In just a couple weeks, long-running Eau Claire music venue 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. July 21 and 22 is “Last Call” for the House of Rock with 27 bands performing over two nights.

Drunk Drivers, 2010

We’ll see local artists from the past reunited for the farewell weekend, plus a genre-obliterating slate of current local artists of as well. Eau Claire band the Drunk Drivers – who have been rocking, rolling, and killing brain cells on the House of Rock stage since it opened – will play one final beer-soaked set. Then when they’re done, that’s it.

No doubt the House of Rock’s closing leaves a significant void in the scope of this city’s music scene, but think of the “Last Call” shows as a celebration of life, a tribute to what was, and a reflection on where to go from here. What happens next could set a resounding path for the future of music in Eau Claire, so we caught up with some of the House of Rock’s finest – sound engineer since the beginning Danno, sound tech Ben White, booker/musician Joey Gunderson, and the Drunk Drivers’ Jon Olstadt – to chat about the good times, the tough times, and what our music scene can hope to learn from a shake-up like this.

“It sucks that it’s closing, but this is a big wake-up-call,” Olstadt said. “We have to put our energy in together. We have to do it all as a group. By the end of the weekend, I hope that a lot of folks are thinking, ‘What else is going on here, and how do we get the next one right?’”

When owner Stephen Geitz opened the doors of House of Rock in the early aughts, the music scene in Eau Claire was bustling with tons of active bands – from a thriving hardcore scene with No Loving Place and Orestus to sleek indie outfits like DeYarmond Edison and Amateur Love. From jam band impresario Bill Hamilton and Day Old Bread to rock ‘n roll mainstays like Jimmy’s Comet, The Embellishment, Easychair, and the Drunk Drivers, all the way to the invigorating blues of The Kingsnakes. Between the House of Rock and The Stones Throw across town, both venues would routinely pack crowds of music fans out the door week after week. Bands would go see other bands – their friends – regardless of any sort of genre divide. People showed up in droves and the scene felt like a scene. It was about all about the music, and it was good.

“When people talk about the scene, that’s how I think of it, the times when it was just alive and electric and full of energy,” Danno said. “You’d leave at the end of the night and some Drunk Drivers shows would have half an inch of broken glass on the ground.”

Caroline Smith, 2015 - Photo by Luong Huynh

Year after year, the House of Rock’s stage grew into a buzzing community of musicians and fans. Geitz and his sound crew were always open to hosting just about any kind of band that deserved stage time. Indie bands like Laarks, Meridene, and the Daredevil Christopher Wright routinely played big shows, while the local hip hop scene saw rappers like Fathom and Breakneck the Mage perform for huge audiences and bring in prominent hip hop artists from surrounding cities like Prof and Sadistik. Artists would experiment with different sounds, new acts would form, young bands would get a shot, people would dance, people would drink, the music was good, and the beer was cold.

For musicians local and touring alike, the club’s sound system was one of the city’s best, mostly thanks to talented folks like Danno and White behind the boards, with years of passion and expertise making bands sound their best. Having sound people at all (not to mention really good ones) made the House of Rock stand out among Eau Claire venues.

“If we didn’t have the tech or the brains behind it to run it, none of this would’ve ever happened,” said Olstadt. White added: “Having a quality sound system in there, it meant that we could bring in bands that were jumping from Minneapolis to Madison or Chicago, and we could catch them on that day off.”

Good sound and good vibes allowed the House of Rock to book bands that would later become seriously heavy hitters on a national scale. Lizzo, Charlie Parr, The War on Drugs, and Trampled By Turtles all played the House of Rock before their respective big breaks, while influential musical veterans like Local H, Wishbone Ash, and Deicide all played unforgettable shows at one time or another as well.

But for the local scene, the House of Rock has done wonders. It’s long been home to Decadent Cabaret, an annual blowout where local bands go all out on tribute sets – which will have to find a new home next spring. Other times, local bands became rock stars, they released records at shows, they partied hard, they supported each other. If you get a look at the green room behind the stage, the wall is spackled with hundreds and hundreds of signatures, stickers, and messages from bands that have played shows there over the years.

“A lot of bands felt like it was their clubhouse,” Gunderson said. “To have that many bands of that many genres feel like that place was their homeplate, that’s gigantic.”

The House of Rock had enjoyed tons of meaningful performances, but in recent years, numbers had started to wane a bit. The club stopped doing shows during the week, then a few months later they stopped doing shows on Fridays in lieu of two-for-one drink specials and dance party DJs, and then after a lot of thought, Geitz made the decision to sell.

It wasn’t altogether unexpected, but it was still a bit of a shockwave when Geitz – who also owns The Grand Illusion and The Brat Kabin – called his staff together to break the news to them that he was selling the House of Rock building to local developer John Mogensen earlier this year. Now, the rock club will be emptied, cleaned up, and converted into to two rentable commercial spaces (which could mean a lot of different things) with apartments above, but neither will be licensed as bars.

Noel Hanson, The Jaggernauts, 2013 - Photo by Mike O'Brien

You’re never going to nail down one specific, exact reason for why the club’s crowds had dwindled. Depending who you talk to, it could be anything from a shifting mindset in the way the YouTube generation takes in live music to schools not emphasizing music education as much as they used to. Or maybe bands aren’t trying hard enough to get the word out about shows, or maybe the venue needed to build a more regular bar crowd, or maybe it’s something more complex than that … or more trivial for that matter.

Despite whatever shortcomings there might’ve been, there’s no debate that the House of Rock’s presence in the local scene will be missed by many. But that’s not to say that there aren’t already rumblings of what could fill that void in the coming years. “There’s a lot of conversations happening,” Danno said.

The crew is playfully calling the altogether vague, yet-to-really-be-formed idea “Club 2.0.” Whatever iteration “Club 2.0” happens to take, they’re hoping to build off lessons learned from the House of Rock.

“Everyone is hopefully awake to the fact that you can just lose something like that. There are golden age things happening in Eau Claire, but the light’s not shining in every corner. There’s still work to do,” Olstadt said. “We need to try and catalyze that community feeling again.”

“Club 2.0” only exists in the ether, but Olstadt, Gunderson, Danno, and White are all hoping that an eventual spiritual replacement for the House of Rock – whatever shape that may take – can be a rallying call that brings together the fragmented sections of this city’s music community, to dance together just like old times.

Maybe it starts here, with the “Last Call” shows. For those shows specifically, the music scene is truly coming together in a major way to say their goodbyes. From hip hop to blues to electronic to death metal, there’s going to be lots of likeminded local musician folks and their fans all under that roof for the last time. Gunderson said he’s hoping music fans of every kind use this final show as a chance to reflect, commune, and get to know each other so we can all forge ahead into the post-House of Rock world together.

“We want the people there to feel like they’re a part of something. If we can get that going, it might unite the scene a little more,” Gunderson said. “I want the metal guys there with the hipsters. I want the techno guys, the jam bands, I want them all there and I want them all feeling something.”

House of Rock Last Call

July 21 and 22, 2017

Visit their Last Call website for full line-up, and a long list of performers who have played at the House of Rock.


I guess I could talk a lot about all the shows we played at the House of Rock, but mostly my memories are of seeing other bands that I really admired. I remember seeing, and this is maybe ten or eleven years ago, a New Years Eve show with Treeherder Shepherd of the Forest. That was Amateur Love plus Justin Vernon on guitar. The place was packed and there was still smoking allowed, so your eyes just watered the whole time and you were pressed up against the front and you couldn't breathe and it was incredible. It was mystical. I remember them playing “Gradfadhadya” and thinking man, this is one of the greatest songs ever written. Maybe it's normal for local musicians to look up to other bands like that, but it didn't feel like it then, it felt special and rare.

All the people who worked at the HoR are characters. Dez, Joey G, Danno. Joey G still calls our drummer "Sink Master General" which is somehow a play on words of his last name (Moen, like the faucet, not the sink). Danno is great and terrifying. He's a great sound guy and I always got along with him because I understood and share his sense of humor, but I remember one especially tense evening where he got in a big fight with Ryan Olcott, who is like a legend in the Minneapolis music scene (mystery palace, 12 Rods, Food Team, C. Kostra, etc). I think Ryan was just taking himself pretty seriously during sound check and Danno wasn't having it. I remember Danno ending the "discussion" with something like, "Well go grab an effing ice cream cone then!" There was no room for pretension with him. I just sat in the back of the room and laughed. I laughed a lot.

(The Nicotines, Smack Davis, The Jaggernauts)

The House of Rock had a beautiful stage, a state of the art sound system, and, for much of its run, an extensive lighting rig. All of these were filled with the best talent that could be booked on that particular night. When you played the HoR, you felt like a proper rock star. It was our version of First Avenue, CBGB, or the Whisky-a-Go-Go. It was a place where magic happened, dreams came true, and people discovered that the world was a little bit bigger than they imagined. I hope we see something like it soon.

(Bon Iver, The Shouting Matches, DeYarmond Edison)

I never had worse ear ringing after any gig. I remember after DeYarmond Edison show one night, it was snowing at bar close when we got done and Brad put a guy in a headlock within three seconds of going outside to cool off. He was trying to beat someone up. I’m sad to see it go. Hopefully we can have a place come in and be a rock club that thrives on everything we learned from the House of Rock.

(Marijuana Deathsquads, Polica, Mel Gibson and the Pants)

The House of Rock was a super fun place to play for many years, despite barely ever playing rock music there. Eau Claire has never been an easy city for small businesses involved in the arts, but the HoR has had a long history and will remain an influential part of a lot of people's past. For years this was our home base for developing bands and trying out live music ideas. I'll never forget the first time we did a MG and the Pants set and used multiple drummers for the first time and multiple bass players. 14 people in total. Years later we would come back with Polica and Marijuana Deathsquads, and not one thing would be different, thankfully. We always looked forward to coming back and playing there. Most bizarre logo of all time, though, and I hope someone saves that hilarious drawing of U2.

(Field Report, Conrad Plymouth, DeYarmond Edison)

The House of Rock was the first place I ever played that had a full dedicated sound system and professional sound engineers. Prior to playing the House of Rock, we played shows in basements, VFWs, skate shops, coffee shops – places with cobbled together PA systems. Playing the House of Rock felt like we had leveled up into a more professional world, like our hard work was paying off. Playing with real monitors, engineers who knew how to help and cared enough to do it, stage lights, a green room – it felt like we had a place to really learn how to be on a stage. And it was right down the street.

Steve was always kind to us. Joe Gunderson helped with many shows. Joel always treated us like we were somebody important. Danno and Ben White and Kitch always made us sound as good as we were and sometimes better. I think we all learned how to work with sound engineers from them – that when the artist respects the engineer and vice versa, the show is always better for it. We all learned how to use monitors and stage volume, and that helped us be more prepared for out of town shows at the 400 Bar or Fine Line or 7th Street.

There was one time when drummer Brian Moen broke his kick drum pedal in the middle of a set. Danno noticed it, ran from behind the desk onto the stage, found a tool and fixed the pedal and put it back on the kick drum, all in the middle of a song. That was the level of care and camaraderie in the air at the House of Rock in the early 2000s. 

Danno would often record the shows and would burn a CD for us afterword. This was right before everyone had a studio on their device. We learned so much from being able to hear back what had happened the night before, to learn from what worked and what did not.

It became a logical stop for more established bands from Milwaukee, Chicago, Madison and Minneapolis to play out of town. Eau Claire bands would get added as local openers, and relationships were formed. Eau Claire bands could then connect with those bands to help with shows in other towns. The House of Rock is how Eau Claire connected with Collections of Colonies of Bees, Love-Cars and Halloween, Alaska, all groups that left a deep impact on the Eau Claire community that is still felt today.

The House of Rock hosted rock shows, but also hosted experimental noise shows, songwriter shows, jazz shows. It was where we went to experience music in person. It connected younger musicians with post-college age musicians. It was where community was fostered. 

Scenes come and go. Bands play and break up. People come to town and move on. Even institutions cannot last forever. But the loss of this one stings. Every dollar and every moment is a referendum. Support what you love or it will go away.

(sound engineer, musician)

The House of Rock was pretty much my home base for 17 years. I’ve seen and worked a lot great shows over the years. I’ve seen everything from some of the best metal bands to DJs with spectacular light shows to Bon Iver practicing before their first U.S. tour on afternoons when the bar was closed. I loved the eclectic nature of the shows there. It catered to all, and that is something I feel is now lacking in the current music scene.

(Drunk Drivers, Venison)

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. 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.

(sound engineer)

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. 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 Jim Pullman Band, The Rattlenecks)

My first public performance was a solo set at The Stones Throw, it was a great/life changing moment. After the show everyone was talking about the new club that was opening on Water Street, there were rumors of the great sound system, big stage, and pro set up of the venue. Two weeks later, the House of Rock opened its doors! The rumors were true, it was a fabulous new venue that everyone wanted to play at. I was putting the finishing touches on my debut album at the time and wanted so badly to play our release party at this cool new club. A few months later, I played at the House of Rock for the first time. Over the years, I have played countless times on the House of Rock stage, JPB shows, Rattlenecks shows, The Shorn shows, Decadent Cabaret Sets, Band Appreciation/Exploitation nights, NYE sets, you name it! When Joe Gunderson and Eric Thompson joined the band in 2005, we would practice twice a week at the House of Rock. This place has literally been home base for The Jim Pullman Band since I first started playing live. Any time I would bring outta town bands in to play supporting sets, they would comment at how awesome it was that Eau Claire had such a cool rock n roll club. I was proud to bring them to The House of Rock. There were many nights where we would play til 2, pack up our gear, then go upstairs for afterbars, and emerge to the daylight stinging our eyes. The House of Rock has been a huge part of my life, I have made countless lifelong friendships inside those four walls. This is truly the end of something very special.

Visit the House of Rock website for a long list of performers who have played there »

2002 - 2005

Amish Armada
Jeff White and the Front Porch
The Buddyrevelles
Dinner with Gregg
Jimmy's Comet
Kentucky Gag Order
Easy Chair
No Loving Place
Day Old Bread
Dead Romance
Frozen Tundra
Smack Davis
Life and Death of the Harvey Cartel
Deyarmond Edison
Black Flood Diesel
The Franklin Airmen
Desolate Void
Echo Bravo
Jim Pullman Band

2009 - 2016

South Farwell
Duncan Ninja
Letters From Earth
The Excellent Adventure
Drunk Drivers
Decadent Cabaret 2010
Decadent Cabaret 2011
DIY Daisy
Dead Dogs
BareBones Improv Lab
We Are Willows
Adelyn Rose
Daredevil Christopher Wright
Marijuana Deathsquads
The Heart Pills
The Dust of Men
Phil Cook
Decadent Cabaret 2016
Sniffle Party
The Stand Up Get Down


According to the sound engineers, the perfect number of people in the club to make the PA system sound perfect is 175. The extra bodies help balance the harsher tones and reverb in the room. “Sonic gold,” Gunderson called it. Danno used the term “carbon-based sound absorption.”


The House of Rock is haunted. Multiple reports talk about seeing apparitions of a ghost they call Al. Al was a former owner of the House of Rock building, who one night many years ago wouldn’t serve a belligerent patron, who left, came back with a gun, and shot Al dead. Danno has seen the apparition multiple times move from the green room to the gear room backstage. White talked about helping a drummer one night who heard a disembodied voice coming from his drum monitor (before anything was even plugged in or turned on) say the words “I said get down!” Danno said: “You learn early to make peace with Al.”


The House of Rock used to throw all ages Sunday afternoon shows where artists like Easychair and Justin Vernon and Phil Cook would do an early set for 16-20 year olds. Because of city ordinances, the bar had to take all the beer taps down, stash the rail alcohol, and get permission from City Council and the police department before they could do it, but they did it. Often there’d be an all ages show in the afternoon, then the same bands would do a second 21+ show that night. They could only serve soda so it didn’t prove to be very profitable, but it’s cool nonetheless.