Eau Claire has many trademarks, from its rivers to its bridges to the university. There are countless things the humble Midwestern city can boast about. One of the facets of the Eau Claire community that really stands out is the community’s involvement in music. From UW-Eau Claire graduate Justin Vernon, the frontman for the Grammy-winning group Bon Iver, to the outstanding music program at UW-Eau Claire and the many festivals held in the region every year, music has left an indelible mark on the community.
Blugold Trace Richolson, a senior photography student from Janesville, knows all about the love affair Eau Claire has with music. Trace holds a key leadership role as a creative assistant in the production of the upcoming Eaux Claires music and arts festival that will be held Aug. 11-13. This year, Richolson and the whole production crew are excited about the event that will bring together the community, artists and an eclectic group of musicians.
“The Eaux Claires festival is not like other music festivals,” Richolson said. “We try to focus on building a family through art and music, rather than putting all of the focus on the headliners. We don’t want to just present art to the audience — we want them to interact with it as well. This festival is about the people who attend and we want people to feel like part of a larger community.”
In this, the festival’s second year, things will be bigger and better. The festival will feature more than three dozen musical groups and artists along with more art installations than ever before. The amount of art featured at the festival this year has tripled compared to last year’s maiden voyage, with 26 art installations on the grounds.
Another unique piece of this festival is the focus on Wisconsin’s heritage.
“This year there will be a Native American drum group and a Native American film series featured at the festival,” Richolson said. “We are excited about these pieces of the festival because they specifically highlight Wisconsin and our history as a state. People can connect with these things and they are eager to learn more about the state they call home. People coming from farther distances are also able to get a unique view of our state.”
Aside from being a place where community members can get involved with and enjoy the arts and music, the Eaux Claires festival also provides a great platform for students to gain valuable experience. Richolson has seen the effects of student involvement firsthand, and his involvement has not only helped him grow as a student, but also as a person.
“This opportunity to work at the Eaux Claires festival as a student has helped me develop my management and multi-tasking abilities in a real-world context,” said Richolson. “I manage a team of interns while also coordinating things like credentials, machinery and power needs, lodging and a wide variety of special requests for 26 different artists.”
Richolson landed a unique leadership position at the festival, but student involvement is not uncommon throughout the production of Eaux Claires. The festival is one of the only large-scale music festivals of its kind that heavily relies on student production teams to run the event. The Event Production Crew from UW-Eau Claire was a large contributor in terms of production and setup needs at last year’s festival, and the EPC will play a similar role again this year. Many of the students on the Eaux Claires crew are from UW-Eau Claire, but additional students from surrounding UW System schools have been included on the team for the past two years.
Jason Jon Anderson, assistant director of conferences and event production at UW-Eau Claire, said Richolson has set a great example for student involvement.
"I think Trace is one of the most humble students you’re ever going to encounter, one who oozes talent. And I expect he will change the face of event production and rock 'n' roll production — he just doesn’t know it yet. He shouldn’t be told that, but he will," Anderson said.
Richolson is quick to point to his fellow students when credit is being handed out.
“The vital involvement of the EPC — as well as the additional UW system students — throughout the festival really highlights the purpose of the event,” Richolson said. “We want people to get involved and actually be a part of the festival.”
To allow for a well-run event, the Eaux Claires festival depends on an army of volunteers. Without so many community members willing to donate their time, talent and energy, the event would not be possible.
If you are lucky enough to take in the unique mix of music and art that is Eaux Claires, you can thank the "little people" behind the scenes who make a big difference. Trace Richolson's name probably won't be on the event program, but his hard work will be on display when the stars take the stage.
Photo caption: Blugold Trace Richolson holds a key leadership role as a creative assistant in the production of the 2016 Eaux Claires music and arts festival.