Monday, Dec. 30th, 2019
Tuesday, Dec. 17th, 2019

YMCA Pulls Out of Sonnentag Center Project

Images: Ayres Associates and Kahler Slater | Click images for a closer look.
Previous concept image for Sonnentag Center (Ayres Associates and Kahler Slater) | Click image for a closer look.

UWEC, Mayo Plan to Continue Plans for Multimillion-Dollar Event and Recreation Center on Menomonie Street

The Chippewa Valley YMCA will no longer be part of a collaboration to build a shared event and recreation complex on Menomonie Street spearheaded by UW-Eau Claire.

Eau Claire Community Complex Inc. – the nonprofit entity that plans to break ground next summer on the Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex – announced Tuesday that it “has determined the facility is unable to proceed with the Chippewa Valley Family YMCA as a participant.” The $90 million to $100 million project will now undergo a “significant redesign,” backers say.

A “guiding principal” of the YMCA is not starting the project until its portion of the fundraising is largely complete, YMCA Executive Director Theresa Hillis said in a news release. The dearth of fundraising “raised concerns that significant capital debt could put the long-term fiscal well-being of the YMCA at risk to deliver on their mission,” the press release stated. It continued:

“As stated by the (Eau Claire Community Complex) Board, every partner in the project has its own needs, requirements, and governing policies. The current project timeline, and adhering to the principle that we cannot build what is not funded, led to the decision the YMCA is unable to proceed,” Hillis said.

ECCC also announced that, while the project is unable to proceed with the YMCA as a participant, the other project partners – UW-Eau Claire, Blugold Real Estate, and Mayo Clinic Health System – remain fully committed to the project.

The Sonnentag Complex project includes a multi-purpose major event center, a recreation and fitness facility, and Mayo Clinic Health System sports medicine, imaging and human performance clinic. As originally envisioned, the YMCA and UW-Eau Claire would have shared the recreation and fitness facility which was intended to replace the existing YMCA on Graham Avenue and expand recreation and fitness facilities for UW-Eau Claire. Because the project is unable to proceed with the YMCA as a participant, a significant redesign of the recreation and fitness facility component of the Sonnentag Complex project will be necessary. That redesign will begin immediately, according to Kimera Way, president of the ECCC Board.

“We entered into this project in good faith and have worked closely together on the programming and design of the Sonnentag Complex – all partners have great respect for the missions, visions and goals of each of the organizations involved. And we are hopeful we will have continued opportunities to pursue mutually beneficial initiatives in the future,” Way said.

Way, who also serves as president of the UWEC Foundation, added that the Eau Claire Community Complex’s board will continue to work with the UW System Board of Regents and Mayo Clinic Health System to redesign the project and gain the approvals needed to break ground on Menomonie Street by July 2020.

“John and Carolyn Sonnentag are rightfully anxious to see this project move forward,” Way said, referring to the alumni couple who are the project’s major donors. “They made their lead gift announcement in August 2014 and the ECCC board is committed to achieving their vision for this transformative project.”

Added UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt: “UW-Eau Claire has demonstrated needs for both an event center to replace Zorn Arena and expanded recreation and fitness facilities for our students. This project will fulfill those needs, will provide additional academic programming opportunities, and will enable the university and Mayo Clinic Health System to collaborate even more closely on important research and wellness programs that will benefit our campus, community and region.”

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Blue Ox Unleashes 2020 Lineup

Today, the Blue Ox Music Festival lineup arrived for the sixth annual fest happening June 11-13, 2020 among the trees at Whispering Pines Campground, with some cool new facets this year. 

Gov’t Mule, Sam Bush Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, Yonder Mountain String Band, Leftover Salmon, Charlie Parr, and of course Pert Near Sandstone head up the star-studded slate of artists this year, with the promise of another big headliner to be announced in January. There’s a couple of Eau Claire’s own on there too: Them Coulee Boys will return to Blue Ox hot off the release of this year’s Die Happy, and for the first time, bar-rockin’ country punks Pit Wagon are on the official lineup.

Blue Ox’s legendary late night sets have become a staple in the full musical experience since its inception, often featuring wild collaborations between wide-ranging artists. But this year, they’re adding to that with The Backwoods Stage, which will specifically feature regional and emerging artists. The Backwoods Stage’s first round looks like this: Miles Over Mountains, Nickle & Rose, Good Morning Bedlam, The Thirsty River, Dig Deep, Never Come Down, Pit Wagon, Katey Bellville, Gabe Barnett, and Doug Otto and the Getaways.

As the festival grows bit by bit over the years, its heart remains intact with some of the best and brightest stars of Americana all coming here for a magical weekend in June.

2020 Blue Ox Lineup*

*headliner to be announced in January
Gov’t Mule
Pert Near Sandstone
Sam Bush Band
The Infamous Stringdusters
Yonder Mountain String Band
Leftover Salmon
Charlie Parr
The Jerry Douglas Band
Rising Appalachia
Horseshoes & Hand Grenades
Charley Crockett
Henhouse Prowlers w/ Tony Trischka
Lillie Mae
Them Coulee Boys
Legendary Shack Shakers
Sunny War
Julian Davis & The Situation
Nora Brown
Arkansauce
Armchair Boogie
Kind Country
One Way Traffic
Short Round String Band
Feed The Dog
Intuitive Compass
Barbaro
The High 48s
Miles Over Mountains
Nickle & Rose
Good Morning Bedlam
The Thirsty River
Dig Deep
Never Come Down
Pit Wagon
Katey Bellville
Gabe Barnett
Doug Otto and the Getaways

The Backwoods Stage

Miles Over Mountains
Good Morning Bedlam
Never Come Down
Pit Wagon
Doug Otto and the Gettaways
Nickle & Rose
The Thirsty River
Dig Deep
Katey Bellville
Gabe Barnett

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Wednesday, Dec. 4th, 2019

WATCH: Aaron Rodgers and Justin Vernon Talk for 40 Minutes at Lambeau Field

Well, today GQ posted a video that's likely to melt the hearts of Wisconsinites all over the state into puddles of cheesy goop. Brace yourself and watch in awe as two of the state's most well-known dudes, two iconoclasts of Wisconsin culture, two kings of the north talk about ... stuff. For over 40 minutes.

That’s right – Aaron Rodgers (star quarterback for the Green Bay Packers, NASCAR husband, hail mary king, the guy from the insurance ads and hospital billboards) and Justin Vernon (guy from Eau Claire, is in a band) had a meeting of the minds, a tête-à-tête if you will, in the heart of Lambeau Field for GQ’s One-on-One series. And, whattaya know, they filmed it.

Rodgers and an often giddy Vernon talk about centering oneself before performances, Aaron's goal to play until he is 40, the story behind Bon Iver's "Holocene" (which NPR listeners just named their favorite song of the decade), and a bunch of other stuff. 

You’re probably already watching it, and not really reading this anymore, so I’m just gonna stop writing now. Enjoy!

Psssst. Around the 26.50 mark, Rodgers references The Pickle. 

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Wednesday, Nov. 20th, 2019

Bon Iver Nominated for 2020 Grammy Awards (Including Album of the Year)

Just this morning – the day before a series of "Eaux Claires Hiver" shows planned by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon are set to start in downtown Eau Claire – the Grammy Awards released their list of nominees for 2020, and Bon Iver is nominated for four of ‘em, including (for the first time) Album Of The Year for this year’s i,i. Pretty big deal. The band is in pretty steep competition this year among a crew of wildly talented and young stars like Billie Eilish, Ariana Grande, Lizzo, and Lil Nas X. 

Justin Vernon has been vocally critical of the music industry awards show in past years, calling it a “shit show” and tweeting stuff like: “The Grammies are for the music Industry. Music, itself, is for everywhere else and everyone else. Good to remember.” Still, even though it’s happened a couple times now, an Eau Claire band getting recognized on that level is pretty crazy to think about. 

Remember, Bon Iver won two Grammys in 2012 for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album for Bon Iver, Bon Iver. The band was nominated in 2017 for 22, A Million in the Best Alternative Music Album category, but didn’t win.

Here’s the list of the categories where Bon Iver is nominated in 2020:

RECORD OF THE YEAR

"Hey, Ma," Bon Iver
"Bad Guy," Billie Eilish
"7 Rings," Ariana Grande
"Hard Place," H.E.R.
"Talk," Khalid
"Old Town Road," Lil Nas X Featuring Billy Ray Cyrus
"Truth Hurts," Lizzo
"Sunflower," Post Malone & Swae Lee

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

i,i, Bon Iver
Norman F---ing Rockwell!, Lana Del Rey
When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Billie Eilish
Thank U, Next, Ariana Grande
I Used to Know Her, H.E.R.
7, Lil Nas X
Cuz I Love You (Deluxe), Lizzo
Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM

U.F.O.F., Big Thief
Assume Form, James Blake
i,i, Bon Iver
Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend
Anima, Thom Yorke

BEST RECORDING PACKAGE

Anónimas & Resilientes, Voces Del Bullerengue
Chris Cornell, Chris Cornell
Hold That Tiger, The Muddy Basin Ramblers
i,i, Bon Iver
Intellexual, Intellexual

Reporting on the nominations, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel listed Bon Iver's local connections besides Vernon himself ...

In addition to Vernon, other Wisconsin natives named in the Bon Iver nominations for the two major categories were co-producer and co-writer Brad Cook from Eau Claire and co-engineer/mixer Zach Hanson from Chippewa Falls. The band also includes Lake Geneva native Sean Carey and La Crosse native Andrew Fitzpatrick.

Also worth noting, the Sentinel points out the major mainstream artists who didn't make the Grammy cut for Album of the Year ...

Nevertheless, "i,i" was one of eight album of the year nominees announced Wednesday morning. Grammy darlings like Taylor Swift, Bruce Springsteen, Ed Sheeran and Lady Gaga (for "A Star Is Born") were shut out in the category. 

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Wednesday, Oct. 30th, 2019

The Stones Throw: A True Local Haunt

Wisconsin is home to a number of purportedly paranormal locations that have caught the attention of ghost hunters, from the Devil’s Punchbowl in Menomonie to “beastly” Bray Road in Elkhorn and even Milwaukee’s famous Pfister Hotel. For many Eau Claire residents, however, the Stones Throw, 304 Eau Claire St., is more than just a recognizable downtown nightspot.

Originally built as a bank in 1893, the imposing building at the corner of South Barstow and Eau Claire streets that now houses the Stones Throw has been through many changes of ownership and tenants, paranormal investigator Devon Hall wrote in her book “Haunted Chippewa Valley.” Called the Cameron-Drummond-Slagsvold Building after its construction, the Romanesque structure would change its name to the Chippewa Valley Bank, then Samuelson’s Department Store, then became an upscale restaurant complete with an upper-floor balcony and trademark stained-glass windows. Between the 1980s and the 2000s, the space was at times a dance club, a gay bar, and a blues club. Despite numerous transformations over the years, the Stones Throw remains a bar featuring live music from across the Midwest.

But the Stones Throw isn’t just notable for its history and architecture: It’s also rumored to be a place where some patrons arrive but never leave. Legend has it that a man took his life by hanging himself inside the building during the early 1900s, and that another man was dragged into the basement after being murdered. Although paranormal investigators Chad Lewis and Terry Fisk were unable to verify these grisly incidents, this hasn’t stopped instances of owners, bartenders, and loyal patrons experiencing the paranormal.

Employees have reported hearing footsteps on the empty balcony and voices in deserted hallways and bathrooms. Doors have slammed on their own, chairs have moved around, jackets have flown off hooks, and unknown figures have disappeared without a trace. Long-time bartender Matthew Gehler once noted a moment where, during a heated argument between patrons, a glass bottle flew off the shelf into a wall without him even being near it.

“Whatever is here wants to make their presence known,” he explained, “but there’s definitely something here.”

In spite of these occurrences, employees have never felt too afraid or unpleasant, although they have to keep an eye out for more eerie activities. As Halloween draws nearer in Eau Claire, the Stones Throw remains a charming pub for patrons and spirits alike to congregate.

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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
LOCASH
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. 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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