Tuesday, Oct. 22nd, 2019

Country Jam 2020 Lineup: Luke Combs and Chris Kroeze comin’ through this July

Luke Combs
Luke Combs

Have no fear, country fans. Country Jam 2020 is nigh. Nothing stands between you and the star-studded annual country festival (happening July 16-18) except about six or seven months of winter. We’re only a mere 268 days away from the kickoff, and we’ve got a good chunk of the lineup released today.

Heading up the slate of country radio royalty is Luke Combs (who was actually named Billboard’s Top Country Artist of the Year), Chris Young, and LOCASH. Country Jam will also welcome back local boy turned star of The Voice Chris Kroeze, along with big names like Eli Young Band, Joe Diffie, Carly Pearce.

There’s a promise of more acts on the lineup to be released as summer gets closer and closer, but here’s the full list as of today:

Carly Pearce
Chris Janson
Chris Kroeze
Chris Young
Dawn Marie
Eli Young Band
Gabby Barrett
Joe Diffie
John Michael Montgomery
Luke Combs
Russell Dickerson

Tickets are on sale now at countryjamwi.com. One day GA tickets start at $99, three-day GA tickets are $129, and for students that three-day ticket is $119 for a limited time.

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Monday, Oct. 21st, 2019

Local Writer Gets Beastly for Inside Edition

This week, Inside Edition – yep that Inside Edition – ran a great video spot about Rhinelander’s cryptozoological claim to fame, the mighty Hodag. And who did they find to tell the story of Wisconsin’s most famous mythical beast? Why, Eau Claire writer BJ Hollars, of course.

Hollars – who just last month released Midwestern Strange: Hunting Monsters, Martians, and the Weird in Flyover Country – explains the mysterious origins of the Hodag and what the creature means to modern day Rhinelander.

But that's not all! Some of the Hodag artwork you see in the piece is from local artist Rob Mattison. Check out the segment. And if you find yourself hungry for more tasty tales of regional weirdness, you can pick up Midwestern Strange at The Local Store.

Hollars on the Hodag.
Hollars on the Hodag.

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Monday, Oct. 14th, 2019

Strange Happenings on Lowes Creek Hill

Originally published in 2008, this blog post is based on an entry in paranormal investigator Chad Lewis's book Hidden Headlines of Wisconsin. It's an actual newspaper article from 1908, followed by Chad's commentary. Enjoy!

Strange Happenings on Lowes Creek Hill - Was It a Ghost?

Eau Claire Leader | October 11, 1908

Joe Browning, Olwin Peloquin and Max Fredick, three steady young men homebound last night of street fair got along bravely until they reached Lowes Creek hill (supposed to be haunted) and then something uncanny occurred. Something bright flashed in the trees on the creek and a curious sort of cork screw wind seemed to race around the wagon and scare the horses. Oliver’s and Max’s headgear was not interfered with, but strange to say Joe’s nice new Christie still was snapped from his head and taken aloft and they could not trace it that night. It was found however, next day, and the finder brought it to the Leader office and now Mr. Browning thanks the finder very much. There have been so many things lost in and around Lowes Creek of late that of there is really a ghost there or thereabouts it would not be amiss to put “it” in connection with the Leader office in the matter of lost and found.

Chad's Take:  Keep hold of your hat … 

The Lowes Creek area has been plagued with paranormal reports for over one hundred years. You might think that over the years things would have settled down at Lowes Creek, but they haven’t. A few months ago I received this email about Lowes Creek:

My wife was on her way to work @ Luther Hospital, she takes Lowes Creek Rd. to State St. as her primary route. When she was coming to the bridge on Lowes Creek Rd. that leads over I-94, she started around a corner to find a woman in a light pink night gown with long dark hair standing on the side of the road facing the hill, she made no movement or did not react to her vehicle traveling past her. It was a very chilly morning and it was 6:40am just starting to get light. My wife was just was weirded out by the woman. She was debating turning around to see her, but did not. My wife thought that for the cold temperatures she should have had a jacket or reacted to the cold with her arms crossed or some sort of action to the surroundings.

Unfortunately the witness did not stop to get a closer look at the mysterious looking woman.  With all the odd activity taking place out at Lowes Creek you might just be the next person to lose their hat.

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Romeo: Eau Claire's Oldest Avian Resident?

Comfortably housed between chattering lovebirds and a skeptical-looking Grey Parrot nicknamed “The Professor,” a gentle bird from another time sits and enjoys sporadic bursts of attention from the daily visitors to his domain. His name is Romeo and Tropic Waters on Eau Claire’s south side has been his home for the last 20 years. A mainstay of the store, Romeo loves to greet people, and he usually lives up to his namesake, stealing the hearts of all who encounter him.

As a green yellow-crowned Amazon, Romeo may not possess the flashy looks of a bright red or blue parrot of the Caribbean, but his breed tends to be more gentle and affectionate than its more famous counterparts. And Romeo is famous in his own right, as visitors to Tropic Waters seem to love the aging mimic. There isn't a specific record to confirm it, but his nametag claims he's somewhere near 100 years old.

While we doubt Guinness World Records will be knocking on his cage anytime soon (this kind of parrot isn't known to grow quite that old), Romeo certainly has the demeanor of a bird that's been around for many, many years.  

Despite his big beak and striking colors Romeo's gentle personality is something you immediately notice, and even when his  cage door is opened, he seems to want nothing more than a soft touch to the head and a little affection.  

Romeo's days of flight may be long past, and vision difficulties may make him appear less welcoming, but fear not – he'll probably say hello at least once while you're in his presence.

So if you find yourself out and about, stop in to see Romeo, one of Eau Claire's very oldest avian residents.  

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Wednesday, Oct. 9th, 2019

State Theatre Reopens as Hub for Nonprofits, Job Training – and Film Screenings, Too

No one has ever accused Joe Luginbill of thinking too small. The 25-year-old Eau Claire native was elected to the school board at age 20, and has been a YouTube chef, a nonprofit founder, a child welfare caseworker, and a member of countless committees, commissions, and campaigns, both locally and nationally.

Now, Luginbill is spearheading the re-opening of downtown Eau Claire’s historic State Theatre as a multifaceted facility that will provide office space for nonprofit groups, classrooms for workforce development programs, and a theater for film screenings – not to mention other soon-to-be-announced plans that will help draw the public into what until last year was the home of the Eau Claire Regional Arts Center.

“A building this beautiful with this much potential shouldn’t be sitting dormant,” said Luginbill, whose nonprofit group, the Luginbill Children’s Foundation, will operate the State, which opened in 1926 for vaudeville shows before becoming a movie theater and arts center.

“One of the reasons I’m really excited we’re doing it is there’s a really good synergy between what we’re doing and what Pablo is doing.” – Joe Luginbill

A ribbon-cutting and the re-lighting of the theater marquee is planned for 5pm on Friday, Oct. 11, at what is now dubbed the State Theatre and Community Center, 316 Eau Claire St. The ceremony will be followed by a celebration in the theater lobby, which will include refreshments, pop-up shops, music and art, and resource tables from local nonprofits, some of whom will soon make their homes at the State. At 7pm, the theater itself will host a screening of the documentary For They Know Not What They Do, which is part of the UW-Eau Claire’s LGBT-themed freaQweek.

The State Theatre ended its run as downtown Eau Claire’s biggest cultural arts venue when the Pablo Center at the Confluence opened just a few blocks away last fall. In February, the building was purchased by Mohammad Hashlamoun of Elk Mound, who owns several businesses in the Chippewa Valley, including the Azara Vape Bar, 624 Water St.; My Office Lounge, 408 Galloway St.; and Momentum Auto Dealership, 3624 Mall Drive. While Hashlamoun owns the building, the Luginbill Children’s Foundation will oversee activities there.

The building sat quietly for most of the year until becoming a hub of activity over the past few weeks thanks to a program overseen by Workforce Resource Inc., a nonprofit that provides job training. The program, funded by a Wisconsin Fast Forward Grant from the state of Wisconsin, involved 17 to 20 participants learning construction skills. The participants worked on a variety of projects inside and outside the building, including remodeling, repairing, and painting, Luginbill said. He hopes this is the first of many workforce development programs to be held in the part of the State Theatre that previously housed the Janet Carson Gallery.

“One of the reasons I’m really excited we’re doing it is there’s a really good synergy between what we’re doing and what Pablo is doing,” Luginbill said, noting that the Pablo Center also offers workforce development programming, specifically aimed at young people.

Meanwhile, the Farwell Street-facing portion of the building, which previously housed offices for ECRAC and other arts entities, will now be used by community nonprofits. The groups will be able to rent their own offices as well as used shared space for meetings, educational sessions, fundraisers, and other gatherings. “There is a hunger and a desire for more opportunities to network and collaborate with other nonprofits,” Luginbill said.

As for the 1,100-seat-theater itself, Luginbill said it will be used to screen movies, including film marathons and festivals. “There are so many different kinds of venues downtown, and we have our own style and flair which will work well for certain events,” he said. “I think we will fit very nicely within the fabric of all the groups that are downtown.”

Like many Eau Claire residents, Luginbill feels great nostalgia for the State Theatre – as both an audience member and a performer – but he is looking forward to helping write a new chapter in the building’s history.

“There’s a lot of work to be done here still,” he said. “One of the motivations of bringing people back in is to see the potential … and inspiring people to get involved and volunteer.”

Learn more about the State Theatre and Community Center at www.facebook.com/TheStateEauClaire

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It’s Happening: UWEC Plans to Start $100M Arena Project by Next Summer

Click images for a closer look.
Images: Ayres Associates and Kahler Slater | Click images for a closer look.

Long-Planned Sonnentag Center on Menomonie Street Will Be Partnership with YMCA, Mayo ...

Five years after announcing plans for a huge new event and recreation complex to replace Zorn Arena, UW-Eau Claire expects to break ground on the $90 million to $100 million project by next summer, Chancellor James Schmidt said this week.

The complex – to be built along Menomonie Street on land donated by alumni John and Carolyn Sonnentag – will be shared by the university, the Chippewa Valley YMCA, and Mayo Clinic Health System. The project will follow the same kind of public-private partnership model employed to build and operate the Pablo Center at the Confluence, creating a facility that will draw together a wide cross-section of Chippewa Valley residents, students and townies alike.

“Anything that helps bring socioeconomic and different kinds of age groups together is a good thing.” – UW-Eau CLaire Chancellor James Schmidt

“Anything that helps bring socioeconomic and different kinds of age groups together is a good thing,” Schmidt said Tuesday, two days before a planned presentation to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents, who meet this week in Superior. Schmidt isn’t going to the Regents to ask for money: In fact, UWEC officials believe that most – if not all – of the university’s share of the cost will be covered by donors. Much of this will come from the Sonnentags, who pledged about $10 million – including the property – back in 2014. Schmidt said the university is also working with other potential donors.

UWEC’s share of the project’s cost will be in the $40 million to $45 million range, Schmidt said. The YMCA portion will be $45 million to $47 million, while Mayo Clinic’s component will cost between $11 million and $13 million.

Schmidt told Volume One editors that he wants to put shovels in the dirt along Menomonie Street by next July 1. After that, the project would take 18 to 24 months to reach completion.

Creating the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex will help the university meet its long-identified desire to replace Zorn Arena, which was built in 1952 and seats only about 2,500 for basketball games. Current plans call for the arena at the Sonnentag Complex to seat at least 4,100, somewhat less than the 5,500 to 6,000 considered for a new arena several years ago.

Images: Ayres Associates and Kahler Slater | Click images for a closer look.
Images: Ayres Associates and Kahler Slater | Click images for a closer look.

 “It’s what the university needs for its use,” Mike Rindo, UWEC’s assistant chancellor for facilities and university relations, said of the 4,100 figure. “Whether the community would like to see something bigger, that’s an open question.” The university expects to use the new arena only 65 to 75 days a year, leaving its calendar open for numerous community uses, from commencement ceremonies to conventions to concerts.

In addition to providing a replacement for Zorn Arena, which would be demolished, the Sonnentag Complex will create wellness and aquatic facilities to be shared by YMCA members and UWEC students as well as a home for the Mayo Clinic’s sports medicine practice. The shared location will create a variety of synergies and savings: For example, Mayo Clinic’s portion of the facility will be be just below space used by by the university’s kinesiology department as well as a new master’s degree program in athletic training.

The facility’s ownership structure will be similar to what has been used with the Pablo Center at the Confluence: A nonprofit entity, Eau Claire Community Complex Inc., has been created to own the facility, and the partners – in this case UWEC, YMCA, and Mayo Clinic – will lease parts of it. While Thursday’s presentation to the Board of Regents will be purely informational, down the road the Regents will need to approve two components of the project: the university’s lease of its portion of the complex and a potential student referendum seeking the approval of fees to fund the facility’s ongoing costs.

“By working together with partners, as was the case with the Pablo Center, the costs associated with leased space within the Sonnentag Complex will be significantly less for students when compared to the traditional funding model that relies almost exclusively on student fees for design, construction, and operational costs of such a facility,” university officials wrote in a memo to the Board of Regents. “As with the Pablo Center, a major funding source will be philanthropy from alumni and friends locally and around the country.”

Schmidt said site prep work will be completed this year, although one building on the site will be left for use by contractors during construction. The property, formerly owned by the Sonnentags’ company, County Materials Corp., was donated to the university-affiliated Blugold Real Estate Foundation in 2014. The 30-acre site is large enough to allow for future expansion, Rindo said, and is adjacent to privately owned land that is ideal for redevelopment as well. And, while it is not located on campus, the Sonnentag Complex site is near other facilities used by the university and community, including Carson Park, Hobbs Ice Arena, and the Menard YMCA Tennis Center.

More Concept Images ...

Images: Ayres Associates and Kahler Slater | Click images for a closer look.
Images: Ayres Associates and Kahler Slater | Click images for a closer look. 

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Tuesday, Oct. 8th, 2019

Eaux Claires Hiver Drops Lineup (Nov. 2019 + Downtown Eau Claire)

Today, the organizers of the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival announced the full details and lineup for Eaux Claires Hiver, a special winter extension of the fest happening at the Pablo Center and various venues Nov. 21-24. The festival also announced that Eaux Claires V will return in July 2020, though without specific dates quite yet.

Eaux Claires Hiver covers four days of immersive performances, talks, and other things from a lineup of artists including Ani DiFranco, Pieta Brown, Jon Hopkins, Aaron Dessner, Poliça, William Britelle, and various Justin Vernon projects, among others. 

Top down: Ani DiFranco, Gail Ann Dorsey, Jon Hopkins
Top down: Ani DiFranco, Gail Ann Dorsey, Jon Hopkins

Three Eaux-Chunks

There’s seems to be three chunks to this thing – an opening kickoff talk between Justin Vernon and Ani DiFranco on Nov. 21, then two days of 37d03d performances where tons of various artists present music, literature, and visual art Nov. 22-23. And then that overlaps with the third chunk happening Nov. 22-24 where Justin Vernon and TU Dance present their collaborative stage show “Come Through” (which was announced earlier this year and for which tickets are already on sale).

DiFranco and Vernon’s talk on Nov. 21 in the RCU Theatre is a separate ticket price (ranging from $30 to $100) and will reportedly include some music and special guests, of course. “Ani DiFranco is the first person I ever heard of who wrote, arranged, engineered, mixed and released her own music,” says Justin Vernon in the festival’s press release. “She is a mind-blowing songwriter and inspiration. I want to ask her the questions I've always wanted to ask her; about her journey, her hardships, and victories. And I want an audience there because the answers will be too special to hold on to as one person. AND ... there will be some music ... and surprise guests.” 

Then for the next two days, 37d03d performances will happen in various venues Nov. 22-23. The idea is that this is a residency of sorts where artists on the lineup will collaborate, brew up ideas, perform with each other, and learn in front of an audience – with the intent of birthing or informing some art for Eaux Claires V when it happens in 2020. Here’s the thing, though: there are only 500 two-day tickets available – at $80 a pop – that cover all events after 6pm Nov. 22 and 23, so get ‘em fast.

Eaux Claires Hiver 37d03d Lineup*
Nov. 22-23


JT Bates
William Brittelle
Pieta Brown
S. Carey
Aaron Dessner
Gail Ann Dorsey
Jon Hopkins
Elsa Jensen
La Force
Mike Lewis
Metropolis Ensemble
Ryan Olson
Shahzad Ismaily
Michael Perry
Korde Arrington Tuttle
Justin Vernon
Jeremy Ylvisaker

*This is just part of the festival

Tickets for Ani DiFranco and Justin Vernon in Conversation, and the two-day 37d03d performances (separate tickets) go on sale next week Tuesday Oct. 15 at 10am CST at pablocenter.org. Tickets for “Come Through” are already on sale for $42.50-$125.

Along with the announcement, the festival dropped a classic Michael Perry-narrated video (above) that poetically and metaphorically sheds (some?) light on the thought process behind Eaux Claires Hiver.

“Sometimes it’s best to let the moment fade. Ask yourself if you’re floatin’ in the right direction, if it’s time to reverse course, return to the source,” Perry says, over wintry scenery. “Not so much fight the current as meet the current. Sometimes you have to ask yourself if you’ve drained the river of metaphors and need to maybe portage. Climb ashore. Look inside.”

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Friday, Oct. 4th, 2019

Children’s Museum Plan Picked for Downtown Site ... What Comes Next?

The Children’s Museum of Eau Claire has taken the first step toward building a newer, bigger home for juvenile joy on North Barstow Street in Eau Claire. On Thursday, the city’s Redevelopment Authority voted to pursue a memorandum of understanding with the Children’s Museum and its partner, Monarch Ventures, to build on the so-called “liner site,” a now-empty city-owned parcel between North Barstow and the new(ish) downtown parking ramp.

The museum, its partner, and the RDA will begin negotiations to finalize the deal, which could take up to 90 days, said Aaron White, the city’s economic development manager. Once the memorandum of understanding is completed, a developer agreement will be reached, and construction will follow. While there’s no definite timeline yet, White said construction wouldn’t begin until spring 2020 at the earlier.

The “liner site,” where the downtown post office stood until a few years ago, covers about six-tenths of an acre and is bordered by the parking ramp, North Barstow Street, Galloway Street, and Riverfront Terrace. The RDA chose the plan from the Children’s Museum and Monarch over one from Merge Urban Development Group of Cedar Falls, Iowa.

The Children’s Museum proposal includes a two-story, 23,500-square-foot museum next to a 27,000-square-foot building that would house a first-floor restaurant and two stories of commercial space. The 9,000-square-foot eatery, which would be owned by Hudson restaurateur Andrew Kron, would include covered and outdoor patios for diners. (Officials are mum about the details of the restaurant.)

The "liner site" is the grassy area between North Barstow and the new(ish) downtown parking ramp.

The new children’s museum would be larger than the current 15,400-square-foot facility at 220 S. Barstow St. and would include larger exhibit space, a food and beverage option, and 5,000 square feet of green space as well as facilities for the Family Resource Center of Eau Claire and a 4-year-old kindergarten in partnership with the Eau Claire school district.

“We will be able to have parking for visitors, we will be able to have the front entrance set back a little from the street, and we will be able to make the facility more accessible and safe,” museum executive director Mike McHorney told WEAU 13 News.

Last year, a new Children’s Museum was part of a proposal to redevelop the adjacent Block 7. The RDA selected that plan – which came from Eau Claire-based Pablo Properties – after a request for proposals from developers. However, Pablo Properties decided earlier this year that the project – which also included an office building, a public plaza, and a “container park” on the liner site – wasn’t financially viable. This sent the RDA, and the Children’s Museum, back to square one.

Now that the RDA has selected a partner for redeveloping the liner site, it will soon chose one for Block 7 as well. It will pick between proposals from Eau Claire’s Commonweal Development and Madison-based Movin’ Out Inc., both of which call for apartment complexes with the possibility of commercial space as well. The RDA’s decision on Block 7 could come as early as Wednesday, Oct. 16.

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Monday, Sep. 30th, 2019

[UPDATED] Brace Yourself: Winter Eaux Claires is Coming?

[UDATED 10-8] Eaux Claires released the video today, more news to come ...


It’s starting to look like we might get a slice of Eaux Claires in 2019 after all. Maybe? On Sunday, a short teaser video popped up on YouTube called “Eaux Claires Hiver” with the dates Nov. 21-24 in the description. It featured some wintry wooded visuals and, of course, a spoken word message from the festival’s official narrator Michael Perry. However, the video has since been hidden. Could it be some cryptic marketing technique? A logistical hiccup? Well, the locally grown music festival is prone to both, so here’s what we know right now.

• Bon Iver + TU Dance are bringing their stage show “Come Thru" to the Pablo Center for three of those four days anyway (Nov. 22-24), so one could assume that will be part of this whole thing.

• We’d previously received reports of a festival across multiple spaces in the Pablo Center, with various collaborative performances from Eaux Claires familiars in the style of the PEOPLE festival, which started in Berlin in 2016. For that festival, all the artists meet one week prior to rehearse and write new ideas and perform them for the first time with the audience. Whether or not each musician is a part of a band, the festival’s lineup is made up of the given names of all the musicians involved rather than their affiliations. But it remains to be seen whether or not that will be the case here. 

• Last December, when organizers announced Eaux Claires wouldn’t happen in 2019, they said: "We want to celebrate EVEN MORE about this REAL TOWN we call home by extolling and imagining things we haven't seen or experienced to date,” and teased doing something this year. “We will have a couple of public events in the coming months hosted at Pablo Center at the Confluence. These events will incorporate performance and dialogue about the direction we plan on taking the festival throughout the coming decade.  Looking forward to seeing you there.”

• Hiver is, of course, French for “winter.”

That’s about it for now. Keep your eyes and ears open for more details as they emerge.

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Tuesday, Sep. 24th, 2019

New Wilson Park Fountain? Eau Claire Wants Your Input

Above: The fountain in question.
Above: The fountain in question.

The fountain in Eau Claire’s Wilson Park – a downtown fixture for more than a century – hasn’t worked for nearly a year and needs to be replaced, and the city is seeking input from community members on what a new fountain could look like. 

The city will hold the first of four planned Wilson Park Fountain Public Design Workshops from 6-8:30pm on Thursday, Oct. 3, in the North Conference Room at Eau Claire City Hall, 203 S. Farwell St. Madison-based Design Studio Etc. will lead the workshop, and city staff will be on hand to take questions and discuss the process. 

“The Oct. 3 event is the first of four planned public meetings where a shared vision will be created,” the city said in a press release. “Participants will have an active and direct role in crafting designs that residents will then have an opportunity to vote on. Additional public workshops and online surveys will be used to narrow down the design alternatives to a final preferred design.” The remaining three public meetings haven’t yet been scheduled, but one will likely be held during the first half of November with two more during December.

The current fountain, which was installed in the 1960s, suffered a “catastrophic” pipe failure last fall, and the city determined the fountain would have to be partially or fully removed to fix problem. Because this was not seen as cost-effective, the city instead set aside $147,000 in its 2020 capital budget to replace the fountain. 

To learn more about the project, including upcoming workshop dates when they are scheduled, visit the city's website or contact Josh Solinger at joshua.solinger@eauclairewi.gov.

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