Diversity rocks at Stones Throw
By Jeffrey Hage
In the 1960s while in college, Sue O'Conner played in coffeehouse bands. Today, instead of being booked on stage, she's the one doing the booking.
O’Connor’s opportunity came in April, when she learned a “for sale” sign had been hung at one of the most storied clubs in Eau Claire music history. A love of music and knowledge of the Stones Throw’s place in local music history made the venue look like a strong, long-term venture.
The Stones Throw put the word "live" in the Eau Claire music scene decades ago.
"This is 'the venue' for music in the Chippewa Valley, and has been for a very long time," O'Connor said.
The reason is simple. "We're diverse and have a lot of good, solid acts with a good reputation," she said. "There's not a place to compare it to."
The Stones Throw has long been billed as the most creatively diverse and architecturally unique music club in the Chippewa Valley. The building that houses Stones Throw is as unique as the music played in it.
Located at 304 Eau Claire Street, the business was founded by Frank Stone who, in 1985, envisioned bringing live music to Eau Claire. In 2001, Steve Anderson took the Stones Throw under his wing. He built on Stone's tradition, adding even more live shows.
“When someone says, ‘Eau Claire, Wisconsin,’ you probably don't envision a city boasting a nationally talked-about music scene," said Dan Weggel, promotions manager for the club.
However, that's what Anderson did for the Stones Throw, turning it into a venue that he says is recognized as one of the best in the Midwest.
One of the Stones Throw’s keys to success was to capitalize on the fact that one didn’t have to travel an hour and a half to the Twin Cities to hear good music. That's a selling point that O'Conner continues to market.
"We're able to bring a piece of the Cities’ music scene to Eau Claire while keeping the cost affordable. This way, more people could enjoy it," Weggel said.
Today most weekend performances carry a cover charge of just $3. Music specialty nights are sprinkled through the week, including jazz on Mondays, Turntable Tuesdays, and Open Stage on Wednesdays. Those nights continue to carry a free admission.
As for the Stones Throw's uniqueness, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
The building that houses the Stones Throw is not a typical live music bar. It's clean, well maintained, and located in one of the most beautiful buildings in Eau Claire — with stained-glass windows and all.
The Stones Throw started booking local bands, and eventually grew to schedule some known regional acts. While recognizing the importance of showcasing regional bands, O'Connor hopes to return to being a venue known for giving local bands their musical break.
That's how Weggel first remembers the Stones Throw. Three years ago, he took to its stage as a member of a local band. "Playing here, on this stage, surrounded by the walls — it was a great place to play and a night I'll never forget," Weggel said.
O'Connor is counting on her patrons feeling the same way about the Stones Throw, because she said it’s unique and isn’t just a bar with music. "This started out as a venue with blues and jazz. We're trying to go back to our roots," she said.
During the week, diversity is still the key.
Conrad Johns and his band take to the stage on Mondays, filling the Stones Throw with Big Band sounds, Dixieland and ragtime music. A jazz-style band called Q-Tet follows Johns.
A night later the bar switches gears and becomes home to the area's only hip-hop night. With DJs such as A-Scratch on board, the night is picking up quite a following, Weggel said.
Wednesdays are home to open stage night — one of O'Connor's favorites. A house band is on stage to provide the musical background for those wishing to sing — and maybe even its instruments if you just want to play along.
"It's always interesting and I love to come down because you never know what you're going to get," O’Connor said.
Stones Throw manager Michelle Burt, who has been associated with the bar since 1991, likes the direction they are taking. "I think we have more music in here than ever,' she said.
But Burt says the new owners haven't overlooked the Stones Throw's past in building its future.
"This is an important part of music history and remains the only place where you can still hear bands playing their original music instead of covers," she said. "I see that as being a real important part of our history on the local music scene.”
Former Stones Throw booking agent Nick Meyer says the venue just might be Eau Claire's first music venue super power.
"We just might end up putting Eau Claire on the map once and for all."
Jeffrey Hage is a reporter for The Chippewa Herald. He can be reached at (715) 738-1608 or at email@example.com.
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