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Remembering WXPR Radio Host Jeff Eaton

Crossroads Cafe and Blues Friday Host Jeff Eaton "Reverend Jeff"
Crossroads Cafe and Blues Friday Host Jeff Eaton "Reverend Jeff"

Jeff Eaton (Reverend Jeff), host of WXPR’s Crossroads Café and Blues Friday, died suddenly at his home in Rhinelander on Thursday, November 9th.

Jeff, a self-professed music junkie and semi-retired entertainment journalist, said the role of WXPR music host was “a dream avocation”.

Jeff’s broad taste in music could be heard on his programs. From folk, country and blues to soul, funk and jazz to alt. rock, electronica, and dream pop; he delighted and surprised listeners with his skillfully curated playlists that launched listeners into a three-hour musical expedition.

Jeff Eaton with Traci Stinebrink
Jeff Eaton with Traci Stinebrink

“Jeff was a storyteller and a poet and that was echoed in his music programming. He was a champion of live music and enjoyed a good performance. Most of all Jeff was a good human and a wonderful friend. He will be terribly missed.” Jessie Dick, WXPR General Manager.

“Hard to fit him into one music category,” said WXPR Blues Host and Board Member Jeff Burke. “The Rev. epitomized what the station is all about—enthusiastic, outgoing, knowledgeable, full-time supporter of local, regional and world music talent, hard-core volunteer and tech nerd. If there was a picture of what a WXPR thoroughly committed volunteer would look like—refer to his photo image. At a personal level, our mutual respect for one another melded well when we were on air together but I never missed the fact that his musical acumen extended well beyond the blues.”

Jeff with Musician Mae Simpson at Nicolet College
Jeff with Musician Mae Simpson at Nicolet College

As a supporter of the local music and art scene, Jeff was a regular at ArtStart and WXPR’s In Progress open mic night. In Progress organizer Nate Sheppard said, “Jeff was an integral (if not synonymous) part of In Progress. It was where I first met him and I could always count on his presence each month, even if he wasn’t contributing art himself. He was always there to give encouragement and support to any of the artists that came to present something. And he was often the last one to leave, chatting with me afterwards about some obscure band he liked, a new guitar pedal he’d bought, or a humorous and poignant story about his late wife, Mary.”

Sheppard recalls, “When he did bring something to share at the event, it was always truly unique. Whether he was performing an original and witty blues-style song on his guitar, showing us his latest haiku video, reading some of his or Mary’s poetry, or exploring the esoteric reaches of his vast collection of effects pedals, he never failed to keep us thoughtful and entertained. It is an understatement to say that In Progress won’t be the same without Jeff. He was such a vital part of our little community of budding artists and was one of the biggest champions of artists both locally and regionally. His satirical wit and loving presence will truly be missed.”

WXPR host Susan Spangenberg remembers Jeff as “the guy who played wildly eclectic stuff even for an indie station. A single set could take you from worldbeat to wire without feeling whipsawed. When I became a host, he was the guy who confirmed that I'd found my people. A man of relentless, contagious curiosity, omnivorous artistic taste, seemingly bottomless experiences, and impish humor, Jeff bound all that together with generosity and warmth."

Spangenberg adds, "The Northwoods has been blessed by his presence, and the palette is a little greyer, the music a bit flatter without it.”

A Celebration of Life and Art for Jeff Eaton will be held Sunday, November 19th from 1PM-4PM at ArtStart in Rhinelander.

Credit Amanda Anderson Creative

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