It might be over soon were the first lyrics amplified through the speakers during Bon Iver’s set at Eaux Claires, and they were likely thoughts held in many minds throughout the two-day festival. Everything set to happen would happen within those two days, and from there we would return to our regularly scheduled programs, also known as everyday life.
Thousands converged at the festival grounds like the confluence of the Chippewa River that served as the festival’s backdrop. Whether it was the music, writers, creations, or even drunk camping (what I like to call dramping) that made you buy a ticket, the festival curators handed the festival over to us to create whatever experience we wanted to. For those two days, time was suspended and the outside world did not exist.
Eaux Claires is the brainchild of Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (The National). After a successful inaugural festival in 2015 the two planned for another the following year, and it packed a punch. Artists of all genres and levels of fame performed across five stages. Whether you are into electronic folk, experimental hip-hop, dream pop, avant garde drumming, baroque, music your dad probably likes, there was something there for you.
The set design was ethereal and a stark contrast to the typical music festival. Art instillations were a huge focal point of the festival. The two major fields were split by a one-third mile trek through the woods given over to uncover and explore. Tree leaves with eloquent sentences hung from branches, tiny structures of leaves, brambles, and flora that looked like they could only have been built by tiny forest elves and sprites were scattered throughout the entire wooded area. At night the woods glowed and leaves danced due to lights lining the pathway and placed deep into the trees. It was enchanting to walk through the woods each day, and it made the steep climb up the hill very worth it. I applaud the creative director of the festival and his team for their work in making each small detail just as magical as those performing on stage.
The festival narrator, author Michael Perry, had encouraging words regarding our time spent there:, “From the moment of inception this festival has been built on the idea that we will and we must trust the audience. That if we bring together a kaleidoscope and a cacophony you will make your own Alice in Wonderland dive into the center of it, and you will find your sound, your vision, your festival.”t
tHe (NeW) ALbUm
Only recently did the world learn Bon Iver was going to be debuting new music at Eaux Claires, but to what extent no one really knew.
This set was a series of those moments that you have to tell yourself: “Don’t forget this,” over and over again. We got to hear Bon Iver’s first new album in five years performed live for the very first time. From someone who spent days with “Bon Iver,” “For Emma,” “Forever Ago,” and “Blood Bank” on repeat in high school, I could not believe it. I was dizzy from joy, and that feeling will be imprinted onto this album for the rest of my life. So thank you, Bon Iver.
Michael Perry introduced the set with a piece he wrote, and he spoke as if he was reciting a religious service’s benediction, a voice of conviction demanding our attention. Without explicitly saying it, Perry let us know that this was historic.The moment the lights went low, with only the stage aglow, voices stopped. Everyone waited with baited breath for what was to come.
“It might be over soon, soon, soon. Where you gonna look for confirmation? And if it’s ever gonna happen. So as I’m standing at the station. It might be over soon.”
Unknown to us, it would be over soon, but it was pure magic and electricity. Vernon felt it too when he told the crowd, “I just want to say thank you to everyone who’s in this fucking place.” He looked more and more relieved and free as the set went on. Album drops are getting more and more creative, but a live premiere may just be the gutsiest.
The encore consisted of all new renditions of “Beach Baby,” “Minnesota, WI,” “Creature Fear,” and “Beth/Rest.” The four-song encore was perfect ending to the set without deterring from the new music, because they were new too, just newer versions of old songs. The encore featured appearances from The Staves and Bruce Hornsby. The entire set was just sixty minutes of straight goosebumps.
I Hope My Life (is an endless James Blake Set) – 1-800 Mix
If there is one absolute truth in this universe, it is that you have not fully listened to James Blake until you listen to him live in the pouring rain. I will not allow anyone to argue this with me. Even in the wide open field, his music bounced off of you and everything around you. It filled every corner, gap, and nook at Foster Farms. Every note pierced you one hundred times before the next note came. To me, “Limit to Your Love” and “Life Round Here” tied for set highlight because they both feature such strong bass so experiencing it live was more of a feeling sensation than a hearing one. They shook your bones.
Every time I think about James Blake I cannot comprehend him. He is a mystery and even after this set, I’m still debunked and confuddled, but absolutely mesmerized and in awe of him. His set was so powerful that everyone around me looked like they were just in the middle of an earthquake-tornado combo at the end of each song.
Vince Staples brought the energy midday Friday. The rain started to fall during his set but that didn’t stop him from shining bright in the festival lineup. Staples definitely attracted the younger crowd of the festival, and it could have been mistaken for the neighboring Wisconsin festival Summer Set. His stage presence along with the visuals on the screen behind him created an atmosphere that made you forget you were at a pretty laid back festival. He had all the ponchos bouncing, dancing, and vibing. The highlight from his set was “Jump off the Roof”. Vince’s performance and the visuals with the song made it easy to get lost in the hype and excitement.
Francis and the Lights… and Chance and Justin
Francis and the Lights closed out the two-day festival, but he ended it with an exclamation point. Francis followed the trend of premiering new music and debuted a new record it was infectious. His happiness illuminated the crowd and the light setup for the stage only helped.
Francis is known for energetic dance moves, and they were out full force to close Eaux Claires. There was no way to be upset about missing out on performances of old favorites since he did such an incredible job at making you feel like you already knew the new songs for years.
All weekend there were hushed talks of Chance the Rapper possibly making an appearance during Francis’ set because of the two’s collab, and fans were not let down. I was elated to see Chance and the entirety of the Social Experiment dancing along side-stage during Francis’ set.
Chance and the SoX came out for an encore performance of “Summer Friends” with Francis, but the surprises didn’t end there. The original version of “Summer Friends” is Francis’ song called “Friends” and it features Bon Iver and a wicked dance routine, and everyone’s last festival wish was fulfilled when Justin Vernon walked onstage for a performance of it. While Vernon sang, Chance and Francis did the dance which Vernon joined in on towards the end. Everyone on stage showed love and appreciation for one another and the audience. This set was the perfect closing to a festival filled with so much magic.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra is Immortally Groovy
The best sets are the ones where it is clear that the artist/band is having a good time, and UMO exemplified this. The quartet were smiling and jamming as the sunlight glowed. Nothing but good vibes were flowing like electricity through the crowd and it was my favorite part of the entire set. The set hit its apex when they performed their laid back groove, “So Good at Being in Trouble” and the feeling was bliss. A crowd of people directly behind my right shoulder were dancing their lives away and it carried through the crowd until we were all dancing and swaying as if it was as necessary as breathing. Their performance of the song has changed the way I will listen to it forever.
Beach House needs to play Beach Stadiums
Beach House filled the Dells stage and tent with their effervescent dream-pop, and rather than being a set that allowed people chill and start to unwind from the night, they brought the house down. They filled the space with their sound, and I didn’t know Beach House could be so powerful.
Victoria Legrand’s headbanging to “Wishes” best describes this set. It was a climactic and strategic build that surprised many, and by the end the sound was so immense and filling that you had to bang along with it. If there is an official list of bands that you need to see live, Beach House is on it.
These three acts were all special in their own right, but they were ones I found myself having to leave early in order to make it to another set.
Erykah Badu brought the glam to Eaux Claires, and she was definitely worth the wait. From the moment she walked on stage she was in command of the audience and had us eating out of her palms.
Lucius is a solid festival act. They brought energy and the best way I can describe it would be the words of the man next to me who couldn’t help but utter this phrase after every song: “God damn.” This man was also dabbing, whipping, and naenaeing his entire way through this set. The highlight from their set was “Go Home”—the duo’s harmonies were flawless and ground shaking.
The Staves and yMusic did a collaborative set early in the afternoon on Friday and set the bar high for acts to follow. The Staves’ harmonies made me reminiscent of the old Dixie Chicks I heard when I was younger, but the combination with the classical group, yMusic, made it something else, something mystical. Their set made me think of oral traditions- used to pass history and culture throughout time, and I would gladly commission The Staves to preserve my family history through song. This was the perfect set where you could just lie in the grass, close your eyes, and just listen.