Christmas music plays in the background, blending with the flow of conversation, as people find a spot to sit in the Volume One Gallery in The Local Store. A lone chair, a music stand and two acoustic guitars sit patiently poised, waiting to be joined by the night’s featured musician: Billy Krause.
The small gallery quickly filled, and by 7 p.m. this past Friday night, there wasn’t an empty chair to be found. The audience members continued to converse and browse the art displayed on the surrounding walls until Krause took center stage. A Christmas wreath and garland, both speckled with warm string lights, hung high at the front of the gallery.
“Now Billy Krause is a local favorite, but most of you know how great he is already,” Kiah Sexton, a Local Store employee and UW-Eau Claire English Education and theatre student, said before Krause took the stage.
Once Krause started singing and playing his guitar, there wasn’t a frown in the room. All of the audience members watched the man intently as he performed his array of songs that ranged from humorous to serious and fast-paced to slow and steady.
Krause, a local musician and songwriter, was one of this week’s featured artists at the Local Store’s Jingle Jams event. Jingle Jams, which started in 2012, is an entirely free annual event that goes from Nov. 24 to Dec. 22. The event occurs over the weekend on Friday and Saturday nights.
Sexton said she thinks Jingle Jams is a different way to get people out during the holiday season and introduce community members to local musicians.
“It’s a very small, intimate space, and it’s so fun to be in that kind of atmosphere,” Sexton said. “There’s also a lot of diversity in the performers who come here.”
This past weekend was the second week of the series. However, Krause said he has performed at the event since it started. He works with Volume One often and performs at other community events run by the organization on top of Jingle Jams.
Like many of the event’s featured artists, Krause didn’t play any Christmas music during his performance. Krause said he would describe his musical style as “alt-country-folk,” and he attempts to tell stories through the songs he writes.
“Most of the material that I perform is my own,” Krause said. “A lot of it comes from life experiences I’ve had, or life experiences that other people in my life have had.”
Jan Daus, a community member and event attendee, said Friday night was far from the first time she had seen Krause perform. She said she enjoys Krause’s voice and the stories he tells through his music. She also said Volume One is a great addition to the Eau Claire community.
“Volume One is so focused on exposing Eau Claire to different and new things,” Daus said.
Krause said his passion for music has been with him all his life and has been performing since the sixth grade. It all started when he bought his first guitar for $15 using the money he earned mowing lawns, Krause said.
When he’s not creating or performing music, Krause said he spends his time raising chickens at his home or working on writing a book.
Krause’s uncle is among many “old folkies,” who inspired Krause to become the musician he is today, he said; the rewards Krause said he receives from creating and performing musical art are immense.
“I think it’s the artist in anybody that likes to see that they create a piece of art and it turns out to be something people enjoy and love,” Krause said. “Performing is just sharing, sharing what I’ve done.”
Krause said he is humbled by the life he has as a musician, and attempts to keep his performances casual and conversational.
“I look at most of my gigs as if I’m performing at my kitchen table,” Krause said.
Sexton encourages community members to attend Jingle Jams and the many other Volume One events going on during the winter season, and she said she enjoys being a part of introducing locals to new artists.
“It’s really cool to see that little spark that people get when they see or hear a new artist’s work that they really enjoy,” Sexton said.
Krause said he will continue to perform and create music and doesn’t see an end to his passion.
“Music is everything,” Krause said, “music is the goodness in the world.”