Bring the ruckus

Eau Claire’s house show scene builds the music community

Story by Zack Katz, Currents Editor

Navigating Eau Claire’s music scene is no game of hide-and-seek.

Bands are dynamic: For every venue requiring an I.D. at the door, there’s a house show with open arms at their’s.

For a city painted with show flyers, local drummer Rick Haneman said making it to the stage isn’t easy for younger fans of his group, Hounds Before Lions.

Tyler Hart, lead for Softly, Dear has less trouble getting older fans out to the predominantly 21 and over venues of Eau Claire, but said he could do without the exclusivity.

“Quite a few of our fans are over 21 but there are also freshman, sophomores and some Eau Claire high schoolers who are into Softly, Dear,” Hart said. “It sucks when those people would have to break the law to watch us.”

Haneman and Hart are realizing filling a room calls for a coverless venue anyone has access to, which means inviting fans to their doorsteps.

Playing for a group he’s familiar with at home allows Hart some breathing room to relax, make mistakes and take bigger risks.

“It doesn’t sound like it but performing at a venue is more formal … you’re performing for the audience as a whole,” Hart said. “In a basement they’re six inches away from you interacting on a more personal level.”

With the edge off, Hart said he uses house shows as an opportunity to improve for bigger picture efforts, such as Softly, Dear’s session with Daytrotter last December.

“I think I prefer the basement vibe and I use that to improve my bar or venue performances,” Hart said. “People identify with taking that informal approach to music and taking it to a larger scale.”

Hounds Before Lions frontman Sam Clark said Eau Claire house shows are popular, despite snags that come with promoting under landlord rules.

While impromptu venue turnout can often be a gamble between large numbers or just a handful of heads, Clark said Hounds Before Lions can always count on their consistent fanbase to draw attention.

“It’s more appealing to the college crowd that might not want to fork over five or ten bucks for cover to see a band that they could see for free,” Clark said. “There’s a growing appeal for house shows around here.”

Clark said local musicians benefit from the network created by hosting touring musicians, as well as other local bands.

“What’s beneficial about the house show scene is the amount of back-and-forth and cooperation between groups,” Clark said. “We can play a show here [at our house] with Softly, Dear and get a completely different crowd … the populations start to overlap.”

Hart said his home was established as the “Softly, Dear house” as a result of reaching out to the flux of local and touring artists performing in the area.

“It’d be nice to have something consistent every weekend considering Phoenix Park shows and stuff like that doesn’t always happen this time of year,” Hart said. “We got started by calling bands that were playing at The Cabin and asking if they’d play our house after in exchange for money or beer.”

By these means, Haneman said he’s come up with some unlikely and meaningful connections with other artists.

“We met this guy from Florida that played at our house and stayed with us for a couple days,” Haneman said. “House shows help us continue to build communication with more and more artists from around the country.”

While house shows aren’t the end-all option for catching a live performance, Haneman said they’re certainly step one for building the scene. Regardless of living room or basement, coming out to the show means taking a stake in Eau Claire’s house show culture.