Arts and Entertainment

your Best of the Chippewa Valley 2009 winners for music, art, and theatre

V1 Staff, illustrated by Erik Christenson

1st Place: Cameo Budget Theatre
2nd Place: Micon Cinemas
3rd Place: Gemini Drive-In

Downtown Eau Claire’s Cameo Budget Twin is the reigning champion of regional movie houses, winning for the third consecutive year. One cannot even begin to describe the sheer awesomeness that resides in this historic second-run theater, with its worn and discolored carpeting, butt-pain inducing chairs, and mildly creepy basement bathrooms. From its extremely popular discount Tuesday movie nights, to its lowest priced theater concessions in town, the Cameo is the Eau Claire movie theater. Micon Cinemas in Chippewa Falls is a massive eight-screen complex, with an abundance of large movie cardboard cutouts. Rounding it out is the Gemini Drive-In, a single-screen, double-feature experience, where moviegoers are able to sneak in outside food, and talk loudly amongst their car-mates without being “shooshed” by grumpy strangers. – Bailey Berg

1st Place: House of Rock
2nd Place: Grand Little Theater
3rd Place: Phoenix Park

The House of Rock reigns supreme in this monumental battle of sound and space. With a stage just big enough to rock out or relax on, and enough standing room to accommodate the smallest head-bobbing circles of indie-rock hipsters to the biggest hoards of heavy-metal bangers and hip-hop beat-boxers, the HOR’s black hallway and bar, decorated with the faces of gargoyle creatures and rock legends alike, brought in more of your votes than any other music venue in the Chippewa Valley. While the late night, alcohol-inspired, 21+ crowd dominated the polls and gave us a winner, the Valley’s more innocent, all ages concert goers showered in enough votes to give the Grand Little Theater second place. One of few options for those too young and too moral for fake IDs, the theatre’s knack for booking local fan faves attracts long lines of eager music lovers year-round. Phoenix Park, although limited to a short, seasonal schedule, earned a third place nod as the home of the wildly popular Sounds Like Summer Concert Series. – Andy Plank

Chippewa Choice:
Dewey’s Roadhouse

1st Place: Phoenix Park
2nd Place: Owen Park
3rd Place: Living Room Coffee House
Can you think of many things more enjoyable than listening to some sweet live music in the afternoon, with a river as a backdrop? Neither can I. That’s why Phoenix Park won the best outdoor music spot yet again. At the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers, stadium style grass seating, and a consistently rad roster of live acts, it’s of little surprise that this revitalized waste site tops the charts. Another great riverish spot, the Owen Park bandshell boasts benches, trees, and easy access to take the number two spot, likely due to the inception of the Tuesday night blues series. Rounding out the list was the Living Room Coffee House, who despite not being near a river and not being a park, has become one of the most comfortable and enjoyable outdoor venues to listen to some of your favorite tunes. – Aryn Widule

1st Place: Nuncrackers
2nd Place: Cheap Antics: Best of Show
3rd Place: Anything Goes

The picks for best local theatrical production this year all have something in common (besides that they’re all plays). Each of the three winners were put on by the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild. Topping the list was their production of Nuncrackers. The play, which combined holiday spirit, a classic ballet, and fun-loving sisters, depicted Nuns performing The Nutcracker. Coming in second is Cheap Antics: Best of Show, a frugal and funny production featuring a handful quick-tongued and zany performers. And, wouldn’t you know it, voters also loved the musical production Anything Goes, complete with fancy footwork, and fast-paced farce. They sure know what they’re doing over at the Theatre Guild. – Bailey Berg

Most Original Option: Tech Support: The Musical came in fifth and was written, directed, and starred all local talent

1st Place: Second City Touring Company
2nd Place: Kinsey Sicks
3rd Place: Optical Delusions

We must like our comedy around these parts, because three hysterical acts swept the touring stage production category. With a historical cast list riddled with Saturday Night Live alums and some of the best improv and sketch comedy talents the world has ever seen, it’s no surprise that the Chicago-based Second City Touring Company’s visit to The State Theatre back in May topped the list. They’re closely followed by The Kinsey Sicks, a State Theatre show from a few months before with a fake morning show act featuring cheeky cross-dressing vocalists booked as a “Dragapella Beautyshop Quartet.” Former local “Magic Ben” was one third of the amazing Grand Little Theater presentation of Optical Delusions back in January. The Las Vegas acts included a magician, mind reader, and juggling unicyclist that impeccably combined their jaw-dropping talents with comedy. – Trevor Kupfer

1st Place: South Farwell
2nd Place: New North String Band
3rd Place: Duncan Ninja

If the one ring to rule them all was forged in Mt. Doom, then South Farwell must have been forged by local rock gods somewhere near Mt. Simon. That is to say that the local supergroup comprised of Tim Coughlin, Phil Joadis, Cory Dahl, and Bill Boles (former members of Easychair, Half Life, or Mojo Lemon) is the new band to rule them all and they’ve been turning heads since the release of their debut album in July. In New North String Band’s first year they’ve already gained regional notoriety as one of the best bluegrass bands in the Midwest, getting invited to all kinds of festivals and jamborees and hootenannies, and are definitely one of the best dressed five-piece bands to release an album in May. And that’s saying a lot. Playing nearly every weekend at some venue or another, Duncan Ninja is picking up speed with their pulsing funk melodies vocalized by Adrian Klenz (Eau Claire Blues All-Stars) and drummed by Dave Power (Meridene). – Trevor Kupfer

1st Place: Jim Pullman Band
2nd Place: Daredevil Christopher Wright
3rd Place: Meridene

Damn good indie-rock bands filled this year’s list of best original rock bands, and the veteran trio of the Jim Pullman Band rose up to be named the best in our blooming city of great music. All that grainy, vintage twang and those sweet, good feelin’ rock riffs are hard to not get caught up in, and Jim Pullman himself can bring it all home with a powerful, southern-splashed tenor that Ryan Adams would be proud of. Most importantly, if you’ve ever been to a JPB show you know the threesome can sell catchy hooks and heartfelt lyrics into the wee hours of night. Inspiring and quirky, bright and fearless, The Daredevil Christopher Wright is fresh from a critically acclaimed debut full length and a healthy dose of touring, earning them nationwide love and enough of your votes for second place honors. Meridene, having perfected a combo attack of blazing rock and sparkling pop punches, rounds out the top three after a very impressive year. – Andy Plank

1st Place: Phoenix
2nd Place: The Pheromones
3rd Place: Contradiction

If you like rock and having a good time, then you like good cover bands. It’s a fact proven time and time again, and there’s no shame in that. Especially given the fact that the Chippewa Valley is home to some great cover bands. Like this year’s first place winner Phoenix, who originate from Chippewa Falls and cover songs from Pink Floyd, U2, Linkin Park, Motley Crue, and other rock legends. Second place went to The Pheromones, a five-member classic and modern rock cover band, led by female singer Sarah Spindler, who’s known for her powerful vocals. Contradiction, a rock band going on seven years based out of Eau Claire, takes the third spot this year. You can catch Contradiction at O’Leary’s Pub regularly. – Jenna Campbell

1st Place: Mojo Lemon
2nd Place: Eau Claire Blues All-Stars
3rd Place: Howard “Guitar” Luedtke

It’s been claimed Robert Johnson sold his soul in order to play his blues. Though it may be extreme, the blues is a type of music that brings out that kind of passion and dedication in people. For just over a decade Mojo Lemon has been one of western Wisconsin’s most dedicated and successful blues acts. Playing as headliner and supporter at festivals and small town bars, Mojo Lemon has made sure that people hear the blues and that they hear it well. With an eclectic lineup and a selection of consistently quality tunes, the Eau Claire Blues All Stars have been entertaining the Valley with their unique style of making the blues not just powerful, but fun. Howard “Guitar” Luedtke has been playing slide, rock, and blues guitar for decades. You don’t earn the nickname “Guitar” unless you’re able to prove you can do something special with those strings. – Aryn Widule

1st Place: Sue Orfield Band
2nd Place: The Klenz/Walk Sextet
3rd Place: UWEC Jazz I
We may not have Karl Malone or John Stockton, but Eau Claire does have excellent contributors to jazz. Voted the Valley’s number one jazz band, is none other than The Sue Orfield Band. Playing the sax for nearly 30 years has earned Sue many prestigious awards as well as the opportunity to play with several musical greats. This honor comes in perfect timing with the release of their new album, Bonk!, the release show of which is Sept. 20 at The House of Rock. Coming in second is The Klenz/Walk Jazz Sextet. Led by outstanding trumpet and vocals, they play everything from classical to contemporary jazz. Besides studying to one day become music teachers, performers, or discovering other ways to share their talent, people involved in UWEC Jazz I obviously put on an amazing show. In third place, they do it for the love of the music. – Mitchell See

1st Place: Greg Gilbertson
2nd Place: QuinnElizabeth
3rd Place: Jeff White

If finger-picking a guitar was a basic survival skill, Greg Gilbertson would probably be our local alpha-male. If this were a pioneer settlement, some of us would hunt food, some of us would build shelter, some of us would make clothing, and Greg would protect us all with his mind-blowing instrumental guitar solos. His rabid fan following ranked him at first place in the poll, narrowly edging out local folk trio QuinnElizabeth, a group of sisters who create a wall of vocal harmonies backed up by unfussy percussion and solid guitar work. You gave third place to Chippewa Valley music veteran Jeff White, whose mournful guitar and raspy troubadour’s voice make for intense live shows. Sitting at a Jeff White performance, you’d think your chair was resting on some western plain somewhere, not a coffee shop’s floor in Wisconsin. – Mike Paulus

Up-and-Comer: Cranes & Crows

1st Place: Frozen Tundra
2nd Place: Breakneck the Mage
3rd Place: EFFIT Records (tied)
3rd Place: Fathom (tied)

Local hip-hop/DJ acts seem to have their own special blend of the Midwest life, rhythm, and lyrics that make you think beyond their music. It is a unique and often underground scene, which has been somewhat missing from Eau Claire since the closing of the Stones Throw. Getting recognized as the best in the area this year is Frozen Tundra, who have played with the likes of such groups as Afroman, Fat Joe, and ICP. They have been growing in popularity since the inception of their group around 2003. Coming in second is local MC Breakneck the Mage. With a fresh Midwest style, and a fairly new album out, you’ll be sure to hear more from him. Tied for third are Fathom and EFFIT Records. Maybe a rap battle could break the tie? Who knows. – Mitchell See

1st Place: The Excellent Adventure
2nd Place: Little Willie
3rd Place: Downers Grove

Based on the three groups who got the most votes in this category, it seems that the Jam Band genre label might be the least style-specific and most open to interpretation. The results of this poll, however, are undeniably clear. Receiving four times more votes than any other band, The Excellent Adventure (formally Bill & Ted’s) is the Chippewa Valley’s choice for best band to jam to. Lead by Bill Hamilton and Dan Sebern, also known for their work in Day Old Bread among others, The Excellent Adventure has excellently adventured all over town with their funky light rock, earning them an impressive following of happy hippies. Although Bill and Ted ruled this poll with a strength stronger than hemp itself, neither rhythm and blues based Little Willie, nor the funk fusion foursome of Downers Grove can be too upset to earn runner up spots considering each have members in The Excellent Adventure. Also, these bands are just too busy jamming to be upset. – Andy Plank

1st Place: No Loving Place
2nd Place: Drunk Drivers
3rd Place: Phoenix

After recovering from the jaw dropping, gut wrenching, whiskey spilling, spiked mace to the groin that is Desolate Void not making the top three best local hard rock/metal bands (which is like Bon Iver not placing in their respective category), I am here to announce who did. Eau Claire’s No Loving Place, celebrating a decade in existence this year, takes top honors, proving that some folks around here do love you. Crawling out of the mid 90s, from the same fetid cesspool of a scene that spawned the likes of Three Liter Hit, Voodoo Love Mint, Touch Is Automatic, and Curious Jorge (represent!), Eau Claire’s Drunk Drivers blow a 2.0 in second place. Burning up the third slot is Phoenix, who garnered 146 votes while the rest of us wait for them to rise from the ashes of a cover band. – Andy Patrie

1st Place: New North String Band
2nd Place: East Hill Bluegrass Band
3rd Place: Evergreen Grass Band

Guitars, standup basses, banjos, harmonies, and maybe a mandolin for good luck: the basic recipe for a good old bluegrass band. The Midwest is blessed with a thriving bluegrass scene, and once again our particular geographic pie slice is no exception. The New North String Band came on the scene in 2008, and since then has blown up into a popular, busy, and exceptionally well-dressed group of men harmonizing their way all over the place. The East Hill Bluegrass Band is a local favorite, strumming and singing with tight vocals that hold a virtual corner on the description “high and lonesome.” The Evergreen Grass Band has rapidly made the jump from open mic house band to certifiable touring troubadours. And as it turns out, bluegrass can still be pretty fun even if it’s staying green. – Aryn Widule

1st Place: Justin Vernon
2nd Place: Judy Clark
3rd Place: Hank Aaron

If you are interested in sighting sensitive, bearded men, the Chippewa Valley is definitely the place to be. In fact, Western Wisconsin is a like a game preserve for artistic, outdoorsy, facial-haired fellows. Amongst all of these specimens, you just may catch a glimpse of the especially rare bearded troubadour Bonicus Iverus, or our biggest local celebrity, Justin Vernon. Although his current spate of musical success has him touring all over the world, he does own a big homestead outside of town, and he regularly stops at The Joynt to water. If spotting the elusive Justin seems like too much work, our second place celebrity can be viewed several times a day on WEAU TV-13 news. Judy Clark’s interviews with non-celebrity locals are breathtaking and sublime. Our third celebrity is actually extinct in our area – Hank Aaron no longer lives around here, but his baseball accomplishments starting in Eau Claire help retain his local celebrity status. – Eric Rasmussen

1st Place: Mike Perry
2nd Place: Andy Patrie
3rd Place: Jason Christopherson

Mike Perry is so good at writing that other authors would willingly give a neighbor’s body part to be able to write like him. His latest book is Coop: A Year of Poultry, Pigs, and Parenting, and you don’t have to like chickens, swine, or dirty diapers to enjoy the book. Get reading! Andy Patrie is the local expert on horror movies and he has vampiric writing powers of persuasion to make you want to watch buckets of blood on the big screen after reading his recommendations. Finally, RCU Marketing Guy Jason Christopherson is still resting on his laurels for his 2003 tome about baseball in Eau Claire titled Baseball in Eau Claire. – Rob Reid

International Option: The nearly 20 people who know about his home in Menomonie voted for “Neil Gaiman.”

1st Place: Rock Fest
2nd Place: UWEC Jazzfest
3rd Place: Blues on the Chippewa

The choice of bands says it all for two-time best music festival winner Rock Fest. The Steve Miller Band, Lifehouse, Salvia, Judas Priest, and Buckcherry were some of the highlights from this year. Commanding second place is the UWEC Jazz Festival. Most of my friends own at least one UWEC jazz CD. This year the vocal jazz and expansive age range of performers lit up the voting board. Now that’s plain cool. Coming in a third place is the relatively young Blues on the Chippewa in Durand. That sounds soothing enough. Their free concert in Memorial Park this August was a big success yet again; look for the blues to continue their local popularity, in a soulful way, of course. – Emily Diehl

1st Place: Laurie Bieze
2nd Place: Steve Bateman
3rd Place: Tiffany Bailey

So there really isn’t a whole lot out there like what Laurie Bieze does. One of the most experienced and sincerely devoted artists in the area, Bieze does things with stained glass that will make you think twice about that farm scene your grandmother had hanging in her kitchen window. Winding forms, large sculptures, and lines you can follow for days are all hallmarks of Bieze’s work. Steve Bateman is a master snow sculptor, traveling the world and winning competitions by shaving and scraping snow in ways that almost defy physics. His giant swan can be seen outside Banbury Place, and his metal horseman can be found guarding the Volume One office. Rounding out this year’s triumvirate of visual artists is Tiffany Bailey, a local potter whose simple yet beautiful clay slinging would put Patrick Swayze to shame.  – Aryn Widule

Up-and-Comer: Recent UWEC art grad Kerri Kiernan finished in sixth.

1st Place: Memorial Jazz I
2nd Place: Regis High Jazz
3rd Place: North High Jazz

If anyone ever makes the bold and inaccurate statement, “Jazz is dead,” first do me a favor and slap them in the face. Next point to the highly successful annual jazz festival held in Eau Claire every year. Then finish them off with humility by pointing to the high-quality school bands in town, the best of which are jazz. The veritable cream of the crop is Memorial Jazz I, which went to New York yet again this spring to compete in Essentially Ellington (an honor in itself), but for the first time came back with a victory! Regis Jazz Band isn’t a slouch, either, as can be attested by those that heard them at Eau Claire Jazz Festival in spring, where they won top honor. Continuing the local award-attracting jazz is North High Jazz, who in spring took home third place at UW-La Crosse’s Jazz Festival. Ska may be dead, but jazz sure ain’t. – Trevor Kupfer

1st Place: Eau Claire Regional Arts Center
2nd Place: Tangled Up in Hue
3rd Place: Foster Gallery (UWEC)

I know people who ready calculus books for fun that still appreciate a good piece of music, or a particular painting that reminds them of something beautiful. Lucky for us the Valley is chock full of art galleries, led in blazing, old school marquee glory by the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center. With local and national displays, live theater, comedy and music, ECRAC really delivers the total package. Just down the street, Tangled Up in Hue came on the scene with a cooperative goulash from dozens of locally grown artists, monthly showings, and perhaps the best use one could find for a space formerly devoted to eating pizza. The UWEC Foster Gallery is located in the ever-sharp Haas Fine Arts Center. It’s a good place to stroll through and remember that us regular folks can bop around and enjoy fine art as well as anyone. – Aryn Widule

1st Place: Infinitea Teahouse
2nd Place: Acoustic Café
3rd Place: Grand Little Theater
You under-agers today don’t know how lucky you are. The locals fast approaching 30 years old could spin yarns about the all ages days of old, when Stones Throw invented the concept for one night a week and Racy’s had some regular shows, as well. Outside of that, you had a basement. That was it. Nowadays you crazy kids are spoiled by places like Infinitea Teahouse and Acoustic Café, which have free live shows open to all ages every week in their intimate café settings. The Grand Little Theater, run by Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild, is booked regularly by local musicians that in many cases will have an all-ages show and a 21-plus show in the same weekend. – Trevor Kupfer

1st Place: Taste of Eau Claire
2nd Place: Chalkfest
3rd Place: International Fall Festival

Ahh festivals. Everyone loves to celebrate things, and 2009 was no exception. A recent perennial favorite, the Taste of Eau Claire shindig encapsulates the variety and quality of our fine towns eateries and snackoriums. It’s hard to have a bad time when you’re walking around outside on a beautiful day constantly sampling the best of what local restaurants have to offer while hearing some local bands. Despite less than ideal weather, Chalkfest was a great success, once again blowing everyone’s collective mind when they got to see just what kind of art is possible with chalk and gumption. International Fall Festival brings culture, treats, and worldly performances to downtown every year. With an annual draw in the thousands, there are few places in the area where one can experience an international carnival atmosphere just down the street. – Aryn Widule

1st Place: Bon Iver at The State Theatre
2nd Place: Jim Pullman at Decadent Cabaret
3rd Place: Mojo Lemon at Owen Park

If you were in the Chippewa Valley at any point in 2008, chances are you either took part in or overheard conversations about the smoking ban and Bon Iver. Locals followed the ongoing saga of Justin Vernon like crazy, from late show appearances and music festivals to music blog reviews and magazine cover stories. And the whole thing climaxed in December, when the boys of Bon Iver decided to wrap up their tour and momentous year with a sold-out show at The State Theatre. Good winter, indeed. The House of Rock’s annual celebration of rock and glam celebrated 30 years in March, and the highlight of the awesome weekend was a Pixies tribute set by Jim Pullman Band with Elizabeth (of Quinn Elizabeth) and Trevor Ives (of Meridene). It was so good that they did an encore performance at the Sounds Like Summer Concert Series. Blues band Mojo Lemon had a memorable performance as well this year, playing the highly successful new blues series in Owen Park in June. – Trevor Kupfer