for Exposure: Why Writers Need to Get Paid for Communities to Flourish (And How to Do That) (panel discussion), Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St.

Wednesday, May 17

8:30-9:30am: How to Become a Full-Time Maker (panel), Red's Mercantile, 224 N. Dewey St.

6-7pm: “Sounds Like Home” Public Input Session, Chippewa Valley Museum, Carson Park.

7-9pm: Dairyland Designers Association Kickoff Event, The Gallery at The Oxbow, 516 Galloway St.

Thursday, May 18

4-8pm: Downtown Eau Claire Gallery Walk, North and South Barstow street districts.

7-9pm: Songwriters in the Round, Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St.

8:30-10:30pm: Clear Water Comedy Presents Emma Arnold, The Plus, 208 S. Barstow St.

Friday, May 19

6-8pm: Book Release & Reading: Transnational/Turn, Volume One Gallery, 205 N. Dewey St.

7-9pm: Twig Issue III Release Party, Forage 930 Galloway St.

7:30-9:30pm: BareBones Ensemble Theatre: Two Plays by Harold Pinter, The Grand Theatre, 102 W. Grand Ave.

Saturday, May 20

7-8:30pm: Steve Szydel Performance: Re-release of Fairchild, Volume One Galley, 205 N. Dewey St.

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Tourist Spending Hits Record in Chippewa Valley

Across the three-county area, state and local taxes generated by visitors were estimated to be $45.1 million last year. Spending by tourists also supported the equivalent of about 4,300 jobs in Eau Claire County and generated $103 million in wages.

From massive music festivals to quiet weekend getaways, tourism is a huge component of the Chippewa Valley’s economy. That’s the story told by new figures released by the state Department of Tourism about spending by visitors last year in Wisconsin. According to the new report, direct spending by tourists in Eau Claire, Chippewa, and Dunn counties hit $363 million last year, a 4.6 percent increase from 2015. In Eau Claire County alone, travelers’ direct spending was $228 million, a 5.7 percent increase from the previous year (and a 16.5 percent increase from just three years earlier). Across the three-county area, state and local taxes generated by visitors were estimated to be $45.1 million last year. Spending by tourists also supported the equivalent of about 4,300 jobs in Eau Claire County and generated $103 million in wages.

“Tourism’s role in our community continues to grow, and from an economic standpoint, the numbers reflect that,” said Linda John, executive director at Visit Eau Claire. “Last year’s numbers show that we are doing the right things to make our community a destination worth traveling to and one where every traveler feels safe.”

Statewide, direct tourist spending was $12.3 billion last year, while total visitor spending was a whopping $20 million.  All those tourists generated $1.5 billion in state and local taxes, which saved the average Wisconsin household $650 each. Just by itself, that sum could buy a nice little tourist trip.

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Tuesday, May. 2nd, 2017

Jimmy John's Location to Open in Downtown Eau Claire

213 North Barstow Street (far right) could soon be a Jimmy John's.
213 North Barstow Street (far right) could soon be a Jimmy John's.

Fans of Jimmy John's sub sandwiches should be happy to hear that local Jimmy John's franchisee Ray Thielbar plans to open a new location at 213 North Barstow Street in in downtown Eau Claire, pending on his purchase of the building later this week. According to local business newsletter The Bottom Line, the sale should be final May 5.

The building used to house Ajay Tax & Accounting. The block is also home to a few other freshly opened (or soon to open) buisnesses such as vintage clothing store Good and Sturdy.

The presence of a franchise restaurant this far into downtown may speak to economic health of the downtown area. It seems like there are plenty of potential customers in the nearby Phoenix Park Neighborhood, not to mention the students living in the newly opened Haymarket Landing Building.

From The Bottom Line 

Jimmy John's franchisee buys building

Ray Thielbar, franchisee for Jimmy John's in the Chippewa Valley, has purchased the building at 213 North Barstow Street in Eau Claire and will convert the facility into a Jimmy John's location.

According to Thielbar, the deal does not close until May 5th. Dean Larsen of Acquisition Realty & Development handled the deal for both parties. Jason Manx was the previous owner of the building.

"We are catering to another Jimmy John's downtown and it's reach of our current territory," said Thielbar.

Above: A sandwich.
Above: A sandwich.

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5 Numbers: Wisconsin's Art Economy

THE ECONOMY OF ART: A new state-by-state study examines the number of Americans who work in arts- and culture-related professions and how much they are paid. Overall, this sector contributed $729.6 billion to the U.S. economy in 2014. Here’s how Wisconsin stacks up.

1.) 91,471

People working in arts and cultural industries in Wisconsin. This includes fields like publishing, broadcasting, advertising, etc., as well as related jobs such as government and retail.

2.) $5.2B

Total compensation for those employed in arts and culture in Wisconsin. The state ranks 20th in all states for such compensation and 24th in compensation growth.

3.) $56,686

Average compensation (wages or salary) in Wisconsin arts and cultural jobs, compared with $54,261 for salaried jobs in the state.

4.) 7%

Percentage by which Wisconsin’s art and cultural employment falls below the national average.

5.) 16%

Percentage by which Wisconsin’s art and cultural compensation falls below the national average.

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Monday, May. 1st, 2017

13 Takeaways from the Eaux Claires Reddit AMA

Bon Iver at Eaux Claires 2016.
Bon Iver at Eaux Claires 2016.

Last weekend, the creative team behind the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival – Justin Vernon, Michael Brown, Aaron Dessner, and Michael Perry – took to Reddit for an AMA (or “ask me anything” – a freewheelin’ Q&A message board with Reddit users) to discuss the upcoming festival’s third year on June 16 and 17 here in Eau Claire. The questions ranged from pointed, to thoughtful, to batsh*t crazy, to completely off-topic, to grateful, to excited fans looking for cool stuff to do Eau Claire. We sifted through the discussion, and here’s a few choice quotes:

Michael Brown, on utilizing the festival grounds in different ways

"Discovering the woods last year was a revelation. It just shows that we're constantly learning what can be accomplished in this place. l have explored these grounds endlessly and there really are some magical places that are definitely in future plans (the river?!?), but your safety, proper site planning, and the experience for every person in our audience is a massive focus for us (see Fyre Festival for examples of what not to do), so we take these decisions very seriously and attempt to only embark on an idea if we know that it can implemented correctly.”

Justin Vernon, on how he does Bon Iver while also managing a whole festival

"I'm just a musician who says things and then a bunch of talented people ignore half of it and do the other half and BAM presto! :)))))”

"Our dream is for all of downtown Eau Claire to engage with the festival and start booking shows on Thursday night. Even Wednesday night! There are so many venues in town. – Eaux Claires Artistic Director Michael Brown

Michael Brown, on the days leading up to the festival

"Our dream is for all of downtown Eau Claire to engage with the festival and start booking shows on Thursday night. Even Wednesday night! There are so many venues in town. But for sure there's going to a Pre-Show "oxbeaux" concert at the oxbow hotel. And I know there's another after show on thursday night planned at Pizza Plus (get those tickets now, because I think its going to be an insane show).”

Justin Vernon, on the possibility of developing more side projects

"sometimes, you don't want to go through the whole label and PR rigamarole... so ill just wait till we figure out what to do with all that music this year”

"I love the music in Eau Claire these days. We have so many studios, a COUPLE good places to play, and most of all Heart. But I hope people open up and allow themselves to fail and get better.” – Justin Vernon

Justin Vernon, on the Eau Claire music scene of today

"I love Eau Claire. Always have, always will. Ive lived there for 35 years. I spend time other places but I always come home. I could list 1000's of things about it which are perfect and resonate with me so deeply. The ONLY thing about itself, is that it can be unaware of certain things. I was in the music scene here for 10 years before I left for a year. In coming back, I noticed that there was so many things I would've loved to learn that I couldn't in Eau Claire. Musicallly, Otherwise. I love the music in Eau Claire these days. We have so many studios, a COUPLE good places to play, and most of all Heart. But I hope people open up and allow themselves to fail and get better.”

Justin Vernon, on whether or not Kendrick Lamar will do a surprise set

"I won't lie, we can't get Kendrick! But he is certainly OUR guy right now. as in, the Earth's guy. I can promise many other surprises tho. More than any other year.”

Michael Perry, on how his voice is so “naturally golden”

"Mostly what you're hearing is too much coffee, too little sleep, and some tricks I learned from an old-school radio pal of mine named Al. I also used to do a lot of open-mic poetry readings and grew up listening to a lot of preachers, farmers, and loggers. Somewhere in there you get what you hear. 'Course we all know that the rumbliest voice of all belongs to JV…"

"We are concentrating very hard on being different ; not for being different sakes, but trying to find out what only WE can do." – Justin Vernon

Justin Vernon, on Eaux Claires being labeled an “anti-festival”

"I hope we never used the word "anti-festival'... a) I don't think we have done enough to separate ourselves enough from festival life to be able to say that... b) being ANTI-something can mean you're putting energy where It doesn't need to be. c) we are concentrating very hard on being different ; not for being different sakes, but trying to find out what only WE can do. Each Day, Each Plight an opportunity to find more out about your worth and uniqueness. Basically, we plan on getting more and more separated from the Noise every year while approaching our own unique identity more and more.”

Michael Perry, on how Bon Iver influences his work and vice versa

"JD gave me an early mix of Bon Iver, Bon Iver and I listened to it over and over many nights in a row after midnight while writing a book called "Visiting Tom." Wound up structuring an entire chapter around the album and the image of fireflies, even though I never named JD or BI. I also made a "Bon Hiver" joke in one of my other books. So, yep. I'm grateful we crossed paths a long time ago."

Justin Vernon, on whether or not it’s OK to smoke weed at Eaux Claires

"Weed is ok. Its a plant. Most of us know that now. Just wait till we ban Beer! just kidding. :)”

Michael Brown, on why Eaux Claires has been scheduled on a different month each year

"With specific curation, unique creative projects, multiple factors, such close ties the university schedule (the festival's backbone are university students), and so many artists involved, we have to be more flexible than your typical music festival, hence the moving dates for I, II, and III. I'd love for you guys to make a thread about this on the Eaux Claires sub-reddit and see if there's consensus amongst you all, because we're right there with you in the desire to settle in to one weekend!”

Michael Perry, on cultivating Eau Claire’s sense of place for newcomers

"Mostly I try to shut my mouth and just listen. Whether it's at an actual meeting, or walking alone by the river, or standing in the middle of several thousand people. Then at some point I shut myself away and free-write. Then try things out loud. And then, ultimately, just hope against hope that the words work. I think the greatest lesson I've learned thanks to this festival is: Trust the audience. Take a chance, and most often they will take it with you. I'm grateful to be a part of this thing."

Michael Brown’s take on the Fyre Festival hijinx that recently made headlines

"Come to Eaux Claires."

That's it. You can always read the whole thing yourself right here.

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