Linda John Interview




Linda John is the director of Visit Eau Claire. In this Oral History, she discusses her love for music as well as Visit Eau Claire's music promotion.Linda John is the director of Visit Eau Claire. In this Oral History, she discusses her love for music as well as Visit Eau Claire's music promotion.


Interviewer Katie Cudnowski


April 10, 2017



Katie Cudnowski (KC): So we are here at Visit Eau Claire with Linda John on April 10th. We first wanted to ask you if you could tell us about your life before you came. We know you moved to Eau Claire a while ago but before that, how music was an influence in your life and how you worked with music before.

Linda John (LJ): Sure, yeah it was a really big part of my life. I started taking piano lessons in first grade and took them all the way through high school and I competed at different regional and state competitions on piano during high school. I was part of the jazz band, I think we got runner up in state. I played saxophone and soprano, alto and soprano saxophone. So, and then actually and then I was in the swing choir also. And then my first two years of college life I went to a community college that had an active music program also. It was called Iowa Lakes Community College, it was in my hometown. But we did all kinds of tours with our jazz band and swing choir, show choir. Around the state around the Midwest. And then I remember we took one big trip to Florida and played at Sea World and Disney World and all of those different places. So, it was really influential. I actually wanted to major in music and I was discouraged by my conservative parents. Well the thing is they…it was very wise of them. They wanted to know, they were both school teachers and my dad was a business teacher and my mom was an English teacher and they would say to me, “what do you want to do when you grow up”, I was like, “I don’t know what I do want to do but I know I don’t want to be a teacher”. Because I heard too many of their stories. And so when I said I wanted to major in music they were just like well what do you want to do with that if you don’t teach because teaching at that time especially was like the career path for a music major would be at that time. And they were like, “if you don’t want to be a teacher, like, your
career prospects are going to be very limited if you major in music so keep that as kind of the fun stuff” and my dad the business teacher was like, “and get a business degree”. Which is what I did.

KC: Good. So you said you had… did you have any formal music training or was it just in school?

LJ: Yeah, I had piano lessons. And then all the rest was school based music, high school and two years of college.

KC: And then what brought you to Eau Claire? Did it have anything to do with music?

LJ: No. It did not. I was married at the time and my husband had a job opportunity that was here. We were living in Minneapolis. And so, I moved with him.

KC: So, currently, what connections do you have personally with the Eau Claire music scene…not so much Visit Eau Claire?

LJ: Well, I think I mentioned this in some of the email stuff. But there are really two main areas. One is my church. We are kind of known as the singing church. And I enjoy singing but I am not really, you know, vocally trained. It’s more for me instrumental. But I am part of the music ministry at St James the Greater and I have been for a long time. And so that keeps me using my music in a fun way, it’s still like I have to practice, you know, I have to, like, be ready and be prepared. And it’s really really enjoyable to be able to support really through my piano and saxophone. Some of the great musicians that also are there and a lot of them are plugged into community choirs and theater programs and very talented people. So that’s one main way. And another is my daughter, from the day she was basically born, has had a passion for music and has done, you know, formal training vocally, self-taught guitar player, songwriter, singer. So she is plugged in the music scene that’s more like the garage bands and living room bands. And she’s working on an album right now. She, I remember from age 12 when she taught herself she had always been looking for the open mic opportunities. Every time we would take a family
vacation she’d figure out where they had open mics and she would have her guitar along. In Santa Monica, California. Wherever, she would get up on stage and sing her songs.

KC: How old is she now?


LJ: She’s 20. She’ll be 21 this summer.

KC: So around our age?

LJ: Yes.

KC: Now, Visit Eau Claire… how are they involved with the music scene? How are they connecting and promoting and all of that?

LJ: We do see music as a big part of the Eau Claire brand. And really, when you look at it, has been a musical city for a long time, but I think some of the recent attention with some of the Justin Vernon and Jess Carrie and you name them. That level of newer musicians that’s really been resonating with the millennial generation has kind of solidified the music piece of our brand. So we then try to garnish that. Garner that music, that newer music, but it goes all the way back to the music programs at the university and that history and the jazz. The great jazz program that’s here. So we have a rich music
history. It hasn’t necessarily always been front and center of our brand, and what we promote. In fact I can remember 10-15 years ago, when you talk about arts and music we kind of shied away from it because Minneapolis…

[Lights went out and we had to wave our arms around the room, 6:29-6:39]

LJ: We kind of shied away from it because it was, we thought we were too close to Minneapolis. That people would want to go to Minneapolis to get their music fix. So that’s been a shift that we’ve really seen and it’s not so much just the big Target concerts or the Xcel Energy Center. People really do like the intimate venues and the locally grown talent. Justin has done a lot to make that cool and inspire young artists I think, and I love the way he approaches the Eaux Claire Music Festival and encourages musical
collaboration amongst the artists. So, since that time the last 5 years and really in 2015 our strategic plan was the first one that definitively included music as a strategy.

KC: How do you work with musicians or the music scene in Eau Claire? [Guess you kind of touched on that already.]

LJ: There’s more. Because that’s now in our strategic plan, there’s different things that we are doing around music. One of the things is we launched, I don’t know if you are familiar with it at all, the Airstream trailer that we have. It’s called the Eau Claire stream. It literally has a side of it that drops down into a stage. So, it’s our global marketing center and we primarily take it out of market and we take the Eau Claire show on the road. So, we literally contract with local bands and musicians to come with us out into the market place. We have about a 300-mile radius that we hit. We also bring local foods and coffee and experiences on the road with us too but the music is the focal point of our marketing with that because of the stage and the opportunity that it brings. Also, last fall, September of ’16 we hosted or created the first Eau Claire Music Summit. We had, it was with the support of some others, but Visit Eau Claire was the funder of the initiative and it was held at the Oxbow/Lakely and we brought panelists in from educators, Bruce Hearing was there so we had the music educators, two managers, and the production side of things. Kyle Fernet, who is Justin Vernon’s manager, was on the
panel. We had a paid speaker who was an economist from Denton, Texas. He does a lot of work around, his name is Michael Seman, he does a lot of work around the music economy and the economic impacts of developing that in a community. He was a guest speaker for us for a convention [00:10:00] and he participated in that as well. We kind of brought an education component and created a conversation around music and also had some musical groups there too. It was well attended and then we kind of had an idea lounge format at the end of that for people to just talk and connect and from that I know there have been some other things that have, that’s what we want to do is incubate more ideas and I think one of the gaps that was identified is all ages venues and so since that time I’ve heard there’s some work being done creating those types of venues. Just one example.

KC: You promote the music scene with Visit Eau Claire, do you do any of that by yourself or with your church, etc.?

LJ: I do, but it’s more informal, like Facebook and the social media. I think there’s a lot of connections in that same crowd with sort of like other creative industries like improv and I try to get out to these shows and encourage my friends to come. It’s not just for young people. Us boomers like it too. I’m a very young boomer by the way, I am at the very tail end. I am kind of the gap between boomer and X. A lot of us are empty nesters now and looking for things to do. Where we used to fill our time with kid stuff now we can go hangout and listen to a good show and go to some good restaurants in town. Definitely connected in that way. Jazz festival, we are going to have a big activation with the Airstream there. That is still a Visit Eau Claire thing but it is a great opportunity to invite friends out and make a fun evening of 52nd Street and that kind of thing too.

KC: I know you said something about Eau Claire as an incubator for the music scene, can you elaborate on that?

LJ: I think with some successes it’s kind of like when kids see famous athletes and they think, “I want to do that too”. I think Eau Claire has provided a lot of opportunities for young people to experiment and kind of feel their way through that and through formal ways. Like the schools, I think, are doing great things around that. The theater I mentioned because a lot of opportunities. I do think the church, well at least our church, was at least. They have an angel choir there with all the young people. My daughter was in that when she was 6 to 7 so it’s for kids who are 5 to 12 basically. But I think there’s also this encouragement of originality, so the incubation part is these living room shows and garage bands and that type of thing. It allows people to express themselves creatively in a really open and non-judgmental way. I know that was what my daughter experienced. I think I compare and contrast with my experience. You didn’t go perform until it was perfect and it was somebody else’s work in it. This, the difference, is it’s more of original works and creative expression and it doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s a non-judgmental environment. I feel that vibe.

KC: I just have a couple more. I think we have kind of touched on this already, but why is collaboration so important in Eau Claire as part of the culture for music?

LJ: It’s kind of that, I don’t know if you’ve talked to Nick Myer at all, but he does a whole thing and it’s online on the Volume 1, set to this looping concept that Eau Claire has gotten really good at. Basically, somebody has an idea and puts it out there and then it’s through the support of others that they continue that idea. It’s kind of this looping of idea like ‘hey yeah go for it’ and then the continuation and refinement of that idea. I think that’s why the connection and that culture of connection is really important. I think that applies to the music scene as well. It is a lot like what I was just talking about of, ‘I’m going to try this and put myself out there’, and there is a safe place, a safe way to do that. The really good ones get that support of ‘oh you need to play here in the coffee shops are hiring folks’. When we moved downtown to the new Confluence Art Center in late 2018, [00:15:00] our visitor center will have a performance venue within the visitor center to allow for the same experimentation. It doesn’t have to be somebody that we are bringing in for $2,000 an hour or anything like that. It is more of opportunities to experiment. I think a lot of the restaurants are experimenting with open mic nights and karaoke and all of those are ways to put yourself out there to see what the response is. Maybe you’ll get the ‘stick to lighting and sound boards. Get off the microphone’. That’s the other nice thing about the music industry, it’s not just the performance piece of it. So deep on other aspects of it, production, lighting, sound, and instrumental.

KC: Where, again we already touched on this, but where do you and where does Visit Eau Claire go to in Eau Claire promote music in terms of venues?

LJ: I will get more specific on that for you. Our strategy, and it’s hard because people see this Airstream trailer, if you want I can follow up with some photos, but it’s really cool. We get requests for it to be everywhere and if we could we would, but we don’t because it’s logistically cumbersome, but also, we don’t want it to lose its purpose. Our strategy is really three things. First and foremost is to get outside of the area. Far enough that we are fulfilling our mission of promoting Eau Claire as a place to visit. Going to places like Minneapolis, Green Bay, Appleton, Beloit, and Rockford, Illinois, so far have been our places that we have gone for that. So, that is number one, is taking it out of market far enough that we will encourage visitation from people that aren’t currently here. The next strategy is to plug into events that are here that are already bringing in a lot of visitors from out of market that might not be aware of Eau Claire outside of peak festival times. We plug into things like: the Eaux Claire Festival, and Country Jam, and last year we did RockFest and CountryFest. Events that are already bringing in people
that we might consider to be our market as a way that we can connect with them. Now, it gets interesting because us having an activation at those events has to meet their goals and our goals. We were at Country Jam and Blue Ox last year, the next meeting I have at 10 o’clock is with those folks, because it met their goals. They loved it because they wanted to have this cool stage and music instead of having to renting a stage for whatever their performance was. They put us in the campground area in the kind of kid section, which turned out to be the babysitting tent. It was promoting a Winona musical
group. This is for us all about promoting Eau Claire’s talent on our stage. First of all, there should not ever be non-Eau Claire talent on that stage. This is the Eau Claire story. We are trying to bring people in that are highly likely to stay in hotels overnight. That is part of our funding mandate. We have to be spending our money doing things that are highly likely to generate overnight stays in the hotel. Being in the campsite is not our market. We have to have that conversation of if they really want this again, it has to work for us too. We have to be able to meet our goals and connect with your visitors as a market for us to talk to for other things. There’s challenges that we are working through. That’s the second thing is to plug into events that already have lots of people coming that we can tap into. The third strategy is identifying events that have the potential to become destination events. We pick about one each year and build on that. The first year was Jazz Festival because it’s not a destination event yet, I know there are people coming from the schools and everything, but as far as the 52nd St becoming a destination or where people are like ‘we want to go to that’ part of it. We have the potential but it is not there yet. We have the Airstream there to help it become [00:20:00] a cool attraction for people. The next one we plugged into was the marathon, the Eau Claire Marathon, because that has the potential to become an even greater event, destination driver for people to stay overnight. This year we are going to
add RCU’s, it used to be RCU Charity Classic, and they are rebranding their event to be Rock on the River. We’re building, we strategically plug into one event that we think has the potential to grow into a destination event, and we put all of our resources into help the Airstream to make that cooler. So, those are the three things. Going on a market, touching base with events or being part of events that are already drawing a lot of people in, and then plugging in with events to help them grow.

KC: What are key institutions that you associate with Eau Claire music, and why are these important?

LJ: UW-Eau Claire first and foremost. I think it’s got the strong roots and has produced a lot of our homegrown talent, our artists that we are so proud of, our hometown heroes; like Justin. UW-Eau Claire would be the first one. Volume 1 is the second one that comes to mind. They have done so much to create the vibe of cool and creative culture. You can stay in Eau Claire and invest your talents in Eau Claire because it is a cool place to live, work and play and all that. They’ve put the stake on cool for Eau Claire. Where before we saw a lot of people grow up in Eau Claire but got to go to Minneapolis because that’s the cool place. Now I hear young adults saying, ‘I want to stay in Eau Claire because it’s cool’. I think Volume 1 gets the top lead credit on making that shift. So, institutions, UW-Eau Claire, Volume 1, the Lismore Hotel now, and Jamf, that’s all connected. Kind of the drivers of our downtown. I think Deckie’s has done a really good job of keeping that music narrative and that alive. City Council has really embraced the culture of arts and music as an economic strategy for our community, and of course Visit Eau Claire.

KC: That’s all the questions that we have, but we just wanted to make sure and ask if there’s anything else that you felt important to share having to do with music?

LJ: Well, one thing that from a standpoint of the artist, it’s important for us to support. Where I started this conversation was my parents discouraging me from getting a music degree because of the lack of job opportunities. I think it’s important for us to look at musicians and professionals in the music industry as far as the ability to make that lucrative way of life. I think there’s a lot of musicians that have their job and then do that for fun, but are there ways for the music industry to support that as a career choice? I think there’s some gaps and challenges that we need to face as a community, and I would love for Visit Eau Claire to keep that conversation alive. There’s this really cool organization that you might want to look into. It’s in Denver, called Youthon Records. Jamie [her last name is escaping me right now. I can get it for you if you wanted to], is the director of that. Basically, what they do is they connect artists with the classroom curriculum. They have the musicians and producers and all people that are supporting the music industry or part of the music industry, come in the classroom teaching different career opportunities or even just how to run a recording studio or record an album. They are having the artists in the music industry professionals connect with the curriculum and getting paid for it. They are on stage making music but also getting paid as kind of like teachers in the classroom to teach their industry. It’s a great collaboration in Denver that I think could be a model for us in Eau Claire also. How do we identify the gaps and close them? I see this, it’s great to have a great music culture for tourism, but I think we need to look at ‘how do we support musicians and artists as wanting to live and be and stay in Eau Claire?’ [00:25:00], and not just use this as a stepping stone to communities that do support that. I see it as an economic development tool as much as a cultural thing to promote.

KC: That’s all we have. Thank you so much.

LJ: That’s all I got as well.

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