Monday, September 24, 2018

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Got that blues feelin’: Fans cheer Northwoods Blues Festival at new Chippewa Falls home

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    Local favorite Howard Luedtke opened the two-day Northwoods Blues Festival on Friday in its first year at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in Chippewa Falls. View more photos at

    Staff photo by Marisa Wojcik
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    Faith Ulwelling, vocalist for Durand-based band Left Wing Bourbon, sings during the first day of the Northwoods Blues Festival on Friday at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds in Chippewa Falls.

    Staff photos by Marisa Wojcik
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    Sue Orfield plays saxophone with Left Wing Bourbon.

    Staff photo by Marisa Wojcik
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CHIPPEWA FALLS — Sally Christensen was dancing to the music Friday afternoon, enjoying the sounds of the Northwoods Blues Festival at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds.

Christensen, 51, of Duluth, Minn., attended the festival with nine friends. They decided to camp at the fairgrounds and enjoy the two days of nonstop blues.

“It’s awesome,” Christensen said. “I love the blues, and I really like the lineup. It’s just music that makes you feel your soul; the songs tell a life story.”

Christensen said she routinely attends blues festivals. She was looking online for a new one she hadn’t attended before and found the Northwoods festival.

This is the fifth annual festival, but the first four years were in Spooner. The new stage and grandstand at the Northern Wisconsin State Fairgrounds aren’t finished, so a portable stage was brought in and erected in the southwest corner of the grounds.

“I’m excited for next year, when the big stage is set up,” Christensen said. “But I love small festivals like this. You get to know everyone.”

Suzi Helmbrecht, 64, of Chippewa Falls said she’s glad that the Northwoods festival has already committed to return next year.

“I think it’s a great decision, because there are a lot of bluegrass fans in this city,” Helmbrecht said.

Randy Risinger, 66, of Chippewa Falls said he has listened to the blues for 50 years and knows all the bands, so he was ecstatic to see the music festival move into the city. He never attended the event when it was in Spooner.

“There aren’t enough amenities there,” he said. “It was out of the way.”

Risinger said he was moving around the grounds, seeing the stage up close, but also backing off to find shade and take in the breeze.

“It’s a good setup,” Risinger said.

Steve Rheaume, co-founder of the festival, was pleased with how the grounds came together, considering he didn’t have use of the new stage as originally planned.

“We made a definite lemonade out of a lemon,” Rheaume said. “We tightened it up a bit, not by choice, but it worked out.”

Along with the temporary stage, another stage was set up inside the new pavilion on the grounds. When one band ended its set on one stage, another band immediately fired up on the other.

Rheaume said his goal is to have crowds numbering 2,000 each day.

“I think the numbers are what we’re looking for,” Rheaume said. “The weather has blessed us. Those that don’t come are missing out on a party.”

The acts over the two days come from Florida, Georgia, Massachusetts, Ohio, and even one from Paris.

“Those that know the blues, know that our lineup is the best lineup in the Midwest,” Rheaume said.

Rheaume thanked the city for its support.

“The community has been so (supportive) of our festival,” he said. “We want this to run for years to come.”

Jackie Boos, tourism director for the Chippewa Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, said she was excited the festival chose to move to the city.

“It’s been a pleasure working with Steve. We’ve got a lot of camping reservations, and hotel (stays),” Boos aid. “It’s an amazing lineup. We’re so excited to see the type of performers on the stage.”

Contact: 715-723-0303,

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