Regardless of the outcome of this season of “The Voice,” Josh Pond firmly believes his cousin Chris Kroeze, who’s charmed millions with his gruff, blues-country sound and his humble small-town Wisconsin attitude, is a winner.
“Just to have his dream come alive and perform for people like this, on this scale — it’s incredible,” Pond said Tuesday night, surrounded by nearly 50 Kroeze fans at a “Voice” viewing party at Micon Cinemas in Eau Claire, all cheering in anticipation for the results that were still hours away. “I think no matter what happens he’s going to have an opportunity to do this (be a musician) on a grander scale.”
A few hours later, the 27-year-old Barron resident was announced the runner-up of the hit NBC series’ 15th season. Sixteen-year-old country singer Chevel Shepherd bested Kroeze for the title.
“You solidified what I do — you helped me be more interactive with the crowd,” Kroeze said while thanking his coach and country music superstar Blake Shelton before the results were announced. “It’s a huge thing I struggled with before I got here.”
Kroeze’s journey on “The Voice” began with a rendition of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Pride and Joy,” at the blind auditions, which showcased the raspy, bluesy voice and Southern rock-inspired style he would later become known for.
In an October interview with the Leader-Telegram, Kroeze said he initially was hesitant about taking the chance to audition for the show, as it required spending the entirety of June in Los Angeles.
As a professional musician who plays more than 200 shows per year to make a living and support his wife and two children, Kroeze couldn’t fathom canceling 30-some already scheduled gigs that month.
But, thankfully, Kroeze’s wife convinced him to give it a try after the producers were able to work around his schedule so he could get home for a few of his gigs.
Kroeze’s audition garnered chair turns from Jennifer Hudson and Shelton.
“Your singing is electrifying,” Shelton told Kroeze, who later would select him as his coach. “You can make it into this finale.”
Over the course of the season, Kroeze won the hearts of millions with not only his pure talent, but his humble attitude and his love for his Wisconsin hometown.
On Nov. 19, Kroeze thrust a spotlight on Barron by dedicating his performance of the Beatles’ “Let it Be” to the town and sporting a green ribbon on his guitar in honor of missing 13-year-old Jayme Closs.
In part one of the “Voice” finale that aired Monday night, Kroeze again seemed to be referencing Barron when he debuted a new original song, “Human.”
An emotional ballad, the song delves into the hardship and pain that can come with being human.
Though Barron was not overtly mentioned in the song’s lyrics, many felt a tie between the song and the tragedy and despair the town continues to face, with Jayme still missing after more than two months.
Shelton even noticed.
“A song with that much depth that means what it means at a time like this,” Shelton said during Monday night’s episode, “man, that was a moment.”
Pond’s wife, Tammi, said Kroeze’s decision to make his performance about his hometown is yet another example of the kind of man he is, despite any fame he may have picked up over the course of “The Voice.”
“He did that just for that town; just because he cares,” she said. “He’s just an amazing, humble guy.”
Susie Whiteside of Eau Claire said at the Tuesday viewing party that she watches every season of “The Voice” as a big music lover. But this season has felt special with a local musician in the competition.
Whiteside added it’s also been exciting to see how the entire state came together in support for Kroeze.
“I think this kind of shows how special Wisconsin is,” Whiteside said.
“I mean, what other state would rally behind this one guy like this?” Janet Compeau of Augusta interjected, adding she was first struck by Kroeze when she heard he makes multiple trips every year to the Middle East to perform for U.S. troops.
“He just seems like a good guy.”
For Teresa Checkalski of Eau Claire, Kroeze isn’t the winner in her eyes just because of his local ties — in her view, he’s just the most talented of the bunch, and fits into her love for Southern rock and country.
“I see him being the one who keeps you entertained at a concert,” Checkalski said. “I can hear him on the radio.”
Eau Claire County will be part of negotiations for the proposed expansion of Seven Mile Creek Landfill.
The County Board approved a resolution Tuesday night designating Supervisor Ray Henning and Matt Steinbach, the environmental services division manager for the Eau Claire City-County Health Department, to represent the county on the negotiating committee with other area municipalities.
Advanced Disposal, the operator of Seven Mile Creek Landfill, is seeking another expansion at the site, allowing the landfill to rise higher while increasing its dumping area by 1.52 million square feet.
Advanced Disposal sent a letter in November to city of Eau Claire, Eau Claire County and town of Seymour officials notifying them of the intent to expand the landfill.
A number of expansions have occurred in the past, the most recent in 2016.
The landfill is in the city but is surrounded by the county and town of Seymour.
The Eau Claire City Council last week approved moving forward with negotiations with Advanced Disposal.
The city will be represented by city attorney Stephen Nick, community service director Jeff Pippenger, and community members Thomas Kemp and Jamie Radabaugh.
The town of Seymour is expected to approve representation as well on the negotiating committee.
The proposed expansion is in the northeast corner of the landfill. The expansion request seeks to grow the area where trash can be dumped by 12.5 acres and allow it to be piled as much as 60 feet higher than currently allowed.
If approved as proposed, the combined vertical and horizontal expansion would increase the landfill’s dumping capacity by 34.84 acres.
The vertical expansion would occur on about 22 acres.
The landfill is scheduled to run out of space to dump trash in 2021, and Ponte Vedra, Fla.-based Advanced Disposal hopes to have an expansion agreement approved by then.
Many terms of operations, such as odor, noise, hours and days of operation and erosion monitoring, are up for negotiation.
Municipalities may not determine that a landfill is not necessary at the site, and no rules may be agreed to that would be less than what the state Department of Natural Resources would enforce.
About 1,660 tons of garbage are dumped daily at the landfill, opened in 1978 as a county-operated site.
The county sold the landfill in the mid-1990s to its current owner, which has changed names through the years.
Garbage from Eau Claire, Buffalo, Chippewa, Dunn, Jackson, Pepin, Pierce, Polk, Trempealeau and St. Croix counties is dumped there, along with trash from other western Wisconsin communities and from eastern Minnesota, including the Twin Cities metro area.