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Eau Claire Officials Hopeful Return Of Music Festivals Could Rebound Tourism Spending

Country Jam, Rock Fest, Blue Ox Music Festival Returning To Chippewa Valley

crowd cheers at a music festival at night
WeHoCity (CC-BY-NC-ND)

A series of major music festivals will return to the Eau Claire area next month and tourism officials are hopeful they could boost tourism spending to record levels set in 2019.

Room tax collections were cut in half last summer, according to Visit Eau Claire executive director Benny Anderson. Country Jam, Rock Fest, Country Fest and the Blue Ox Music Festival were canceled as the number of COVID-19 infections grew in spring of 2020.

The Chippewa Valley Air Show and Farm Technology Days were also canceled last year.

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Anderson said everything except the air show is back on this summer and that’s a big deal for local businesses.

“(The festivals) get a lot of people here using not only the concert and the hotels, but I mean, they go to restaurants, they buy souvenirs, they fill up their gas tank,” said Anderson.

He described 2019 tourism spending as “the top of the mountain” and said early room tax data from March and April 2021 show spending was down around 10 percent from those levels, which Anderson still said is very good.

“There is some thought that summer will hold in right with 2019’s numbers with these events coming back,” said Anderson. “There’s just this pent-up demand for people wanting to get back out and have those experiences again and do all of those things.”

Dave Minor, CEO of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, said the music festivals are important revenue generators for many local businesses, but business owners are telling him there aren’t enough people to fill vacant positions to meet demand.

“So, I would encourage people, over the summertime, be patient, be understanding,” Minor said. “If you’re in a business that may be short-staffed, they’re doing everything in their power to provide the best experience for you while you’re there.”

Minor said the worker shortage existed prior to the pandemic, but it’s especially noticeable now. He said the chamber has programs aimed at encouraging the families of temporary summer workers to relocate in Eau Claire in hopes of helping alleviate the shortage. And with remote work options increasing, Minor said the chamber is working to encourage former Eau Claire residents who now work in the Twin Cities to move back.