Eau Claire celebrates 48 years of Jazz

Festival brings people together through “common experience” of music


Photo by Anna Mateffy

Story by Raina Beutel, Staff Writer

The sounds of brass horns, big bass and the tap of a high hat filled the air Friday night, when hundreds of people roamed downtown Eau Claire in the name of jazz.

Eau Claire’s 52nd Street celebration led to the transformation of downtown to a scene inspired by New York City’s 52nd Street, home to jazz legends like Miles Davis and Louis Armstrong.

And even if you don’t “get” jazz, you aren’t the only one.

“I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t understand jazz,” Stephen Lake, who traveled from Menomonie to try “something new,” said. “Most of the stuff tonight I’m listening to tonight, I don’t know why it’s popular.”

Some who attended were jazz experts, but not all were. In fact, not even all of the bars that held shows typically do, such as Clancy’s on Barstow.

Ben Running, who tended bar throughout the night, said Clancy’s was willing to make an exception.

Running said the night brought new faces to the downtown area, where he and the rest of downtown bars were “slammed.”

“There was hundreds of people walking around, which you never see on a Friday or Saturday night,” Running said. “So it was cool to see the town out and about downtown.”

And as a self-proclaimed fan of jazz herself, Mary Jo Wagner of Eau Claire, has attended Jazz Fest for the past 8 years. Wagner said even though 52nd Street has only been around for the past 4 years, she said it never fails to bring people together.

“It’s just amazing to see the youngest of our music students — the middle school and the high school kids here — mixed up with all of us who are older,” she said.

And to Wagner, Jazz Festival is about more than music.

“Music is one of those common experiences, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” she said. “We all have a common experience, in my opinion, when it comes to music.”