Editor’s note: Following are two of the blogs posted weekly at LeaderTelegram.com.

We’ve all seen it. Pedestrians of all ages walking down the sidewalks or across streets with their heads buried in their smartphones, oblivious to their surroundings.

It can be dangerous. I’ve done it. My new house has a low-hanging light fixture where a table is meant to be placed — haven’t gotten around to that yet — and my melon has bounced off the metal fixture more than once as I texted something extremely important, I’m sure. (The metal sure leaves a nice red mark on a nearly bald head.) I once did it three times in about an hour as I paced back and forth as I was considering offers on our old residence.

That said, I’ve been trying to keep my head on a swivel when I venture into the snowy Wisconsin winter these days to check out hidden snow throwers, shovelers and plows. I was rewarded on a recent midday run on the trail behind Water Street when I found a squirrel whose appetite was bigger than his mouth. The squirrel had a sandwich shop loaf of french bread near the backdoor of Erbert & Gerbert’s, with both front paws and his teeth buried in the bread that was much larger than the animal. I slowed to enjoy the scene. The squirrel swung away from me with the oversized loaf swinging from side to side. This food was going to last him awhile, and he wasn’t’ about to let me have any part of it.

I grinned as I ran off and wondered what kind of imaginative stories my regular running group would have come up with after seeing the ambitious squirrel. It would have kept our conversation going for miles.

So don’t go though life with your head down. You’ll never know what you’re missing.

— Gary Johnson, editor

Eaux Claires 2018 well worth revisiting

Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival hasn’t just been one of the highlights of my past four summers — the anticipation of a coming year’s festivities has helped get me through a few winters as well.

Alas, with Eaux Claires taking a gap year in 2019, that won’t be possible during the current season of our discontent. But I’m still finding plenty of warmth and uplift by playing — and replaying — the music of the acts who lit up the grounds by the Chippewa River last year in the town of Union.

It’s especially worth doing this year, considering the critical adulation bestowed on some of those featured artists’ latest releases. The Metacritic website, which aggregates reviews of music (along with movies, TV shows and games), put several 2018 Eaux Claires acts’ albums on its annual list of Best-Reviewed Major Albums of last year.

Right at the top stood “Room 25,” the studio debut by sweet-voiced rapper Noname, which, as the website noted, outperformed albums by better known performers such as Janelle Monae and Kasey Musgraves. As the invaluable website AllMusic described “Room 25,” “(her) complex lyrics are delivered with ease and confidence, and she’s backed up by jazzy, sophisticated rhythms and occasional lush string arrangements.”

Experimental R&B artist Serpentwithfeet came in at No. 11 with “Soil,” an album filled with his soulful singing and idiosyncratic tempos. A reviewer from the magazine PopMatters said the artist (given name Josiah Wise) “offers 11 tracks of slow-burn euphorics and revelatory soul dedicated to a chemical, elemental understanding of his own romantic, familial, and personal experiences.”

And at No. 18 in the scoring column was Low’s “Double Negative,” the Duluth, Minn., band hailed as one of the architects of the slowcore sound. The influential Pitchfork website describes the album as “astounding.”

Interestingly, Eaux Claires fest 2018 clairvoyantly also showcased an artist whose new release is one of the critical darlings of 2019. Metacritic’s list of albums with the best cumulative reviews so far this year leads off with folk singer Sharon Van Etten’s “Remind Me Tomorrow,” whose songs were part of Van Etten’s captivating set last summer. Plus, folkie Phoebe Bridgers, who performed last year at the fest, had a role in one album that garnered significant praise in 2018, the self-titled EP by highly regarded trio boygenius (which includes 2018 fest act Julien Baker as well as Lucy Dacus), and another that has been cheered this year, “Better Oblivion Community Center,” by a duo of the same name that includes Conor Oberst.

Eaux Claires Fest has been a welcome place for acts who have regional ties but have forged national and even international attention. In that vein, I’m greatly enjoying 2018 discs by hometown talent such as Big Red Machine, a project that includes Justin Vernon and National guitarist Aaron Dessner; Field Report, led by Chris Porterfield; Sean Carey’s S. Carey; and Phil Cook.

Full disclosure: I did not see the Eaux Claire Fest performances by some of the names on my list, but that’s OK; I know I was listening to great music on another stage at the same time.

Here’s hoping that, as promised, Eaux Claires organizers use the hiatus to reassess and to return the following year. But I’ll happily argue that last year’s festivities prove they have consistently done many things right – especially the music.

— William Foy,

reporter