Preparing for the summer music festival season in the Chippewa Valley is like standing in a really, really long line to get on your favorite roller coaster. You have been on the ride and you know it’s worth it, but waiting all that time leaves a lot of room for doubts to bubble up.
About a year ago, I was just beginning my endeavors into Eau Claire’s arts and entertainment scene as the Leader-Telegram’s new entertainment reporter. With five major summer music festivals on the horizon — and countless other summer music events — I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.
I wish I could tell you I am now a pro, but alas, getting ready to go on the ride all over again, I find myself feeling that same mix of anxious anticipation and excitement looking at this year’s lineup.
I’ve also had more time to marvel at the vast array of entertainment we arefortunate enough to have right here in the Chippewa Valley.
Whether you only like hardcore rock music, are more into the bluegrass scene or live for country nights, as long as you love music you’ll be able to find something here.
Looking at the long, long list of acts for Blue Ox Music Festival (next weekend!), Country Fest, Country Jam USA, Rock Fest, Eaux Claires and OneFest pinned to my desk between scribbles of what I need to do and when, there are so many things going on.
At a glance, here’s what is standing out to me:
• Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival (July 5-6): You can’t talk about Eau Claire and not talk about this festival. But the only thing anyone is talking about is the lineup no one can talk about because no one knows.
Yes, there have been hints dropped here and there. Francis & the Lights, which has been a staple group at each festival thus far, tweeted on April 27, “At Eaux Claires weekend I’m gonna play four sets and do a dance class both days.” American indie rock duo Wye Oak from Baltimore, Md., also tweeted on April 25, “We’ve been waiting to play Eaux Claires for a long time & many of our friends have played as well. Now it’s our turn!”
Festival co-founder and front member of Bon Iver, Justin Vernon, tweeted on Jan. 25 about The National, of which Eaux Claires co-founder Aaron Dessner is a member of: “What NTL planning this year for ExC is insanely out of normal bounds.”
As a reporter, this simultaneously thrills and infuriates me: How on earth can we plan coverage for a festival — one of the most-talked-about festivals in the Chippewa Valley — if we don’t even know who is going to be there and when? What if we miss the most exciting part about the festival because we don’t know when it’s going to happen? (Yes, all you hipsters out there, I know that’s “the point of this festival.” But planning is “the point” of my job.)
On the other hand, imagine all of the possibilities of stories to tell at a festival such as this.
Granted, we probably don’t have the resources to let me fully attend both days of the festival and completely soak up the atmosphere, thus producing a fully immersive journalistic experience like no other. But imagine what we could stumble upon if we just didn’t have a plan.
Another small voice in the back of my mind wonders, “Could they be choosing not to release the lineup because they have such a huge name (I’m not going to say it here and jinx it, but you know) that they don’t want to draw the wrong type of crowd? Thus, only the people who ‘truly care’ about the festival will experience such a phenomenal performance and be fully rewarded for their loyalty?”
It’s a stretch. But so is choosing not to release any sort of lineup — and that seems to be working for them.
• OneFest (July 28-29): As soon as I saw the press release announcing this new Christian music festival, I thought “Oh wait, why didn’t we have a Christian music festival? We have everything else.” So it only makes sense.
And organizer Heather Flashinski has put together a solid first-year lineup with headliners Tenth Avenue North, along with other popular groups such as Mandisa and Citizen Way. Local group and organization 513Free will also perform a set on the side stage. Though it’s mainly pop and rock music, Flashinski said they included a side stage that offers a little bit of everything, as “Christian music” isn’t defined by a single genre.
• ALL OF THE COUNTRY ACTS: I have a deep-rooted love of country music, and Country Fest (June 21-23 in Cadott) and Country Jam (July 19-21 at Foster Farms Campground) have a whole slew of acts to make my heart flutter in anticipation. My main man Brett Eldredge will perform the Friday night of Country Fest before headliner Brad Paisley, but if you give this guy a couple more years, I guarantee Eldredge will be headlining his own country music festivals.
Country Fest also boasts a ton of diverse up-and-coming artists to keep an eye on such as Lauren Alaina, High Valley, Walker Hayes and Ashley McBryde.
As we gear up for the first major music festival of the summer — Blue Ox Music Festival, taking place Thursday through Saturday at Whispering Pines Campground — I am making sure the safety belt on the start of my music festival roller coaster is securely fastened, because I’m ready to enjoy the chaotic, adrenaline-filled ride.