30 Years of Decadence

Decadent Cabaret hits three decade milestone

Andrew Patrie, photos by Andrea Paulseth |

Three decades is a long time, nearly all of this writer’s life. Hard to believe an institution built upon the notion of declivitous morality could thrive for so long. Yet such is the case with Eau Claire’s Decadent Cabaret musical showcase, celebrating its 30th year on March 6 and 7. A perusal of its history reveals the secrets of such longevity: dedicated people drawn together by an appreciation for music in all its (often ugly) guises and a constellation of venues open to the transient nature of the show.

According to Gary Schmaltz, local WHYS 96.3fm DJ and dude who was there, “The very first Decadent Cabaret was held in April of 1980 at the VFW on Water Street and was the brainchild of Steve Katrosits and Jeff Olsen, of the UWEC art department, and students known as the Thursday Night Crew. It was a rock response to the formal Cabaret event held by the university (now in its 31st year). …Attendees wore various decadent (often silly, like a shower curtain) costumes.”

Throughout the 80s and 90s, the event bounced between the Brat Kabin, the Unitarian Church on Farwell Street, the Golden Chair (RIP), and the Stone’s Throw, and survived an emergency resuscitation in 1986.

    Schmaltz explains, “The party was not being planned, so I decided it need not die. I adopted it, moved the date to March, and re-themed it as a leather and lace event. Ladies wore sexy lingerie, and men wore leather.” Ownership passed to Bob and Judy Cizek, in 1992, and then to Todd Gitzlaff, until he moved in 2004.

For much of the oughties, the House of Rock has been home to the Decadent Cabaret. And since 2004, veteran local rockers Brent K and Joey G have been in charge, which brings us to the much-anticipated anniversary show.

When asked if the spirit of the event has changed much in 30 years, Brent responded with a negative, adding, “I’d like to see more people coming out in costumes. The whole thing is intended to be Halloween, Mardi Gras, and New Year’s Eve all rolled into one.”

He also sees the “tradition” of the rotating owner/venue as a more vibrant, as opposed to volatile, element. “This event is not exclusive to any bar. Joe and I like having it at the House of Rock because it is easy to stage manage and it has the highest capacity of any music bar in the area. [But we] aren’t going to be doing this forever. If we do step down and pass the torch to someone, we’d pick someone that has a good overview of the entire Eau Claire original band music scene … which means not spacing out on asking any hip-hop acts from the area to play like we did this year.”

And that has been the Decadent Cabaret’s most durable quality, the talent. Past artists have included The Commercials, Another Carnival, Airkraft, Venison, Amateur Love, and DeYarmond Edison. The line up is even more diverse this year, stretching across two packed evenings, including: No Loving Place, Orestus, EC Blues All Stars, Flags Will Cover The Coffins, Kaptivating Kate, The Jim Pullman Band, The Daredevil Christopher Wright, Laarks, Meridene, and the Drunk Drivers (the band to likely have played the Decadent Cabaret more times than any other) to name a few. Here’s to 30 more years.

    Decadent Cabaret • March 6-7 • House of Rock, 422 Water St., Eau Claire • 7 pm • $5 cover • Ages 21+ • • Visit for the full-line ups and details.