Art, coffee, beer and concerts

(First published in the June 13, 2019 issue of City Pages)

The newly opened Whitewater Music Hall isn’t just about concerts. When the music isn’t playing, it’s open for coffee, tap beers and a fabulous view


Kelly Ballard (left) and Leslie Patterson (right) opened Whitewater Music Hall on May 29. It’s open Tues.-Sun. starting at 10 am and through the evening for coffee and beer and hanging out.

Both Kelly Ballard and Leslie Patterson had raspy, nearly lost voices as they spoke about the first days of Whitewater Music Hall being open. They’ve been talking a lot over the past two weeks, describing their business to patrons, answering questions, serving drinks and meeting a bunch of new people.

     “I’ve been so excited with the energy” Leslie Patterson says. Her sister Kelly Ballard and Kelly’s husband Brad Ballard officially opened Whitewater Music Hall on May 29 in the former Masonic Lodge building. Across the street from Wausau Center mall, the lodge for years sat mostly empty and unnoticed. Now the large downtown space is filled with coffee, tap beers and, starting next week, live music.

     For years, the trio has been developing a business strategy for a music venue in Wausau. “It’s been a grand adventure in figuring things out” Kelly says.

     Crews began working in January to renovate the space. The most dramatic change: huge new windows with stunning views of Rib Mountain. The bar cut is made of wood from an old tree in Kelly’s backyard. There’s  art (created by local artists) everywhere, even in the stairway leading up to the space from the ground level entrance on River Drive. The well-designed interior creates a bright and lively atmosphere for the bar and coffee shop. Even the Masons have been coming in, impressed by the changes and appreciating all the natural light now cascading into the huge space.

     Whitewater Music Hall kicks off its debut concert Saturday, June 22, with two acclaimed bluegrass/Americana bands from the Minneapolis area, The High 48s and The Steam Machine. The music takes place in the old Mason ceremonial room. Kelly said she looked at it and knew “music has to be held here.”

     Whitewater will offer large, ticketed shows once a week and they hope to attract regional and national touring groups. Booking bands was difficult at first, as the owners were unsure of their exact opening date. But they’ve had luck booking artists passing through between Minneapolis and Chicago.

     They originally planned to host mostly Americana and bluegrass bands, but now want to bring in all genres. Eventually, they would like to feature local musicians, host regular open mics or jam sessions and have smaller acts in the coffee and bar hall. All shows will be ages 21+ for the time being.

     When live music isn’t on stage, the coffee shop and bar is open to all ages. It’s even becoming a gathering place for many community groups. Out of the Woods Theatre has been rehearsing there, the art program RiseUp has been working on their mural, and local kayakers have been hanging out, sad they don’t have any competitions this year because of the Wisconsin River drawdown.

     Whitewater Music Hall serves coffee and tap beers all day, and aims to be a place in town for late night coffee drinkers. Brewing their own beer and having a permanent, reliable food truck on site are also in the works. Patrons are welcome to bring their own food to enjoy with their coffee or beer. Whitewater Music Hall is open Tues.-Thurs. 10 am-10 pm; Fri.-Sat. 10 am-midnight; Sun. 10 am-8 pm. Check them out on Facebook.