Eau Claire Keys up for 52nd Annual Jazz Festival

Rebecca Mennecke, photos by Kelsey Smith

TOOTING THEIR OWN HORNS. Jazz Fest is about to take over downtown Eau Claire – April 26 to 27 – with multiple performances from numerous performers, both local and touring.
TOOTING THEIR OWN HORNS. Jazz Fest is about to take over downtown Eau Claire – April 26 to 27 – with multiple performances from numerous performers, both local and touring.

The 52nd Eau Claire Jazz Festival is set to swing into Eau Claire from April 26 to 27.

“It is a jazz festival, but it’s really a music festival,” said Breanna DeNure, the communication coordinator of Eau Claire Jazz Inc. “It’s a celebration of art and sound and community.”

This jazz festival began as an opportunity for middle school, high school, and college musicians to learn and receive feedback on their work, DeNure said.

“It’s a celebration of art and sound and community.” – Breanna DeNure, Eau Claire Jazz Inc., on the Eau Claire Jazz Festival

A few years ago, the community aspect of the festival – known as 52nd Street – was added, DeNure said. About four blocks of Barstow Street will be closed off and about 20 different businesses be transformed into jazz venues. This year’s venues will include The Plus, The Metro, Micon Budget Cinema, Acoustic Café, SHIFT Cyclery & Coffee Bar, ECDC, Revival Records, Volume One’s The Local Store, and more.

“We wanted to figure out how we can get the community involved because it’s such an interactive community that supports the arts, and so 52nd Street was the way we could do that,” DeNure said.

Friday, April 26, will begin with middle school and high school band educational experiences at UW-Eau Claire and the Pablo Center. Music will start downtown for the 52nd Street portion at 5pm and will last until around 2am, DeNure said.

Headliner Grace Kelly
Headliner Grace Kelly

Food trucks, pop-up shops, and drinks will be available. All-night wrist bands can be purchased for $15 at three different tents on Barstow Street. Headline concert tickets cost $35 for adults and $15 for students. This year’s headline concerts will feature Grace Kelly and New York Voices, who will perform on Friday at 7:30pm and Saturday at 7pm at the Pablo Center.

“It will be great for kids coming in, especially in high school, to see (UW-Eau Claire) as a prospective school to go to,” DeNure said.

On Saturday morning, college bands will have the opportunity to receive feedback on their music. DeNure, who is the lead alto saxophone player in UWEC’s Jazz II ensemble, said she has participated in numerous jazz festivals, and the Jazz Fest was one of the main reasons she decided to attend UWEC.

“This is one of the only true American art forms,” DeNure said. “Like, this is really incredible, and it offers a lot of opportunities for kids and schools, and I’ll get on my soapbox about it but arts programs are so incredible.”

DeNure said Robert Baca, UWEC’s director of jazz studies, who puts on the festival, invites alumni to participate. This year, trumpeter and UWEC grad Jamey Simmons will return to Eau Claire to act as an adjudicator for the festival.

“I really like the number who are coming together and playing the music,” Simmons said. “It’s really a special thing.”

In addition to Simmons, Alexa Tarantino, a New York-based saxophonist, will attend the festival for the second time to act as an adjudicator and a clinician. “I gotta get my cheese curds in,” she said DeNure said many people think jazz is a “kitschy” thing, but she thinks Jazz Fest appeals to more than just jazz lovers. She said it’s a great opportunity to get out and have a fun night. 

But, DeNure said jazz music has played a huge role in developing who she is, and she’s “obsessed” with the Jazz Festival. Whether or not you’re a jazz lover, DeNure said this is an event you won’t want to miss.

More information about the Eau Claire Jazz Festival can be found at eauclairejazz.com.