Live events are a lifeblood of the Chippewa Valley. Our vibrant music scene, plus food, comedy, visual art, and other endeavors offer so many fun and creative things to attend. As Volume One’s resources and listings editor, it’s been my pleasure to curate the vast event offerings our community has, and in doing so I’ve found a handful of my own favorite things to enjoy with friends.
Then March 2020 arrived, and everything changed. I’m sure I don’t need to detail exactly why the last few years have been pretty hard on people’s ability to get out and enjoy the same things together that they used to.
Over the ensuing three years, I’ve watched the Chippewa Valley live events scene claw its way back from the void. Perhaps winter draws out the reflection and nostalgia in me, but recently I thought I might take a look back at where we are, as people congregate in groups more often.
Overall, while many live events have come back, the quantity of them has dropped significantly. For example, I estimate that in 2022 there were roughly half as many live music events as there were in 2019.
One reason is – and there’s no easy to way say this – there are a lot fewer venues than there use to be. Back in 2019 The Acoustic Café, The Plus, The Metro, The Stones Throw, Sheeley House, The Raw Deal, O’Leary’s Pub, Every Buddy’s Bar, and more all regularly hosted events. Since then, all have either gone dark or taken lengthy hiatuses. While some are on their way back and some experienced only temporary setbacks, there’s a tangible decline in the amount of stage space available in the Chippewa Valley. And while there are newer venues, they are fewer in number than the ones we lost.
Furthermore, some previously annual events have yet to return in full. The Eau Claire Improv Festival, The Decadent Cabaret and The Banbury Art Crawl all have yet to come back in their original form, although the latter two are on the calendar for 2023. Winter Fest, meanwhile, didn’t return in 2019 and hasn’t since, nor has the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, which held its last incarnation in late 2019.
I worry that people who previously loved getting out on the town to enjoy live events – whether it was music, comedy, or something else – may have become more comfortable at home.
volume one resources & listings editor
The other half of the problem, as I see it, is a bit more personal for us all. I worry that people who previously loved getting out on the town to enjoy live events – whether it was music, comedy, or something else – may have become more comfortable at home. I worry that as the rising cost of living impacts our lives more every day, that paid entertainment feels less important. I also worry that people might have become more protective of their time. All of these trends are things I totally understand. I’m guilty of all of them.
But there’s something intangible about enjoying a shared experience with other people you’ve never met. It’s real, it’s special, and it’s hard to quantify. Cooking classes where your food doesn’t turn out quite right but you see what your neighbor did and hers was perfect. Seeing a touring comedian who was far funnier than you expected. Hearing a new kind of music you never expected would thrill you.
I’m certainly not doomsaying for 2023. Far from it; I’d like to consider this a call to action. And I’m going to start with myself.
Crack open the calendar, find something that looks the least bit interesting, and go. The moment you start making excuses, double down. We’ve gotten really good at talking ourselves out of a good time. In fact, I already started fighting this impulse. This year I’ve made a point of seeing a variety of events I’ve never attended before. This year was my first Ski Sprites Haunted House, my first Twisted Trail of Terror, and my first Holiday Train Exhibit. I’m already seeing things coming up next year that I know I don’t want to miss out on.
Is it risky? Sure. But you might have the time of your life, and that seems worth an hour or two.