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Great Summer Road Trips
Indie Music Mecca

Eau Claire, WI

Drive time: 4.75 hours

Nestled in the forests of western Wisconsin is an audio artist’s paradise, anchored by homegrown indie acts such as Bon Iver, S. Carey, and Field Report. Eau Claire—yes, Eau Claire—is home to a rising music scene, thanks to a constant influx of new talent from the local University of Wisconsin satellite (and its top-notch music program) and an industrious base of performers who broke big and never left. (When’s the last time Justin Vernon played a free concert at your neighborhood park?)

Published May 19, 2016

Justin Vernon  Photo: Marisa Wojcik/The Eau Claire Leader-Telegram via AP

There’s no better time to visit than summer, when you can see live music outside almost any day of the week. Tuesday Night Blues at the historic band shell in Owen Park features acts such as legendary Minnesota bluesman Charlie Parr.

The surprisingly artful Eau Claire Municipal Band takes over the park on Wednesdays with a mix of classics and new arrangements.

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On Thursday nights, crowds gather by the river for the concert series Sounds Like Summer. Local indie musicians on the rise, such as the harmony-rich Idle Empress (July 14), play to an audience of more than 1,000.

And on any given weekend, venues such as the House of Rock and the Mousetrap Tavern showcase everything from funk to jazz to hardcore.

Then there are the festivals—oh, the festivals—which draw tens of thousands to the Northwoods to drink Leinenkugel’s (brewed just 12 miles away) and rock out. Plan your trip around one of these five events:

Blue Ox
Blue Ox Photo: Dorothy St. Claire

Blue Ox

June 9 to 11

Vibe: Woodsy Americana
Big acts: Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, Blitzen Trapper

Country Fest

June 16 to 19

Vibe: CMA stars go glamping (free hot showers!)
Big acts: Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley

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Rock Fest

July 14 to 16

Vibe: Country Fest’s guitar-shredding evil twin
Big acts: Marilyn Manson, Alice in Chains, Hollywood Vampires (a.k.a. Johnny Depp, Alice Cooper, and Joe Perry)

Country Jam

July 21 to 23

Vibe: Outdoor festival for people who don’t like outdoor festivals (you can rent a private portable toilet)
Big acts: Florida Georgia Line, Jake Owen, Eli Young Band

A crowd of concertgoers
Photo: ©MIKEDISKIN

Eaux Claires

August 12 to 13

Vibe: Bonnaroo minus the mud
Big acts: Bon Iver, James Blake, Jenny Lewis

Bon Iver drummer S. Carey’s favorite local band? The Gentle Guest. “They’ve got this sweaty-drunken-sailor folk-rock thing, plus the lead singer makes deliciously strange beer at a new microbrewery, Brewing Projekt.”

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