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Blues fest finds new home in Chippewa Falls

Northwoods Blues Festival debuts this weekend at fairgrounds

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    Howard Luedtke and Blue Max perform at a previous Northwoods Blues Festival. The duo kick off the festival once again at 2 p.m. Friday at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in Chippewa Falls.

    Contributed photo

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    The Sena Ehrhardt Band performs at the 2014 Northwoods Blues Festival in Spooner. Ehrhardt will be returning to this year’s festival, which is Friday and Saturday at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in Chippewa Falls.

    Contributed photo

The Northwoods Blues Festival, in its fifth year this summer, has found a new home for its two-day run Friday and Saturday. 

Originally held in Spooner, the festival’s move to the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in Chippewa Falls solidifies its place in the Chippewa Valley music scene and allows it to expand, festival co-founder and organizer Steve Rheaume said. 

“We didn’t come to Chippewa Falls for just one year,” Rheaume said. “We want to have a long-term relationship. We were really careful about the community (we chose) ... and we have been so embraced by the Chippewa Falls Chamber and area businesses.”

Rheaume decided to move the festival for several reasons, the “short answer” being limited hotel space in Spooner. But the move to Chippewa Falls also brings them closer to larger cities such as Madison, Minneapolis and St. Paul.

The American Blues Magazine listed the Northwoods Blues Festival as one of the top five new blues festivals in the country in 2015, he said. And Chicago Magazine in June 2016 called the Eau Claire area the “Indie Music Mecca,” citing Country Jam USA, Rock Fest, Country Fest, the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival and the Blue Ox Music Festival as reasons to visit.

“What better way for us to match up than to take one of the best new blues fests in the country and put it in the music mecca?” Rheaume said. 

This year’s festival features 15 acts, including Bernard Allison, son of the late Chicago blues guitarist Luther Allison; guitarist Albert Cummings; Grammy-nominated Duke Robillard, who was named best blues guitarist by the Blues Music Awards; and Tinsley Ellis, who has performed in all 50 states and several countries. 

“All four of those top guys are so dynamic, any one of them could be a headliner,” Rheaume said. 

He predicts Allison and Robillard will be a crowd favorite, but, as he does every year, Rheaume also predicts a performer that’s going to surprise people. This year that artist is Cummings.

In addition to nationally known names, they also have local talent such as Left Wing Bourbon and Sue Orfield, who will be performing together. And, as is tradition, local musician Howard “Guitar” Luedtke will be leading off the festival with a 2 p.m. performance Friday on the main stage. 

Having done the festival each year, Luedtke is looking forward to the bigger crowd he expects at the fairgrounds. Plus, this year it is in his backyard, so he expects to know more people in attendance.

“I’m always excited about doing the blues fest, and a bigger crowd should be a lot of fun,” Luedtke said. “The music scene is growing at a rapid pace throughout the (Chippewa) Valley ... so I hope the festival stays here for awhile.” 

The new location also offers more room for the festival to spread out, which has lead to an increased presence in the side stage, with more acts than previous years. 

While they do have a larger seating capacity than the Spooner grounds, Rheaume said, they didn’t know until just two weeks ago that the permanent stage being built on the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds wouldn’t be ready in time for the festival. 

To accommodate, they are bringing in a 34-by-24 foot stage next to the Gordy’s Market stage already on the fairgrounds. 

Dave Lambert of Brother Sun Sister Moon, which performs at 9 and 11 p.m. Friday on the side stage, has never been to this festival. He’s excited to bring the duo’s music to Chippewa Falls and have time to listen to other performers throughout the weekend.

Lambert, who got his start down in Texas, moved back up to the Midwest several years ago, when he met Donna Dahl, now the other half of his duo. He describes Brother Sun Sister Moon’s music as a “powerhouse duo.” 

“We’re not bar stool musicians; we’re not easy listening because of the drums and guitar,” he said. The band has released three albums in the past four years and toured throughout the U.S.

This weekend, he encourages everyone to come out and listen to live music. 

As someone who has been in the blues industry for years and played in several bands, he thinks it is much harder now to book gigs and make music, and financially and otherwise, the support isn’t the same. 

“We have to keep live music alive, and support is the biggest thing,” Lambert said. “These festivals are great, but the only reason they work is because people show up, and we need that now more than ever.” 

Contact: 715-833-9214,, @KatherineMacek on Twitter


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