Been There: Eau Claire

January 17, 2011 Uncategorized 4 Comments


They call this the "ice piano" because your fingers literally freeze and fall off when you try to play it.

Just got back from the Chippewa Valley Ragtime Festival in Eau Claire, WI. The flannel sheets on my bed have never nestled me quite as sweetly as they do now, typing this, but I had a great time.

Ragtime festivals are more like family reunions than anything else. You’ve got your crazy uncles, your awkward cousins, your sweet grandparents, and your playful nephews. There’s food. A festive atmosphere. A preponderance of alcohol (especially when I’m in attendance). This corner of the musical world is so small and intimate, it’s hard to get lost in the woodwork, especially when we all gather in one place.

They are inclusive, wonderful, and affirming events. That said, I always feel like I’ve wandered onto the set of the sequel to Christopher Guest’s A Mighty Wind – the cast of characters that attend these events, myself included, is literally worthy of a screenplay – but I mean, think about it: What kind of people travel a thousand miles to celebrate and enjoy a music that is so dead you can’t even find a book about it in Barnes and Noble? My people, that’s who.

My friend Danny described ragtime festivals thus: “It’s like an extended family you don’t have to love.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

I arrived in Eau Claire late Thursday morning and was immediately shuttled, along with fellow performer Bill Edwards, to the first of what would end up being three performances at area elementary schools. The performance, at Meadowview Elementary, was for over 400 kids, grades K-5. I’ve never performed for that many kids at one time. It was insane. They were great sports, though, and erupted into spontaneous (with excellent rhythm) clapping along with the songs I played. It was good practice for the upcoming Artist-in-Residency.

Music Director Dave Majchrzak had the right idea playing in gloves...

The festival part started on Friday night with a concert, and kept up through Sunday morning. I was one of three featured performers, and together we put on three concerts.

I had a terrific time, and aside from a few weird song choices (selections from “The Muppet Movie” for senior citizens, for example… my bad) I think I did a pretty good job. It was a privilege to share the stage with the other performers, and people seemed pretty pleased with how the whole thing went.

What a privilege it is to get paid to do the thing that I love more than anything else. Man. Life is good.

Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod light up the church with some down-home blues...

4 Comments to “Been There: Eau Claire”

  1. Daniel Levi
    This was my first ragtime festival, and it was fantastic. One of my friends who came with me had the biggest smile on her face during the Muppet Movie song - I don't think it's really a mistake if 5% of your songs is meant to appeal to 5% of your audience. (Though 3 whole people in their 20s is probably an aberration at these events). I think my friend Paul got a couple videos of your performances there. I haven't seen them yet, but if they turned out well, would you mind if we put them up on YouTube?
  2. Martin
    Well said, Daniel. I'm kind of an oddball at these things because I want to play for people my own age, too, and turning videogames/movies/TV themes/etc. into ragtime is just freaking fun. I'm glad my Muppet arrangement brought a smile to your friend's face - I was hoping somebody out there got it! If you've got videos, post away. The more people who hear me (and ragtime), the better :D
  3. Jerry Foote
    Thanks, Martin, for your good words about our festival! We have a great time putting it on each year and seeing our old friend piano players and meeting some new folks. Spitzmartin has become a friend that we hope we will see and hear many times in the future! Your work at each of the concerts was greatly lauded by our audiences. We welcome you back anytime to mingle with all of us crazy ragtime jazzerers. We also found new friends in guitar/uke players/singer Craig Ventresco and Meredith Axelrod. Great fun to hear those folks, also greatly enjoyed by our audience. Of course, Perfessor Bill is an old hand with the EC festival. His Silent Movies are always a stitch and his headliner playing this year, was fantastic. It was a great festival for us, A big THANKS to all of you and the many other players who played in our preconcerts, open pianos, and mealtimes! We look forward to many more and hope new folks will come out to wonderfully warm Eau Claire, Wisconsin the second full weekend in January!
  4. Daniel Levi
    Finally got the video up on YouTube. Sorry for the delay!

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