Kenneth Fulgione Interview




Ken Fulgione founding member of Eau Claire’s Coalition Blues and Tuesday Night Blues Festivals as well as the Chippewa Valley Blues Society. In this Oral History, he discusses his early career and his involvement with the Eau Claire Coalition Blues, Tuesday Night Blues, and the Chippewa Valley Blues Society.


Interviewers Charles Kerscher and Cole Hollingsworth


April 3, 2017



CK: Our names are Chaz Kerscher and Cole Hollingsworth with UW-Eau Claire Public
History 386 class. We are interviewing Ken Fulgione in his Eau Claire home at 10:09 AM.


CK: You were born in Medford, Massachusetts on April 16th, 1947. Growing up what was your family like?

KF: You know it was the typical Italian husband and Irish wife. You know the groups had
differences back in those days. My grandpa was a cop, he walked the beat. Typical thing, small community. Probably, but we moved a lot my parents worked a lot. You know I was alone with my grandmother raising me, a little bit different than a normal family in the sense of, course I don’t know what the sense of a normal family is, that’s kinda just the format we had in those days in a small community, even though it’s a apart of Boston.


CK: So what kinds of music did your family listen too?

KF: They were Benny Goodman, and you know my grandmother was a Lawrence Wilk. Sit around with grandma and watch Lawrence Wilk on TV and The Bubbles, but my parents were many of that era Benny Goodman, and that type of Jazz. that they played around the house and they did play a lot of music when they were there. You know when they had gatherings of family or card games the music was playing in the background.


CK: Did you ever try and learn an instrument yourself?

KF: Oh god yeah, but I got stuck with the accordion. You know not really, with the accordion I think I can play Little Betsy Waltz, and probably carry that over to a piano and that’s about it, I just never stayed with the music on the playing end of it.


CK: What kinds of music played in the Boston area when you were growing up?

KF: Well Boston was a pretty party town, and when I was growing up we moved from
Winchester to medford, and then moved to Cambridge so we moved around. They were close cities and they I went off to a private school, St John’s prep, which was in Danvers so I had to live there. So music to me, you know we used to play music in high school, we had to turn it off at a certain time because it was a boarding school. But, when i got into college, you know that was when you start dealing with a range of what would be the San Francisco sound was also in Massachusetts at that time. It was, you walked down Beacon street, and Commonwealth Avenue, one apartment after the other you could hear the music coming out of everyone's apartments because they were all college, so there probably 6, 8 colleges all in the same area, it would be like having 15 Eau Claire’s all in the same area.


CK: So what kinds of music did you listen to yourself?

KF: I was mostly rock, you know, getting into the psychedelic era with The Beatles who came earlier. I progressed kinda like they progressed. Seeing the same type of a progress in music occurred, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, that type of music was nice, that’s what we were listening too.


CK: Where there music associations that you or your family saw or participated in, in the towns that you lived in?

KF: No, nothing at all that I was aware of.


CK: Did you encounter the Blues when you were still in Massachusetts?

KF: No, it was more jazz when I was in college. The Blues was there, but I think, we would go out and we would make believe we were 21, was it 21 back then? Yeah, so we would make believe we were 21 and we would go out to the Jazz clubs and they would play Jazz in the clubs, they didn’t really play Blues. Of course, they also had folk music, it was big in Cambridge, and the big folk singers were nobodies playing in little towns and coffee shops back then. That was the two types of music, I listened to more live music, um and then well you know the concert I remember going to see was The Doors set up with Jefferson Airplane, with a lightshow, in a theater probably about the size of the state theaters. It was a little different back then, they weren’t into the multi-million dollar shows, they were small bands, but they became big. So that was the type of sound and music we listened too.


CK: So when did you first encounter the Blues?

KF: Well it’s always there, you know when you look back at music, and I think most of the musicians, like The Rolling Stones, you listen to them, like Clapton, and you listen to them talk about the foundation of the music they played where it came from and who influences them and who influenced it. And you know, that’s kinda where it all came from. Music came from the Blues, and so you were always listening to it, but you didn’t necessarily know you were listening to it, The blues, because let's face it a lot of Blues. A lot of Blues people, because good god you couldn’t have black people you know in public in the 60’s, they were just starting to be allowed to be seen, so that music didn’t come forward till some of the blues players like Clapton and , the Stones brought forth people who were older who have been playing for years that people who knew in Chicago and big cities but they didn’t get on the air until later. And that’s kinda how I discovered it, you know I had been listening to it and not even realizing it.


CK: So when you first started listening to it, were you hooked for life?

KF: Yeah, I really liked the music because it has got good feeling and emotion and there's
different levels of Blues. From sitting on the porch playing a banjo, it's still the same type of music where they talk about life stories and life, like feelings and emotions and all the way up too the newer stuff where you get into almost like a Rock blues, there's a wide variety and um you know B.B. King probably got the big name, but there is really many like Albert King, there's many names all around him. There is just phenomenal players who influences the music we listen too, well I don’t know about today, but I think they do even today claim they get some of their history from the Blues, but definitely the music of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s were influenced by that.


CK: So, is music for you a personal enjoyment, or is it something to be experienced with
friends and family?

KF: Well you know I had a family when young, so it was always the kids, and we’d play music and they would dance around my house and dancing to the music was probably a popular one we were kinda dancing all over the place. But that was, yeah I liked it personally too because, probably more so then my wife did, she liked it quiet, and I always liked a little white noise music in the background, you know white sound, the kids loved it, because it would give them a chance to yell, and sing, and dance. You know, that’s kids. So, I guess family was probably a big part of it.


CK: So what caused your move Westward from Massachusetts?

KF: Oh god, well I did alternate service in Madison and after I got out of college, so that
would be ‘69. So in 69, 70, 71 originally I was in Milwaukee, my Father Groppi, got me
transferred to Madison, at that time Father Groppi was doing a protest because the state of Wisconsin was doing then the same thing they are doing today. Which is picking on poor people. So Groppi decided to march from Milwaukee to Madison, and I was his Madison contact, so I was organizing and we walked in and took over the state capital. And at that point, that’s what really, you know I have always been a little political in college, but that was the first time I have even been involved in anything huge like that. You know, and literally we stayed in the capital for 2 or 3 days, prior to that it has always been, you know college stuff, we did a lot of war activities, and I was very involved with that so this was, from there, I got kinda of, somewhat in trouble because I technically worked for the university, as a Vista volunteer. So when my term was up, instead of being able to renew they said goodbye because they were glad to see me leave I guess. And I moved back to Massachusetts, where I was getting, the lady I was living with and
she had a couple kids we moved out to an island on Cape Cod and decided okay we are gonna live in Boston because that’s where the family was, and to bring the family up in Boston with the income I had, was to be living in between where the black folk and the Irish folk lived and the black folks and the Italians. The communities that were just highly agitated and it was just another 3 story walk up flat to bring your kids up with was just not place to go. We went to New Hampshire and though well this would be cool but well you know we couldn't afford anything out there, we couldn’t afford a bathroom. So we ended up packing everything up and deciding well let's go to Oregon. I don’t know why I picked Oregon, I have no idea but that is what we decided. And we decided to go through Madison, through Wisconsin on the way. And ended up deciding, “well let's stop” and go up through Eau Claire. And across, and we got our third flat tire in Eau Claire and basically we ran out of money. We were living on the campgrounds on the
south side of town. Which is where the mall is now. And um, you know we said let's hang
around here for a little bit and I will get a part time job and whatever, or something to make some money and get back on the road. And we never did. You know we ended up renting a place down by Eleva. And ended up buying a small farm down in Eleva, and you know the concept of going to Oregon was that, “that back to the earth, back to the land” movement of the 70’s, we were involved with mentally, bringing the family up and having a small commune. Live out in the country, that type of thing. And so we ended up here. Just stayed here, because I just kept getting one job after another, I shoved chicken shit down in Eleva, you know with Neetex, which doesn’t exists anymore, but it was a job you had to raise money to feed the kids. So we ended up staying here so I bought 80-90 acre farm, down towards Eleva, after about a 3 year period. And things were a lot different back then. You know I was able to meet a banker who said “gee you look like a hard working guy” shook my hand and helped me buy a farm. You don’t do that
anymore today. So, we stayed and never really gone on from there. We developed community and friends, and relationships, and stuff like that.


CK: Was there anything in particular that attached you to the Chippewa Valley that you hadn’t mentioned?

KF: No, I just, as silly as it sounds, it was when we decided to stay that it was close enough to Minneapolis, we thought we could go up there for some big city culture, which, you know, we never did. It’s got a university, so it’s gotta be a liberal town, which it wasn’t, it was basically a cowtown. But we didn’t know those things we just thought, oh you know a university it’s like living in Madison, and Madison was pretty liberal, pretty left. We were involved. Eau Claire at that time, man, that wasn’t happening at all there. But it got better, there was a community there were hippies in Eau Claire back in the 70’s. So, that’s kinda where what turned into a down on Water Street, I met some guys who had some commonality in terms of their politics and attitude towards the community so they were friends we developed that would come out to the farm
things of that nature that went on.


CK: For frame of reference how old were you when this was going on?

KF: 21-22


CK: So what was the music scene like when you reached Eau Claire?

KF: Well there wasn’t a lot, I mean some of the guys I met up in Eau Claire at a place called SPace On Delivery, which eventually became a food coop which became Santana or Senyata. They were involved with, you know most of a lot of them, played bands. Some of the guys that are playing bands right now we’re kinda starting out. You know, kinda Slinka from Space On Delivery, he was in a band. We look at some of the pictures from some of these characters and Dave Ingadoll he was in a band back then and it was just like wow. (Laughing) You know, so we met those people at that time, but it wasn’t the music that kept me there, it was more just that we had the farm and the kids growing up and just some contact, we didn’t even have a lot in Eau Claire, that’s why I laugh a lot about going to the Cities. We barely came to Eau Claire a lot when we first moved here. We eventually ended up moving to Eau Claire, but that’s a different story because my wife’s mother, you know, is one of these Alzheimers, you gotta take care of the family, move them in, too much traveling from the farm, so we moved to Eau Claire, but that
came later. We had our whole living in the country growing up on the farm and giving the kids experiences there was part of it, they have to learn, you know, like one kid had to learn if you don’t feed the rabbit, the rabbits they die. It’s a life experience we wanted for the kids.


CK: Was there a notable Blues following in the Midwest?

KF: Well, not that I was aware of, I found out later that there had been the start of some Blues going on with Jim Solberg and he had the Stone’s Throw and there was actually a Blue’s grouping that came up but that probably wasn’t until later until the 80’s or so. There wasn’t much groups that I was aware of again because I lived on the edge, I was 21, 15 miles south of town so I would come up to work but I didn’t, most of my life was on the farm with the kids and family.


CK: Did you notice any kinds of musical organizations in the city or festivals or anything like
that in the Eau Claire area?

KF: Yeah, there was festivals, in fact Sunday we drove by, with my ladyfriend to Tyrone,
back in that era, there was the Tyrone Nuclear Power Plant that they wanted to build, which was the center of protest, and today it’s a big vacant open beautiful area some dirt roads that are kinda nice to drive around because they never did win. The people actually won, we didn’t build a nuclear power plant, but we had festivals out there every Fourth of July that was the Nuclear Power Festival and that went on for several years. There were a couple other festivals, there was the Earth festival that they had on a regular basis in Eau Claire. So there was the start of those kinda things, we had the band shell which always created places for music and there’s so many parks in Eau Claire and so many places you can have festivals that they would pop up. They weren’t like long-running things or big huge stuff like you have up in, um, Country Jam and places like that cause it was smaller local stuff.


CK: Did you involve yourself in the music here after first settling?

KF: Not really, it was later I did get involve with the Tyrone, but that was more I got drawn in because of the nuclear power plant protesting. The music was the secondary part that I got involved in and met some other people through that. But that was, you know that I probably wasn’t originally involved when I first moved here it wasn't the music at all. And it wasn't that much, these were small festivals that people would put together, there wasn't much of that. It wasn’t as ongoing as it is today. You know there were a lot of small bands back then, but there’s always been small bands in every community. A lot of the music I listened too used to be down in Eleva you know down at the bars in Eleva, that’s all Eveva was, was bars. There was probably 6 bars in a little town. And you know they had live music all the time.


CK: So what differences did you noticed between the different music scenes of a Midwestern town compared an Eastern city like in the Boston area where you lived?

KF: Well you know Boston was different I mean even back then, that was huge. The
universities had huge influences on the kinda of music that was going on. You know you got here, you come up here you got one small university that's not really, it was somewhat progress, but for the type of community we were living in, it was a cow town. And Boston you had music from from one end to the other. It was just any type of music you were interesting in, it was there. Here you had to search and I didn’t come up to Eau Claire to look for music at that point, I would come up looking for community. I got involved with the food co-op, and got involved with an old buddy (today’s an old buddy) Doug Rasmussen ran for sheriff back then, you know, things of that nature. Somewhat more political than music orientated.


CK: Where the people who helped to participate in the Tyrone power plant protests, where they people from the area that you joined up with, or did you noticed it was a lot of people who were traveling around such as yourself?

KF: No, it was folks from the area, I mean a lot of, I don’t think that anybody who lives here, who was born in Eau Claire, it almost seems like with them. No, then they were local, people who lived either in Eau Claire or came here and been here for years, you know. I just think it some of the Teskey's, and Fantel, and Jones’ they were all living around this area and that was why they were involved with it, is they didn’t want a power plant to come in to really disrupt that community, which now, in hindsight, was you know, you guys were right. We were talking about that just Sunday which is why it’s fresh in my mind, to go through that sight. And that was one of the big regular festivals that went on, that and Earth Day. And again, we had the senator that started Earth Day from Wisconsin. So Earth Day was big in Eau Claire, and Wisconsin so that became a regular, Earth day festival-- was a common thing too for music.


CK: You talk about some involvement, but the first real involvement was in 2003 with
Coalition Blues, where there previous events that you saw that you choose to model it after?

KF: Um, well just the idea of a festival, the big festivals, you know you had a stage, you had a band, you had somebody that controls the sound. Just festivals that i had grown up going too, you know I got lost in the mountains of vermont on the way to Woodstock so I couldn’t base it on Woodstock. But, I same the same idea, there were smaller festivals that we had in Wisconsin when I lived here earlier when I was in Vista, and the local community the ones that they had prior to when I first moved out here. One of the things I should have mentioned was that when the music scene, down on Water Street at The Joynt. Now, if you don’t have him as part of the talk about what happened with music in Eau Claire you are missing the guy [Bill Nolte] that should be there. Because he brought in names that you just wouldn't believe could possibly come to Eau Claire in Blues and jazz and they played in the Joynt. If you’ve been to The Joynt, you know how tiny it is, and he is bring in names today that would you know, just huge! And he did that for several years. In fact all those pictures on the wall, are all people who played at the
Joynt, there not just pictures of famous musicians. So he had a big influence in music in Eau Claire keeping it popular.

(21:03 - 22:53 : Conversation about the Joynt)

KF: We were completely different though, because I was doing it outside and he was doing it inside.


CK: For the start of the 2003 Coalition Blues, what was the hardest part of organizing a local music festival?

KF: Well first running through the riggem-a-roll of the city, which was a pain in the neck.
You know they didn’t, it’s a complaint, the city has gotten better, but they are still not the way they need to be. They are not open armed to bring in welcoming to that stuff. And it was new so I guess that’s why. We had a Pickle location, and had to go through getting the basic things, that they wanted was the insurance, and you have to have police protection, and you have to have the fire protection, they all these people who had to check all these things out. We learn how to do that, we had to get the insurance to cover it all, then we had to contact who we were gonna bring it, you know and at that point I didn’t have a lot of experience with who was who in music in Eau Claire. I didn’t feel there a real strong, now there may have been, but I wasn’t aware of a real strong music community. So we ended up finding some local people that would help us find other people. We tried to bring in a national, and a regional act. And we would run around trying to get ready and raise money, and you know I tried to raise money, and, “for what?” was the common response we would get. So I ended put a lot of that up myself, and I was in the real estate business so, I was in advertising and people would, in fact I think today I am still known in real estate, you know when I, I could probably name off a whole bunch of clients that came from music. Either musicians or the kids of musicians, or things of that nature, um and so that that was kinda of it. Now getting the tents puts together, getting everything kind of organized for that one period of time, that was gonna happen, and trying to have a number of things. You had to bring vendors in. And we’ve never done that stuff, you know myself nor Terry Stanley who worked with me, and we didn’t have anything to really base it on because the two Blues events that
occurred prior to it was Bobby O was the gentleman that ran them, they were not as organized as we wanted them to be. But we did use his contacts to find the musicians that we needed. Initially, and then it kind of grew from itself from there.


CK: Were the people that you originally founded the thing [Coalition Blues] with, were they some of the same people that you met at the Tyrone Power Plant Protest?

KF: No, it was a totally different group of people. Tyrone was a, you know that was back in the70s. Most of those people are all moved on by then and in different things, but some were still around. You know, I still run into them now and then, no this was a group of people who came out and enjoyed listening to blues music and there wasn’t any events at the time and they came out and we put together. We thought, well you know, we got a good group here let’s put together a blues society and one of our founding goals in our charter is to promote blues in the Chippewa Valley and to try to get early venues going instead of going in aiming music at 10 o'clock when you guys are all had your beer and now you’re coming into the bar, let’s move the venues up to 8 o'clock because as we got older, we wanted to go to bed by 10-11. And that’s kinda one of the
venues we had was to get them earlier, get more of them, try to encourage the bars to play, try to encourage music in the Valley, especially blues because blues was not a big recognized alley of music even though it had been in the past. And the more we discovered it, we got 15-20 blues bands in this area that play phenomenal. You’ve got Mojo Lemon, Sue Orfield, I mean there’s just bands that are really well known and carry a good regional, they wouldn’t necessarily play in Eau Claire because there was nobody who was running bands. The bars weren’t even running bands back then and they still have a problem with getting bands to play and get paid. You know they don’t actually do it because they’re fond of it, they make a living in it. But that’s what we started out with was finding those bands and people that were at the event, you’d get to be friends with them and when it started raining and we already started the Blues Society, you know
we got to know each other at our monthly meetings. And that’s kinda what Tuesday Night Bluestook off from there, but there’s a good strong group of people who run that whole operation. I started it, that’s it, I mean it’s gone on way beyond what I was taking any benefits from. I can’t pat myself on the back for it other than saying “Yeah ok, I helped start it”, and I still went around and collect money for it to help get funded because you can’t put these things together for free. And that’s the biggest problem which is your question is raising enough money to put the whole thing together.


CK: And so you talked a little bit on how it was originally received by the cities said it was kinda difficult with the city.

KF: Yeah, they weren’t easy to get anything going with the city and I don’t know why. Even today, there’s still not as, they’re better you know because they want to encourage it now but back then they were more concerned that it was gonna be a problem I think, I don’t know why. That was just the feeling that we had working with them. Part of that could have been the inexperience of both of us working with each other.


CK: So then, past the city, how was it received by community?

KF: Very very small, when we first started, we had audiences of 200-300 listening to the
blues... 400-500 today about 1500. So it’s really grown and people look forward to the event not just because of the blues, but because of the kind of sound that comes out of that bandshell and the fact that we’ve got, we’ve focused on music. It’s a non-alcoholic park, so it’s very community orientated. There’s a kid’s playground there, there’s trees, there’s benches, so I mean all ages can be covered. And it’s a Tuesday night, so it’s in the middle of the week, so it really has grown to the point now that the new plan is where we’re actually gonna do Tuesday Night After Hours that’ll be starting up this year where we’ll actually take the Tuesday Night Blues and bring it down to the Plus right now is the band who plays the location we’re looking at… and do a Jam, not an open stage, a Jam because there would be blues music and there’d be a band, musicians would be able to plug in and get up on the stage and play or play along with the other band. So it’s grown to that extent and it’s gotten larger and we are able to donate fund now to, like there’s a nice big event that goes on in Durand, it’s a three day weekend and we give them some money when we have extra and they’re doing a great community, I mean they’ve really
built something down there. I mean they have a large following every year and this is, I think, their 10th year going at it. They took over kinda where the Coalition that we had in Eau Claire went away to the big event that went to weeklies. It kinda started up right after that carrying that idea of the big event once a year, because it's still even Durand’s not that far away so it draws a lot from Eau Claire but it also draws from the Cities and all around. And we have a new one coming up this year, I just thought of that too. Just brand new, it’s in Chippewa, starting up in June, and that’s a brand new Blues festival, Northwoods Blues.


CK: Is this supported by the Chippewa Valley Blues Society?

KF: Not really, I think it’s supported by the fact that the people see that there’s a music
community here and we try to support them, I mean, you know, but we’ll promote, we’ll
advertise them and put them on our website we’ll let all our people we know in our membership know, you know, whatever we can do to help them. We’ll give them some money, but not enough to help them much. I think that society feeds on itself and the music feeds on itself, so now that we have one in Durand once a year, and we have one in Chippewa, like I said the Chippewa one is brand new. They used to be further north and they couldn’t draw the crowds and they were hoping to draw the crowds out of the Chippewa Northern state fairgrounds.


CK: So is that where it’s going to be held?

KF: Yeah, and that’s in June.


CK: So, I guess everything they kinda point to is kind of like, there’s a movement kinda
growing I guess, you said it’s starting to spread to the Plus and you’re looking at After Hours so more shows for the weekend and a couple more festivals. Would you say that there is a movement growing?

KF: Oh definitely, yes and it’s not just blues, it’s all types of music. The Volume One has
been a great help, any magazine when you get a magazine in a community that promotes music helps because people being to know “Oh, there’s things going on”, where if you didn't have that, you wouldn’t necessarily know, you’d know in your small group. And that’s still a problem because they don't do a really good job for country, you would pick up a Volume One for the last two years and tell me how much you read about country? The management, not pick on them, but the management, Nick, doesn’t like country I guess, I don’t know. There is a movement growing and obviously country is big in the area, we have big festivals already. I see that changing because the city’s talking about it, the community is talking about it, there’s all types of events that go on, you’ve got early evening, 7-8 o’clock stuff at Acoustic Cafe, the Plus, the Stone’s Throw. They all have open stages now, so it’s not just blues, it’s all types of music that go on and earlier venues because the music listeners have aged, so now you’ve got two groups: the greys, who want to get home by 10 or 11 [P.M.], you have the students who aren’t pumped up to go out until 10 or 11, so you’ve got two music groups and I think because as the bars begin to realize that, they'll understand that if they aim at that, they’ll be able to get two markets that they can feed the bar with or feed the movie theater or have it turn into a music event down there.


CK: So going forward, since you have a little bit of experience with founding these kinds of events we’ve talked about like what the hardest thing was, so for more festivals as they grow and go forward, would you do differently knowing what you know now when you originally started with Coalition Blues?

KF: No, I think I’d probably still stumble through the same stuff because what we did put
together was good. I think I’d have a better understanding of how to raise funds and how much more important that is because it’s a struggle, these events aren’t cheap. You add it up and you think “How can you spend that much money to bring in some bands”, well, for one thing, because the Blues Society has a number of people who appreciate blues and has blues players as members, we pay our bands. We don't give them $50 to show up, that doesn't even pay for the wear on their instruments. We’ll give them $300-500 on a Tuesday night, which is pretty good money. Then we’ve got the insurance, which has gotten harder and harder because you’ve got to insure yourself for EVERYTHING. We started it now which we didn’t even think of back then, putting together a book on “Well what happens if…”. Well, the “ifs” haven’t really happened, but we always figure, “Well what if somebody falls down and has a heart attack” or, you know, what do you do? We’ve got a thousand people here, we have to pre-plan, so it’s created more of
those things, but those are afters. The stuff that you start out with is how do you come up with the money to be able to afford to pay for all of the things you need to from the city and from the insurance and from the advertising because you do, even though it’s a free event, you have to advertise, otherwise nobody will show up. Those are all money and you need the community and you need the businesses in the community to support that. They’re there now, I think they see the value in supporting music that they didn't see 10-15 years ago. “What’s in it for me?” because that’s how a business runs, that’s not being selfish, that’s a business is there, “Well what do I get out of it?” Today, what you get out of it is an appreciative crowd of 1000-1500 people every week who sees your name and appreciates the fact that you helped put that event on for them. They recognize that now, where when we first started, bands were small and they were little festivals and the businesses didn’t see any value. Some of them did, some of the banks and stuff we're into being community oriented, but they just didn’t put a lot of money into it. And I think
that’s the hardest part: money. Raising the money to put on the event and there’s always people who can do the organizing and there’s always people who can do sound systems and it’s just getting them to all know each other and work together.


CK: As you guys transitioned, because of poor weather and growing attendance for Coalition Blues, from a single weekend thing to a 14 week extended series, how does that affect how one experiences the blues?

KF: Yeah, I think it becomes a community/neighborhood event rather than just a festival. We still have a weekend festival down in Durand and it’s packed and people will look forward to it, makes plans for it. It’s not a place where they’re going to go hang out and bring the kids and maybe stop at one of the food stands and make it an evening community, they’re going to go there and listen to music on a larger scale. That’s where the growth is, that’s the change, from the big to small festivals. When we first started it, there were only 200-300 people a week who’d come on a Tuesday Night. Sometimes we’d bring in a band like Blue Max would come in, Howard and Deb who have a good following and , “Hey, they might bring 300-400 people!” Well now, Howard comes in and will bring 1200 people with him, and Sue Orfield comes in a couple times, she’s got 95 bands I swear. She’s got several bands. And when she plays, she brings a big audience because people will know her and her name has grown immaculately over the years. That venue to have that venue for and have it for the community and people are
appreciative now. They know it’s there and they can plan on it.


CK: The way that I phrased that question was “Experience the Blues”, and when we talked with you, we also saw that on the website for Chippewa Valley Blues Society, you kinda play around with the capitalization of blues and experience the blues. IS there any meaning behind this?

KF: No, not really. It’s just if you’ve got capitals and smaller letters in the wrong location, it probably catches your eye. So instead of highlighting it, you can do something of that nature. That’s all we try to do is get people, and “Experience the Blues” is what we tell people. A lot of people say “Aw, I don’t like the blues,” well, PFFFT, you might like Eric Clapton but they don’t like the blues but they like Mojo, but those ALL play blues! And so they have to understand that, that is the blues. It is the undercurrent under all of the music that you listen to, even country has blues in it. I think.. Yeah, it does. Even rap has blues in it, because it’s talking about an experience, the type of rap that talks about what happens in my community, what happens in my life, and that’s what blues is talking about.


CK: For the Chippewa Valley Blues Society, the goals were rooted in cultivation,
preservation, and support for the blues. How do members of the society work towards these goals?

KF: Again, it’s a Tuesday Night Blues is our main event and promoting other events in the
sense of, you know, we’re constantly promoting and getting around to bars and encouraging them to run earlier shows. One of the things that’s neat right now is you’ve got the Live on Facebook, and there are several people, myself included, who go to an event now and we throw up a couple of those things live. Again, we’re just trying to show there’s activities going on. There’s several sites you can go to now to find out where all the music is playing, and there is more music than there are venues I swear, in Eau Claire, you’ve got many things on different weekends and it’s not just blues, I mean there’s so much music in this town live. They still haven't got to the point where they’re paying people enough, but that, I’m hopeful, will come soon because people have this attitude that we shouldn't pay for live music, which is crazy, but that’s coming to the bars where you realize where you’ve got to give them more than just a pizza and a free beer to be able to afford to come play. That’s probably the next step, once that really gets to that point, then we’ll really be in a community that supports the music that’s there and the
people there. It’s amazing the number and network that’s out there, and I only the network that’s necessarily in the blues. I don’t know much of the country network. I’m sure there’ a whole network of bars and bands that play in that field.


CK: For the bars, what would be your recommendation for them to try and raise the funds more to be able to do such earlier shows?

KF: I’m not sure, you know. I’m really not sure. We’re just kinda feeling that out. I mean, we can’t all be like how the Joynt was because he lost money doing it. He paid for it out of his pocket and bars aren’t in business to pay for it out of pocket. So they have to see that they can actually get two followings to come into their establishments of business and have it worthwhile to do that, to have more earlier that 8 o’clock and 10 o’clock band or the same band performing during those periods. They have to see there’s money to be made at it because that’s why they’re in business. And I don’t have an answer. If I had an answer I would be broadcasting it again and again.


CK: What impact do you think that having a blues music festival have on the community? Not just on the people who are there experiencing it, but on the community as a whole by offering live venues for live music?

KF: Well I think, yeah, it goes beyond just blues. I think the venues for live music give the
community an opportunity to get together and, you know, I remember… taking some
photographs of when we had the Coalition and bikers would always come in. You’d have these rough looking guys with leathers and bikes and the guy bent over, playing with this little kid. And so, it’s like, “Well wait, that’s not his image. But he’s over here playing with kids.” That’s a community, and so you get to realize that people aren’t necessarily what they appear to be, those bikers in leathers aren’t really, they’re just like you and me. Look, they even bring their kids to these events. Wait a minute, that’s not even his kid. The community gets to play together and that’s kinda where I see the events are. The big events, I’ve kinda lost some interest in. I mean, some of them are just big drunks. To me, that’s not what it’s about. The community events are different, that’s where you’re not bringing in these big names, you’re not raising tons of money, and people aren’t just there to drink beer and get drunk for a weekend. They’re there to experience the grounds and the area around them and the chit-chat. You go down on Thursday night and people are having a couple glasses of wine and they’re also sitting around, talking and listening to music and same with Tuesday Night Blues. You know, it’s probably more focused on the music because we don't have any of the alcohol, but we have food and big areas where people are playing frisbee and sitting around on benches, they got different locations they can sit because the park is so large. It’s a nice area that has trees. That creates community. That creates the ability for people to go in families and groups and interact with each other. To me, that’s why I get involved. It’s kinda, if you could leave anything in a community that you lived in, do it. And that would be my venue and I was able to do that, so I stayed with it.


CK: When you were working in organizing the events, being in the position of organizer, what effect did it have on your appreciation and enjoyment of the music? When you were in a position of responsibility as opposed to now or even before when there’s much less pressure?

KF: Yeah, it was harder at first, but I have always been fortunate enough and I think it’s our community where people will come along as volunteers to help, so it wasn’t, well I’m sure you tried to put it all together, but I wasn't the guy who was responsible for setting up the soda and the water and the pies. Somebody helped out and put that on, took that responsibility. I didn’t have to sell the T-Shirts and put up the fence, there was always somebody there who volunteered because as they learned the events were there, they wanted to help. Again, maybe it’s community, I don’t know what drawn them in, but they did. When we went to the weekly one, it’s still a drain. It’s hard for us to get enough people, but a good core that came from formation of Tuesday Night Blues and the Blues society ended up taking over what was started. They are the people that run it, I don’t. I’m yelled at half the time because I don’t get my job done, but it’s fine. I’m not into this cult of personality where, “Oh, I started it, uh, look at my big star on my chest,” because then you’d just destroy it if you had that kind of person trying to run it. So, you fade back and new people come in and it keeps growing and it becomes a part of the community.
Hopefully, those people will fade out and new people will come in and it will continue because they like the event and there’s always new people coming up, and that’s when it becomes solid in the community. The big events are different. Those are, when you go up to that Country Fest and Rock Fest and things like that, those are pretty big organizations and there’s a lot of money flowing there. I’m more involved and have more interest in the small community events that play local and play regional. We can’t afford national, we’d like to, but we can’t. Now, if our sponsors came across with more money, we would maybe bring in a national, but on a Tuesday night, you’re not gonna get much up here. Maybe somebody traveling from Chicago to Minneapolis, we might catch them on the way, but we’d have to really work at it. That’s not the goal of it. Our goal is to create good music in town that people can enjoy and add to the music community and we happen to be in the blues area.


CK: How are Blues societies and festivals unique and different from other musical

KF: They probably aren’t. I think you get some people who are more the aficionados, like you have an aficionados who likes his top end cigars, just as you have those that love their top end music. It seems like the people who I know who listen to Blues, who really get involved in listening to the music, it’s not just to have a party and have a good time. There are several Blues societies all around us, and we do communicate, there’s Wausau, there’s up north, and you get some Bull, Big Bull, you go south and there is a bunch of them. We try to coordinate so much that we talk to each other and let them know what’s happening in that area. So you get people from Eau Claire who will just go over to Wausau because they just had a nice big event over there, you know. So, we let each other know where that music is playing. So, there is communication on that level. But, I don’t know, I am assuming, I don’t know much about the country music festivals other than the big one.


CK: Pulling back for just a second, did you say you went to Woodstock?

KF: No, I never made it! I started out for there but we kinda got lost in the hills of Vermont and never made it that far. We had made an attempt though.


CK: Did you go to any other musical festivals back in that time?

KF: Yeah there were several, I mean I can’t even remember the names. There were some in Eau Claire and Wisconsin that we went to too. Down in Sun Prairie, there were several in Wisconsin during that period because they were popular. Between the time we went to Woodstock and when they started shooting people in California, there was a nice period of music then it kinda all went to hell. That’s kinda why I am not a real fan of the big music festivals. I like the smaller, more regional stuff. Their people, our community and our neighborhood rather than you draw people from everywhere they are gonna come listen to whoever plays. Those, I think turn into big, intoxication festivals. Which I guess that’s okay too, but that is not what I am into.


CK: Volume One recently coined Eau Claire, “The Music Capital of the North.” As an active member in establishing music in Eau Claire How do you feel about that title?

KF: I kinda like it and it was nice that Volume One was able to catch up with the community and claim to coin it because those things were going on. I think Nick would be the first one to admit, that stuff was there, they didn’t, they just saw it happening and tried to use the term. They have done a nice job, they have done a couple seminars that they put together and some time where people talked about it, which gets people interacting amongst themselves and realizes, “What can we do to make it better?” I think Bon Iver, Justin Vernon, that helped when he won that award. It put a spark into it, now you know we had those types of awards I think I had 19mentioned earlier that were won by that’s older. But, those are kinda forgotten today. Eau Claire has a big history and roots that go back further with people who have made it big, I think just recently on The Voice or something we had a local guy that made it up on the Voice which was surprising. And I forget the story, but I know it was at one of our meetings somebody had
mentioned that he was a local who got up into the finals. So we do have a rich history of people with good talent, why I have no idea, but I like the fact that they coin that because it gets more businesses looking at, “we are in the music city, we could promote that.” it makes it easier to raise funds, and if your event is already going, it becomes a little easier, because fundraising is the hard part of getting the operation going. If you don’t have the money, you can’t afford the bands, and if you can’t afford the bands, then you got nothing to put together, so it all starts there.


CK: How do you feel the Blues uniquely add to that title, “Music Capital of the North.”

KF: Well it’s just I think people have to recognize that the Blues are basic of music. When it comes to the influence of different levels of music, and I think no matter who you talk to-- well he is dead-- but you have Hendrix, you know you talk to Janice Joplin, I mean those people all were, and they said in their histories and biographies, that they were influenced by people who back then were hardly known and they were all Blues musicians. So, it wasn’t just the type of way in which they played their instruments, which was part of it-- because that was somewhat unique-- but also the type of music that they played and the stories they told in their music. That influenced those later musicians and it goes across all genres of music, because it was a natural formation that occurred out in the countryside. People were singing, and they all had, it wasn’t just Blues, but they all had their genera that they started from and a lot of the music we listen too today did start from Blues, or they could have been Bluegrass, that had its own start, and when you really go far enough back it kinda was the same type of music. We don’t have a lot of that stuff in soundtracks anymore unless it’s real “tinny”, but that is where it all started.


CK: By sometime next year, the $45 million Confluence Art Center will be completed which was funded by both the city as well as the community. What does it mean to have the city actively participating in, and trying to promote the Arts.

KF: Well I think it is good, I don’t know if it is gonna make any difference on our day to day festivals, but they become aware, I think they recognize more and more what these festivals do. I think just recently, you know we had the controversy in the town of Union, where the two festivals that are out there both had a problem with sound. People live around, up on Crescent, and they ended up with a stupid, well in my opinion, a poor response. I’m probably gonna catch hell from that because, a friend of mine is the one who actually headed the commission that they formed. They asked me to do it, and I said “no”, because there is no sense. You are gonna have somebody hate you on one side or the other so I decided not to do it. But she was, terry took it on, and the people who wanted it shutdown at midnight are not recognizing necessarily that the people who are living there, or participating, or going to the event, they like to party a little bit longer, it’s only once a year. People who live there say, “It happens four times a year.” So that becomes a problem, because again, it is a bigger event, and I would like to see more
communication going on, but that’s gonna be a constant, where the music, sound, and noise and the community don’t always jive. We have had problems down at Owen Park. Fortunately, our sound blasts out down to the University, so the students just sat out on their lawn and enjoyed listening to music 7-8 blocks away. But, if you are living at home and it’s 12-1 o’clock in the morning and you gotta get up for work and there is sound all around you, it can get annoying.


CK: So what do you want to see, and what do you hope to see for the Blues community in Eau Claire in the years to come?

KF: I just hope we get new leadership, that new people come in, new members. Because what happens is that if they get old, get tired, and stop, well who is to take it over? So we need to bring in existing members, get more people, we need to open up, that’s part of the organization, needing to recognize that sometimes you become closed and you need to open it up to invite more people in. And then you need to be able to be willing to take change, when people coming in they do it different then you. And just because you did it a certain way, doesn’t mean it was right. And that is a struggle, with any organization, and that is what we are going through. We will be facing that now in the next couple of years. You get to the point where, “I am getting tired of running around chasing money,” well somebody else has to do that. And we got the control of the sound, Dan is a professional, and we have other professionals that have come along behind him, the same thing will happen like with our president and vice president, there will be people who are enthusiastic enough. So, hopefully there will be a presents to carry that
forward, and that’s with any association. You have to have that.

(57:34 - 59:14 - question and answer on what Ken enjoys listening to now)


CK: So has there been anything wanted us to ask you, and wanted to talk about that we
haven’t gotten the chance to get too?

KF: No, but I would like to add though, because you guys doing this I think is really good.
The library getting involved with it, is real important, because if you wanna have a community that says, “Hey we are a music capital.” Why, Why are you a music capital? What made you the capital, where did you come from, what is your history? I mean we go back to the ballrooms, didn’t we have a guy that came in her and flew out and died the next day, Buddy Holly. So we have got that rich history that goes way back! We still have the Buddy holly show every year. We had some really good ballrooms in Eau Claire at one time, they are all gone, that had really good places where people could come and dance and play music. So those histories need to come forward, we need to get people out to remember that stuff, so they don’t look at it just saying, “It’s just a new phenomenon.” This has been going on, I mean Jim Solberg I think needs to get
recognized for that fact that when he was in music in that time with Luther Allison, who was not an Eau Claire guy, but they played music on a national level the same as Justin Vernon, probably even a larger level than Justin Vernon is, and they did that from Eau Claire. Sue Orfield, god love her, Sue is in Italy right now, she plays on the West coast, so she goes all over the place, she makes a living from playing music. She doesn’t just, “let’s get together on the weekend and bang out some sounds.” So there are some of those people in our town, we need to recognize them, and support them and help them the best we can. What you are doing i think is one step towards that, if the museum dedicates an area that says, “Hey here’s music in Eau Claire and they have voice of people who have been in music, or who have promoted music,” and they show pictures
of the history of musical growth in Eau Claire that would be a great place and it would continue the history. Because one the museum takes it on, people remember we have that history. People forget that stuff, people forget The Joynt. When you look up some of the names, you will say, “How in god’s name did these people play in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in the early ‘70’s.” These are huge names in music today. Mostly jazz and Blues is what he played, but then go in The Joynt and have a beer. It’s the same beer they were serving, it might even be out of the same tap that they had in the ‘70’s. But it’s amazing he was able to do that so those histories are real rich in our community, and that’s what I am hoping this brings on.


CK: That is all then, thank you very much Ken.

KF: It was my pleasure.

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