The Oxbeaux outdoor concert is stepping into a starring role.
The past two years, the event hosted by The Oxbow Hotel in downtown Eau Claire ran for a single night and helped usher in festivities for Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival. But with Eaux Claires not being held this year, Oxbeaux will take the stage Friday and Saturday and will bring in regional and nationally known performers.
“With (Eaux Claires) not happening this year we thought, well, we still want to bring a cool, unique downtown Eau Claire music experience to the community and to people from far and wide,” said Cassandra Lueck, event and marketing director for The Oxbow Hotel and The Lakely restaurant.
“So we decided we’re going to go for it and we’re going to whoop it up and do two days instead of just one.”
Fans apparently agree with the strategy. The regional band showcase Friday night in the Oxbow’s courtyard is sold out of its roughly 700 tickets, and not many of the approximately 2,000 tickets remain for the Saturday night lineup featuring national acts on the street outside the hotel.
Oxbeaux previously has presented national as well as regional acts, and the local emphasis this year fits with the hotel’s mission.
“Part of our vision here with The Oxbow Hotel and The Lakely is that we like to give an authentic Eau Claire experience,” Lueck said, “and you’ll see that everywhere from our design here with all of our local urban wood, all of our art comes from local artists. Our food ... comes from local farmers and producers. It just was a natural progression for that when making this event a bit larger that we would bring in that local component.”
A wide diversity of musical styles will be represented this weekend.
The following will perform on Friday:
• Drunk Drivers, known for catchy, heavy rock songs.
• Arms Aloft, a punk band that sometimes takes on political topics in its songs.
• Pit Wagon, which plays music described as having a “dirty country sound and lyrical folk wisdom.”
• North of Dixie, a bluegrass band with influences including Earl Scruggs, Mark O’Connor, Bela Fleck, Sam Bush and Doc Watson.
For the Saturday headliner, Oxbeaux III will welcome Jenny Lewis. Known as the primary singer in the now disbanded Rilo Kiley, Lewis has gone on to an acclaimed solo career with such albums as “Rabbit Fur Coat” (2006), “Acid Tongue” (2008), “The Voyager” (2014) and “On the Line,” which came out this year. “On the Line” includes contributions from, among others, Ryan Adams, Beck, Jim Keltner, Ringo Starr, Benmont Tench and Don Was.
“We’re thrilled to have her grace our stage this year,” Lueck said.
The Galloway Street audience also will be treated to the following:
• The Shouting Matches, a blues-roots-rock outfit whose sound has been compared to that of The Black Keys. The quartet consists of Justin Vernon, Phil Cook, and Brian and Jill Heinke Moen, all notable musicians with primary musical endeavors apart from this occasional side project.
• Flock of Dimes, featuring Jenn Wasner of the group Wye Oak and part of Bon Iver’s live band on that group’s current tour.
• Alpha Consumer. Band members have played with Bon Iver, Arcade Fire, Andrew Bird, Pieta Brown and “A Prairie Home Companion.” The publication Mojo described the group as “The Modern Lovers meets Talking Heads,” then adding “they’re more entertaining than that.”
• Sanborn/Rosenau, which features Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso and Chris Rosenau of Volcano Choir and Collections of Colonies of Bees.
• Regionally based group Sniffle Party. The duo’s Facebook page describes their sound as “dreamy future witch pop.” The band features Serena Wagner’s songwriting and vocals plus Eric Christenson’s electronic production.
Sponsors for Oxbeaux III are The Brewing Projekt; Shelter, an architecture firm based in Minneapolis with an Eau Claire office that was “one of the design powerhouses” behind The Oxbow and Lakely, Lueck said; The Current, a Twin Cities-based radio service; and Volume One in Eau Claire.
As for sustenance during Oxbeaux III, on Friday The Lakely will provide all the food and cocktails, with beer from The Brewing Projekt.
On Saturday, Lueck said, The Lakely again will serve up, and food trucks from Fire Truck Pizza and SmokeStream will be on site. Kickapoo coffee will be set up, offering some ice coffee beverages; and Eau Claire-based Just Local Food will provide food as well.
A full-size kubb pitch, a photo booth hosted by Visit Eau Claire, and live screen printing by Ambient Inks will be part of the event as well.
Parking downtown tends to be “a little chaotic” for larger events, Lueck said, but the event will be close to the North Barstow Street parking ramp downtown.
It would seem that Oxbeaux and Eau Claire’s continually redeveloping downtown benefit mutually from the weekend, an assessment Lueck agreed with.
“The relationship between the Oxbeaux festival and downtown is really symbiotic in that we really help each other,” she said.
Noting that the festival is drawing from residents of 20 states, Lueck pointed out the tourism-derived economic boost. But there’s more to it than that.
“I think we really are finding the greatest impact is doing something so unique right in the heart of a historic community,” she said, “and with this cultural renaissance that we’re going through, it just really keeps pushing that forward.”
While Justin Vernon is a co-owner of The Oxbow Hotel and a co-curator of Eaux Claires Fest, Lueck said the two events are separate and she doesn’t know what is planned for Eaux Claires in 2020. But she added that Oxbeaux organizers are thinking about a return next year.
“We absolutely are,” Lueck said. “We love doing this. It’s fun, its rewarding, it’s just a great way for people to rally around this spirit that we have and for us to put on a cool event for people that enjoy the same things that we do. And we do want it to be an annual event and definitely hope that it is.”