Thursday, Jun. 29th, 2017

UWEC Grad Will Hit Ground Running as Confluence Arts Center Director

Kevin Miller
Confluence Arts Center Director Kevin Miller

Within sight and earshot of the bustling Confluence Arts Center construction site next to the Chippewa River in downtown Eau Claire, Kevin Miller was announced as the forthcoming facility’s executive director Thursday afternoon.

Miller, a UW-Eau Claire theater alumnus who is now executive director of the Thelma Sadoff Center for the Arts in Fond du Lac, will officially take the helm of the Confluence Arts Center on July 17.

While the $45 million shared university-community arts center won’t open until September 2018, Miller told a crowd gathered for a press conference on the Haymarket Landing’s rooftop terrace that he is eager to get to work.

 “As we can see behind us, there’s nothing more exciting than a construction project, and what that can do for the arts,” he said. “I think the big story … is what you have done to knit up all segments of the community so this is a community project.” He praised local public and private sector leaders for collaborating on an initiative that he predicted will boost the region both artistically and economically.

“We know what the arts can do for our lives from a cultural standpoint, just to have stuff to do,” Miller said. “But listen to that noise behind us: That’s the sound of progress, that’s the sound of a place that people want to live. That’s the sound of jobs.” Miller compared Fond du Lac to Eau Claire: Both are traditionally blue-collar industrial towns that have increasingly seen the value of investing in the arts, particularly as a way to lure and retain young, skilled workers who are looking for culturally vibrant places to live in addition to steady paychecks.

Vicki Hoehn, president of the board for the Confluence Council, the entity that will operate the arts center, said Miller’s experience in Fond du Lac helped him rise to the top among the 90 applicants for the executive director position. Miller raised more than $12 million for the Thelma Sadoff Center, including $8 million to renovate the former Masonic temple into a multi-function art center.

“Kevin Miller brings a demonstrated track record for strong relationship building and fundraising, along with local roots and statewide connections, to the position,” Hoehn said. “He has a strong working knowledge of the industry and a vision for artistic excellence, job creation, and educational opportunities.”

Miller studied theater at UW-Eau Claire in the 1980s (his on-stage roles included Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire) before receiving a master’s degree from UW-Milwaukee in 1992. Later, he worked as a professional actor, then founded a theater company in Cedarburg, Wisconsin. Since 2007, Miller has been executive director of the Thelma Sadoff Center. He has served on the Wisconsin Arts Board since 2013 and currently is chairman of the board. His wife, Ann, is a native of Chippewa Falls, and she and the couple’s youngest son have already relocated to the Chippewa Valley.

Miller promised that, once it opens, the Confluence Arts Center will provide “outstanding arts experiences” including “more theater, more visual arts, more dance, (and) more music in all its forms.” The arts center will strive to promote local arts as well as to attract national and international touring performances, he said.

“September 2018 is not that far away,” Miller said. “ We want to make this project successful for our city, our region, our state, but there’s a national piece to this, too.” Considering the success of Bon Iver, the area’s numerous music festivals, and the Confluence Project itself, he said, “People are talking about Eau Claire.”

Now that an executive director is in place, Hoehn – the Confluence Council board president – said that the next priorities will be filling several other top jobs. A director of production and operations, who will technically be a contracted employee through UWEC, will be hired, as will a director of programming and education. The Confluence will also need help in promotion and marketing, some of which will be provided by the Eau Claire Regional Arts Council, the organization that will merge with the Confluence Council once the new arts center opens.

Miller said his initial priorities include getting to know the project’s partners better, raising funds, building a program calendar, and hiring staff. “We’re a team of one right now,” he quipped.

“It’s so exciting to be here in Eau Claire, because it’s not a plan on the chalkboard anymore, right?” he said as construction crane towered above and sparks streamed down from steel girders. “This isn’t a PowerPoint. You are living this.” 

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Tuesday, Jun. 27th, 2017

Small Wisco Beverage Makers Form Coalition

Brewing Projekt brew.
Brewing Projekt brew.

A coalition of craft beverage producers has formed to promote the interests of Wisconsin’s independent brewers, winemakers, and distillers. One leader of the newly formed Wisconsin Craft Beverage Coalition is Will Glass, of the Brewing Projekt in Eau Claire. Glass is also president of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, which formed the coalition with the Wisconsin Winery Association and the Wisconsin Distillers Guild. “The Coalition will work to promote legislation that will allow Wisconsin’s craft beverage industry to grow and thrive and will raise awareness of all legislative and special interest proposals that would harm our small businesses,” a press release said. According to The Capital Times, “The alliance comes in response to an effort by the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association and the Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute to tighten the state’s three-tiered system of manufacturing, distributing and selling alcoholic beverages by keeping small-scale producers from selling beverages for drinking on-site – a move that would stunt a growing industry.” A proposal to do just that has been circulating in the state Capital in recent weeks.

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Wednesday, Jun. 21st, 2017

Up to 12 'Born Learning Trails' to Be Installed Throughout Chippewa Valley

Irvine Park's 'Born Learning Trail.
Irvine Park's 'Born Learning Trail."

Ten area communities in Chippewa and Eau Claire counties have approved the installation of Born Learning Trails in their area parks. These are in addition to the Born Learning Trail installed last year at Irvine Park in Chippewa Falls. One more trail is pending approval.

Born Learning Trails are research-based outdoor activity paths for parents and caregivers to walk through with their young children to encourage them to talk, listen, read, think, imagine and create. These trails support United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley’s Successful Children’s Network initiative which brings programs and resources together to ensure all children enter school ready to succeed.

A trail was installed on June 8 at Brunet Falls Park in Cornell, sponsored by Northwestern Bank, and on June 13 in Fairchild City Park in Fairchild, sponsored by United Way Emerging Leaders Society.  Additional trails are approved for Augusta, Altoona, Bloomer, Cadott, Eau Claire, Lake Hallie, New Auburn and Stanley. United Way is awaiting final approval for a trail in Fall Creek.

Volunteers from Cornell Area Betterment Association, Northwestern Bank, United Way Emerging Leaders Society, Hi-Crush and Bush Beans have been recruited for the first three installs, with additional help provided by City of Cornell workers. Volunteers for upcoming installations are still welcome and can contact United Way by email at or by calling 715-834-5043.

Ribbon-cutting ceremonies are planned for each trail location, with public welcome to attend. The ceremonies scheduled so far include: Liberty Reading Park in Augusta on Monday, June 19 at 4:00 P.M.; Fairchild City Park on June 21 at noon; and Brunet Falls Park in Cornell on June 22 at 3:30 P.M.

Businesses or organizations interested in sponsoring a Born Learning Trail can contact Kathy Cooper, Successful Children’s Network volunteer coordinator, at 715-834-5043.

United Way of the Greater Chippewa Valley has supported the human services of Chippewa and Eau Claire counties for over 50 years. It brings community members and resources together to ensure that children in the Chippewa Valley will enter school ready to succeed, Chippewa Valley residents will achieve self-sufficiency, and the mental health of Chippewa Valley residents will improve.

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Monday, Jun. 19th, 2017

Eaux Claires 2017: In the Woods and in the Rain

Friday after the rain.
Eaux Claires, Friday, after the rain.

When you’re in Wisconsin, the weather in June can be miraculous or tumultuous depending on the hour. You’re out there, the sunshine’s beating down, the humidity swells, the air gets thick, and before you know it the sky turns into one giant menacing cloud and thundering rain gushes down on you within a matter of minutes. You can’t predict when it’s going to happen, you can only adapt once it does.

It happened off and on throughout Troix, the third installment of the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, but the tricky weather was never enough suppress the creative energy, the artistic drive, and the Wisconsin-y good vibes that permeate year after year. Optimistically speaking, it actually added a cool wrinkle to some of the weekend’s best performances.

John Prine set.
John Prine set with Bon Iver and friends.

Like John Prine walking onto the stage at the same time as a huge thunderclap – that’s pretty dang cool. Or the booming 808s throughout Danny Brown's powerful set that made the raindrops vibrate as they fell – that’s pretty cool too. Or hearing Paul Simon and yMusic do a neo-classical version of “The Sound Of Silence” while lightning flickered in the sky above – that was almost too good.

Of course it wasn’t all gloom and doom; there was plenty of sunshine to go around. Sylvan Esso was better than ever for their fantastic Friday night set, where the North Carolina duo pumped out spastically infectious pop beats to a rain-soaked crowd who tried their hardest to dance themselves dry. Then across the field, Chance The Rapper took over for his absolutely crushing blockbuster set mostly comprised of cuts from last year’s universally-lauded mixtape Coloring Book. He is the best. Chance is a uniquely magnetic performer, and it felt otherworldly and lucky to see him in Eau Claire. The nearly 90-minute show was complete with smoke blasts, a killer light show, and at one point, the entire music video for “I’m The One,” Chance’s superstar collab with DJ Khaled, Justin Bieber, Quavo, and Lil Wayne.

Saturday kicked off strong as Philadelphia rappers Spank Rock and Amanda Blank brought insurmountable energy to their incredible afternoon set, pushing the Flambeaux stage sound system to its limit with a bunch of club-ready bangers that would make your grandparents blush. Immediately after, Jenny Lewis showed up and did a surprise set of breezy country tunes a couple steps away at the wooded Sparreaux stage, backed up by JT Bates and Mike Lewis. Perfume Genius wowed with their catalog of emotionally resonant songs that could be pin-drop hushed at one moment and completely bombastic in another. I saw the most tears at either Perfume Genius or Paul Simon. You can't help it sometimes.

Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso

Across both days, Troix embraced the woods – ticks and all – in a way the fest never has before. On one end, the treehouse vibes of the Oxbeaux stage saw some impressive acts like stunning three-part folk harmonies from Mountain Man in their first performances in five years and later, a surprise set by The Staves who did a spin on Simon & Garfunkel's “The Only Living Boy In New York” (a personal fave) with their signature sisterly harmonies. Another end of the woods was transformed into an art gallery with wooded installations where you could rearrange different words printed on white feathers refrigerator-magnet-style, you could check out controlled water drops falling on different stuff in intricate rhythms, or relax in an entire living room set up with couches and a TV that's playing Super Bowl I.

The Oxbeaux stage.
The Oxbeaux stage.

As has become the norm at Eaux Claires, there were musical collaborations happening everywhere all the time on every stage. Each day saw a PEOPLE Mixtape set anchored by festival co-curators Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon where tons of musicians on the lineup came together for extended jams. Elsewhere, Astronautalis showed up to freestyle with the inventive percussion of s-t-a-r-g-a-z-e. The John Prine tribute set had Phil Cook, Jenny Lewis, Spank Rock, Amanda Blank, Chris Porterfield of Field Report, Mountain Man, Jeff Tweedy, The Staves, and soul legend Swamp Dogg all show up to sing Prine’s classics before Prine even hit the stage himself. Vernon, as is customary, appeared all over the place, singing Wilco and Billy Bragg’s “California Stars” along with Tweedy and gleefully joining in the choreography with Chance The Rapper and Francis And The Lights as they sang “Friends” during Chance’s set.

Chance The Rapper.
Chance The Rapper.

Heavy storms encroached on Saturday evening pushing main stage acts earlier and abandoning the side stages, but like I said, you can only adapt once it happens, so acts like Velvet Negroni and Phil Cook did their thing back in town out of the mud at The Lismore Hotel. Meanwhile back at the grounds, Wilco – whose members all had busy weekends performing with their side projects – closed out Eaux Claires by relishing in the stormy darkness and even playing a little long despite the foreboding lightning. Jeff Tweedy was almost gleeful before "Via Chicago" when he said, "We're usually playing outside when it's sunny, and this song really bums people out, but this is (expletive) perfect." It truly was.

Eaux Claires has evolved somewhat drastically year to year over the last three summers. With re-evaluated grounds, new ways to unlock different spaces, new collaborations, new visions, and new spots to take it all in, you’ve got to go out there ready to wander and be surprised. The whole shebang has this choose-your-own-adventure vibe to it where anything can happen – you forge your own path immersed in art of all kinds, you come out muddy, sweaty, exhausted, and damned if you’re not ready for more.

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Modicum Brewing Opens July 7

Image: Modicum Brewing
Image: Modicum Brewing

Modicum Brewing – a collaboration between brewmaster Eric Rykal (formerly of Lucette Brewing Company in Menomonie and The Brewing Projekt in Eau Claire) and business partner Mike Blodgett – looks set to open on July 7. The Altoona-based brewery sent out some PR today announcing the date, a grand opening event, and a few details about their new taproom (see below). We first announced the new operation last January

Modicum Brewing Set To Host Grand Opening July 7th, 2017

Modicum Brewing, the Chippewa Valley’s newest brewery is set to open their new taproom to the public on July 7th at their Altoona location at 3732 Spooner Ave. The brewery, founded by former Brewing Projekt brewmaster Eric Rykal and Environmental Engineer Mike Blodgett, has been under construction for the last four months. The grand opening party will commence at 2 PM on the 7th of July and feature Modicum beers available on tap and limited availability 750ml bottles for take home.

The 3,500 square foot taproom also features an event space that is available for booking parties, meetings and gatherings of all types. The Modicum brewery is located right in the middle of the taproom and will allow for easy viewing of the brewing process as well as brewery tours and beer classes.

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Light Installation to Shut Down Phoenix Park Footbridge for Much of Summer

Phoenix Park footbridge
Phoenix Park footbridge

If you’re a fan of the Phoenix Park footbridge in downtown Eau Claire, we’ve got good news ... and bad news.

The good news is that, as a result of a fundraising campaign, hundreds of colorful LED lights will be installed on bridge, turning the 526-foot-long structure into a dazzling attraction after dark.

So far, more than $200,000 has been raised for “The River Lights at Phoenix Park” project.

The bad news is that installation of the lights will mean that the bridge will be off-limits to pedestrians and cyclists during daytime hours for much of the summer. Starting Tuesday, June 20, the bridge is to be closed between 6am and 4:30pm Mondays through Thursdays. According to a city press release, “This schedule is expected to last throughout the summer until installation is complete.” Pedestrians and cyclist will be directed to the Grand Avenue footbridge, which is a quarter mile downstream.

So far, more than $200,000 has been raised for “The River Lights at Phoenix Park” project, a joint effort among Rotary International, Downtown Eau Claire Inc., and UW-Eau Claire (with the help of hundreds of donors). “Once completed,” the press release explains, “the bridge will be bathed in ambient colors that can change for seasons and events, and will highlight the unique and historic architectural structure of the bridge. The result will be a world-class attraction that can be enjoyed by the public year-round.”

To learn more or to donate to the project, visit

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Friday, Jun. 16th, 2017

Video: The Shouting Matches at Oxbeaux

In case you missed it, check out The Shouting Matches (Justin Vernon, Phil Cook, Jill Heinke Moen, and Brian Moen) opening up their set Thursday night (June 15) at The Oxbow Hotel. They were the last performer at the Oxbeau concert that night, which closed down a block of Galloway Street in downtown Eau Claire on the eve of the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival – just one of many shows that night.

We shot this quick video from the rooftop of Ramone's Ice Cream Parlor. 

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Thursday, Jun. 15th, 2017

Lineup Revealed for 2-Day 'Last Call' Show at the House of Rock

Later this summer, Eau Claire’s long-running rock club the House of Rock will close its doors for good after 17 years of hosting shows on Water Street, but not before this music scene and the spectrum of bands that have developed their sound on that stage can give it a proper send-off. So July 21 and 22 is “Last Call” for the House of Rock with 27 bands performing over two nights. We’ll see the return of Laarks, the return of Meridene, the return of The Nicotines, plus a crazy slate of artists from rock to metal to punk to hip hop to electronic all culminating in one final set by the Drunk Drivers. Mark your calendars and raise a glass, here’s the lineup in full:


Last Call at the House of Rock • 422 Water St., Eau Claire • July 21 and 22 • show starts at 4:30pm both days • $10 • 21+

Friday, July 21

Landfill Park
Arms Aloft
No Loving Place
Jim Pullman Band
I, Torrent
Giants of Midgard
FM Down
FanOffBirdSafe / Beercan Pentagram
Two Castles
Pit Wagon
In Black Print

Saturday, July 22

Drunk Drivers
The Nicotines
Smack Davis
The Jaggernauts
Mors Mortis Machinatio
The Ronald Raygun
The Heart Pills
DiY Daisy
Distant Friends

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Wednesday, Jun. 14th, 2017

Look for "If History Had Legs" Art Installation at Prex Claires (June 15)

Amongst other art installations around downtown Eau Claire on Thursday, June 15 – part of the freshly announced Eau Claire Public Arts Council launch, as well as part of the city's Prex Claires events leading up to the Eaux Claires Music at Arts Festival on Friday and Saturday, you'll find "If History Had Legs." From the artists ...

"If History Had Legs" Installation

Our time and place has a scale and movement.  A crib representing human powered nomadism asks What time is this place? ... How did we get here? ... What innovations can we create to modern living that allow for humane, human scale, urban life? ... How can we guide movement to grow our sustainable home here in the Chippewa Valley?"

Presentation methods: The crib will be stationed at Grand and Barstow Street on June 15.  A film inside the crib will screen current conditions juxtaposed against historical conditions and crossings on Barstow and Graham Ave.  Think of it as a kind a of time machine.  Photos gathered at Chippewa Valley Museum are key crossing locations for before and after images.

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Baroque Sculpture Lighting to Debut at Prex Claires (June 15)

Join Visit Eau Claire from 8:30pm to 11pm on Thursday, June 15 for the lighting of the Baroque sculpture as part of the Prex Claires festivities near the intersection of West Grand Avenue and First Avenue in downtown Eau Claire. A sneak-peek of Grease the Musical presented by the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild will perform at 8:30pm. Live music will be featured by CollECtive Choir on the Baroque stage starting at 9pm.

Originally a featured piece at Eaux Claires Deux in 2016, Baroque is the product of a skilled Italian design team, headed by Edoardo Tresoldi. Masterfully sculpted and constructed, the mysterious lights enhance the viewer’s experience as Baroque takes center stage along the scenic Chippewa River and brings this ominous pipe organ to life. Baroque offers a one-of-a-kind artistic flavor to the Eau Claire community and its visitors, while igniting conversation for all of those who passersby.

On Thursday evening around 8:30pm, Baroque will be lit for the first time since its return to Eau Claire. The conjoined event will be a part of the Prex Claires activities on Thursday, June 15. For more information on all Prex Claires activities, check out

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