I’ve been a fan — and a friend — of Jim Schmidt since long before he became chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
I’d like to say I converted him into a jazz fan, but after his first Jazz I concert with our wives, he was hooked.
Proud of the music? Absolutely. Robert Baca’s top ensemble at UW-Eau Claire has now won eight Downbeat Magazine awards as the best college big band in America. (A father’s disclosure: Our son was a member of No. 6.)
But Jim could also see the possibilities of what music and culture mean — not just for the campus, but for the Chippewa Valley.
Chancellor Schmidt, Mike Rindo, Kimera Way and their team have done a wonderful job of leading efforts to develop the Confluence Center downtown — soon to be a new anchor for arts, entertainment and downtown living in Eau Claire.
You can feel the beat on campus and on 52nd Street during Jazz Fest — a huge event that has been entertaining for more than half a century.
You can see the crowds at the big music festivals in the valley, the intimate performing-arts centers in Chippewa Falls and Menomonie, vibrant fairgrounds in Chippewa and at various arts centers.
It’s a vibe you just don’t feel in a lot of communities around the Upper Midwest.
Frankly, it’s what sets us apart in the Chippewa Valley.
We’ve got the beat.
It improves the quality of life.
But it also means business and tourism for our valley.
During Jazz Fest this spring, I told the chancellor that his campus was crawling with high school music nerds (I can say that as a music nerd and as a parent of a much, much more talented music nerd).
You sit in the gorgeous new Davies Center and listen with a smile, because these kids can flat-out play.
Imagine what that does for recruiting to campus.
Imagine what that music weekend of Jazz Fest means to the hotels and restaurants and businesses in our region.
Now, imagine the impact every weekend that there’s a fair, a festival, a concert or theater.
And, if you haven’t caught on, that’s just about every weekend during the year — often multiple events.
Whether it’s a casual concert in Phoenix Park or a sold-out performance in a concert hall, music and other cultural events have become the melody of the Chippewa Valley.
This edition of the Chippewa Valley Business Report is dedicated to the arts and what they mean to all of us.
Clearly, the music and the arts really have our valley humming.