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message for address: my year in the eau claire house show scene

glassworks improv performing during playhouse fest at the glassworks playhouse. may, 2014.

the final two shows at the glassworks playhouse are in the books.  the softly, house will be holding its last extravaganza on friday, and my departure from involvement with the hudson house is very imminent.  naturally, it’s time for some reflection.  house shows and house parties are nothing new in any town, especially not eau claire.  the diy scene here may fluctuate in prevalence on a year-to-year basis, but there is never a marked recession.  last school year was my first exposure to the inner workings of the eau claire music scene, and it was a fairly slow learning process.  from what i gather, private performance spaces were scant; pussy haus hosted a handful of shows before permanently shutting its doors, and the short-lived camomile lawn played host to a couple of intimate living-room performances.  as i navigated the performance options for my fledgling band, i discovered that the only other places to play were the music venue on campus – which often requires booking months in advance – and a handful of bars around town.

the latter of these two public spaces underscores a prevailing problem with the music scene in eau claire: the decided lack of free, all-ages venues around town.  my bandmates and i were all under the age of twenty-one when we began playing bars – the only venues available to book with a decent turnaround time – and most of our friends couldn’t legally drink, either.  turnout from our fan base was never very high.  things began to change in the summer of 2013.  we moved into an old, turn-of-the-century house with an enormous living room perfectly suited for house shows, and our new friends in softly, dear opened up their basement as a performance venue as well.  right alongside us were the kids from glassworks, a long-form improv trio whose routines compliment musical acts quite nicely.  they had also rented a house together, and proceeded to turn their basement into the glassworks playhouse.

north house (left) and poozer (right) tag team a set in the softly, dear basement. april, 2014.

simply put, i don’t think there is a concrete number available for the amount of shows that took place at these three venues over the past year.  i will be the first to admit that the hudson house hosted few in comparison (additional hiccups occur with ground-level performances and elderly neighbors), but we averaged about one a month.  what was true across the board, regardless of venue, was the overwhelming turnout and continuous positive reception that surrounded each show.  common sense may dictate that the best times to host shows would be during the weekend, but forty people were just as likely to pack a basement on a tuesday night as they were on a friday night.

part of the draw was the tremendous fortune we often had of having out-of-town bands join the bills.  most hailed from southern wisconsin or the twin cities area and were passing through on tour, but occasionally we connected with artists from as far away as florida (see: austin miller).  on a very basic level, this fused a pleasant amount of contrast into our own local scene, but positive references from many of these bands caused the house show circuit’s stock to rise significantly.  a large tip of the hat is in order for the networking skills of alex adkinson, dave power, and johanne swanson, all of whom actively sought out or enthusiastically referred acts to play at one of the venues in town.

hounds before lions album release show in the hudson house living room. november, 2013.

perhaps most importantly, the house show scene in eau claire built a sense of musical camaraderie over the past year that i’ve never experienced before, and may never again.  each show knew no genre limitations; it was just as likely to feature one of the many local electronic artists as it was to happen upon purveyors of hip-hop, or any of the bands playing their own unique brand of indie rock.  further underscoring this diversity has been the constant support and promotion artists give to one another.  i was also personally exposed to a lot of music i don’t think i would have found in any other fashion, such as hannah hebl‘s soulful output, the off-kilter art rap of sayth, and the intricate folk-tinged music provided by rivers.

i’m still blown away by the amount of effort that continuously went into building and sustaining this microcosm over the past year, and i’m glad i was able to play a small role.  armed with nothing more than facebook events and word-of-mouth dissemination, house shows in eau claire became an excellent outlet for musicians to perform in a free, all-ages location.  over time, the tagline “message for address” became almost a formality; even if the exact numerical assignment wasn’t known, many people could pick out the unassuming houses for what they really were: a performance space.  i’m certainly not the voice of everyone who’s participated in this community – my opinion is just one of many – but the consensus has always felt very positive.

while the house show scene here in eau claire will inevitably slow down after the closures of both the glassworks playhouse and the softly, house, it won’t grind to a halt.  the hudson house will continue to serve as a performance space, and already has some upcoming shows in the works.  just as an example, emily reo and cuddle formation will be stopping by in the middle of june, a show that should be attended at all costs.  furthermore, the guys from glassworks have plans to rent a new house together after they return from tour this summer, and hope to host shows through december of this year.  hudson street boutique, the eau claire-oriented tumblr offshoot of dimestore saints, will continue, and i’ll be posting information on as many local shows as i can via the site’s twitter handle.  eau claire will always be on my mind, especially after i move away.  there are too many bands to acknowledge and extend gratitude to individually, so i hope a blanketed thanks will suffice.  you all know who you are.  seriously, thank you.

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