Local musician Billy Angell of The Rhythm Posse remembers when the building at 210 E. Lake St. in downtown Eau Claire was the Mandarin Club, bringing in “the hottest bands in a couple hundred miles.”
The building, which most recently held the Boys & Girls Club of the Greater Chippewa Valley, is opening as a new concert and events center called The Metro, paying homage to another of its former names as a music hot spot.
Angell and the three other members of The Rhythm Posse have the honor of holding the first show at the venue and, though he hasn’t been inside since owner Benny Haas remodeled the place, Angell has an idea of what to expect.
“It’s such a neat room,” Angell said. “With the balconies that were in there, I think it’s going to be cool.”
The Rhythm Posse is holding its annual Stage Fright 8 — A Tribute to the Last Waltz on Wednesday, Nov. 22, at The Metro.
This is the eighth year the group has invited 25 others to join them in a tribute to the 1976 concert film “The Last Waltz,” created by The Band before that group broke up. The Rhythm Posse poses as The Band and local talent fills the roles of iconic 1970s stars such as Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and more.
Lucas Fischer, the group’s guitarist, said it is one time of year when musicians from all backgrounds have the opportunity to play famous material together, bridging the gap between what he says are two different categories of musicians.
“There are cover band and original musicians, and this event has really functioned as an awesome bridge between those two communities,” Fischer said.
It is also a good way to bring in people from outside the music scene, Angell added, saying they usually have members of the Chippewa Valley Theatre Guild perform.
Holding the annual event is also how members of The Rhythm Posse met and the band formed.
“Through this I’ve met a lot of musicians I might not have ever met,” Angell said. “Playing with a lot of people expanded myself as a musician too.”
Musicians aren’t required to dress in 1970s attire or dress up as the famous musicians, but Fischer said many enjoy doing so.
The nearly 30 musicians take turns going on stage, though Angell said the finale includes everyone, and even audience members who have performed in the tribute in previous years.
“Last year there were 40 to 50 people on stage (for the finale),” Angell recalled.
The band has held Stage Fright at House of Rock, The Plus and The Lismore, but Angell said the event continually outgrows the spaces. With The Metro’s commercial kitchen, he said organizers can add to “The Last Waltz” tradition by holding a meal before the show.
“We always wanted to do a show with a dinner, but the spaces we were playing didn’t have kitchens we could use,” Angell said. “The commercial kitchen opens up all kinds of possibilities.”
There will also be a late show at 9 p.m. that will not include a meal.
Haas, who has been working hard to secure permits and licenses ahead of the opening, said he is excited to see things coming together.
“That’s the amazing feeling,” Haas, who also owns The Plus, said Thursday. “It’s all the details and hard work beforehand that make it that much better when it’s done.”
Though there isn’t a parking lot on site, Haas said he is finalizing contracts with Cody Limousines and Right Way Shuttle to shuttle guests to and from parking ramps in downtown Eau Claire.
When Angell approached Haas with the idea of holding Stage Fright at The Metro, Haas thought it would be the perfect way to open.
Haas, who has worked with the event before, knew it was a great community gathering. The proceeds from the event go to The Community Table, which made the idea more attractive.
“It’s a community event that’s been around and is for a good cause,” he said.
The Metro can hold a crowd of around 500 people, Haas said, much more than the 350 capacity at The Plus.
The venue will only be open for special events. It features a large room, where Stage Fright 8 will be held, that Haas said is perfect for live acts and entertainment. There is also a smaller room that is more of a traditional banquet space, complete with crystal chandeliers.
And, to those who knew it as a concert venue before, Haas expects a little nostalgia.
“A lot of the interior design elements are still there,” he said. “We’ve just captivated and showcased a few different things.”
Tickets to the show are $22 in advance or $25 at the door for the 5 p.m. dinner and show, or $10 in advance or $12 at the door for the 9 p.m. show only.
Advance tickets can be purchased at Speed of Sound, Pedals Music, The Plus and Schmitt Music, or at volumeonetickets.org.
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