Eaux Claires – 08/12-08/13
The Eaux Claires Experience
By: Cari Monroe
My first thought while sitting down to write this series was “Eaux Claires. Ahhhhh”. So much happened in such a short amount of time it was difficult for me to process, let alone write about. Eaux Claires is a 2-day music festival located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and it attracts 20,000 people nation-wide. Curated by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, it is no surprise to learn most acts are good friends of his. Nearly all the artists gave a warm shout out to Justin, expressing their love for him and for the festival. While most acts could be considered Indie/Alternative, other genres were not left untouched. Rapper Vince Staples drew a large crowd, and the Japanese metal duo Senyawy could be found through the woods making a rare US appearance. On one corner you could find a slew of people rocking out to their favorite band, on another you could take a quiet hike through the woods to see countless nature-inspired art instillations. This festival truly had it all, and a friend of mine had described herself as a “different person” on our drive home. Where else would you have to essentially perform a scavenger hunt to see S. Carey perform a very intimate secret show on a small handmade wooden stage in the middle of the woods? “That is quite possibly the strangest things I’ve ever heard”, said a friend when I explained to her what the band was doing, but as I was sitting in the woodchips 5 feet away from S. Carey, I understood the thought behind the mystery and why this will always be the festival I’ll be attending every year. Nowhere else could you find that excitement mixed with pure serenity and joy, and the only thing that made me leave the grounds on Sunday morning was knowing that it would be there next year, bigger and better than ever before.
The Staves & Y-Music
This was my first time seeing the Staves live, and my mouth immediately fell open hearing their heavenly harmonies. They opened with an a capella version of “Hopeless” and the crowd, myself included, was mesmerized. The set was composed of a blend of orchestral contemporary music and the Staves three part flowing vocal harmonies.
Vernon asked them to put together all new music—some were pieces Y-Music had never released and the Staves jokingly mentioned they “wrote over” – with a laugh from the crowd—and others were Staves music that the brilliant Y-Music composed instrumental music for. Either way, this music “didn’t exist 10 days ago”. If that pure musical talent doesn’t awe you I don’t know what will.
Photo Credit: Holly Dockendorf
The only expectation I had going into James Blake’s set was that it was going to be great. I knew most of “The Colour in Anything”, but had no idea how Blake performed live, or even what he really looked like. Let me tell you, while there’s no running around or crazy stage shenanigans, Blake combines his pure musical talent with high-energy buildups to create an experience that is like nothing else (although it did help that it was raining the entire set; sounds like an inconvenience, but trust me, it made everything much more real and awe-inspiring).
Every song was produced live on stage with him, a guitarist, and a drummer. Their cool demeanor and black skinny boy-band jeans were expected from an indie group like this, but the minimalistic band didn’t take away from the entertainment level and energy that was created during the set. Right before the last song, Blake sent away his band and played “Measurements” on his own. If you’ve ever seen Ed Sheeran live, you understand someone using the full capabilities of a loop petal, but never have I seen someone create as many loops as Blake did during this song. I honestly lost track, but there were at least 10 layers if not more. The first five layers were solely his voice, which is even more incredible. I have no idea how he kept the same beat and rests for that many loops without some sort of instrumental background, but it was breathtaking. After he finished creating the song, he stopped, sat for a minute, stood, bowed, and walked off the stage. All while the song was still playing. There was a long pause from the crowd, partly because we were still listening to the song and staring at an empty stage, partly because we were all in awe, but also because we didn’t really know what to do. Once everyone realized he was actually done, he got the cheers and applause he deserved.
My one complaint from the entire weekend is that my good ole friend Jimmy did not play I Need a Forest Fire with Bon Iver (if you have not heard it yet, PLEASE, I beg you, give it a listen). I had been looking forward to hearing that song live essentially ever since it came out, and so for them to not play it together crushed all my hopes and dreams. If anyone knows why this magical live collaboration did not happen please enlighten me.
Overall, listening to James Blake make magic on stage as I was standing in the front row watching the rain pour down through the stage lights was easily my favorite moment of the festival. Surrounded by old friends and new friends, all collectively drenched yet still not wanting to be anywhere else, this experience will be one I won’t ever be able to recreate.
Photo Credit: Holly Dockendorf
Vince Staples was by far my favorite surprise of the weekend. It was just by coincidence (a beer coincidence, actually) that we were by his stage as his set began.
Staples is one of those artists where you don’t need to know any of his songs or any of the words to jam out. His energy running around stage was infectious, and his banter with his DJ was highly entertaining. “Sorry for cursing and moving rapidly on this stage, I understand this is not that type of festival”, he mentioned at one point. He was not exactly wrong, but his extremely fun set was exactly the re-energizer everyone needed after several slower, more emotional performances.
Photo Credit: Holly Dockendorf
This was the set everyone worldwide was waiting for. I was still reeling from front row rain filled James Blake set, and only had a meager ten minutes to prepare my mind, body, and soul for a life changing Bon Iver set.
As soon as he started playing, my mouth dropped open (are you sensing a trend?). I’ll have to wait until September 30th when the album comes out to give you my full musical opinion of the new music, but for now, I will say “22, A Million” still has the trademark Bon Iver sound, but with a new and interesting vibe.
Some songs are so full of instrumentals it’s difficult to distinguish everything, but together help to create a very full, well-rounded sound that build up so huge it shakes you to your core. There are also others that are so raw and emotional it’s hard not to get knocked with all the feelings.
The production of the set was incredible, with the banners and the lights and the people; there were 8 saxophone players on stage for a majority of the set, along with an appearance from the Staves and Bruce Hornsby. So much happened during his set that I barely remember the specifics; all I remember was a feeling of comfort and community and love.
One of my favorite quotes is, “people don’t remember what you said, they remember how you made them feel”, and that’s a great summarizer for this Bon Iver performance.
Francis and the Lights
Francis’ set was intensely entertaining; it seemed like he never stopped prancing around stage in a way that looked like half dancing and half being possessed by something not of this earth. Most of the songs sounded pretty much the same to me, but it’s hard to say whether that’s because it was my first time hearing everything or because he really does lack musical variety.
But we can get into what you really want to hear about. Surprise guest. Chance the Rapper. Francis and the Lights. Together. Summer Friends. It really was as magical and mind blowing as it sounds. I’m not even going to try and describe it for you; just know it was an experience beyond words.
BUT WAIT. It gets better. Once Summer Friends was over, the man, the myth, the legend Justin Vernon sauntered on stage to perform Friends with Francis, and the best part was Chance never left the stage. He had no part in the song whatsoever, but no one cared. He was just hanging out with his buds, while the entire time walking around performing the dance from the Friends music video. You could just tell everyone on stage was having a blast performing with each other, and that energy was infectious. I wouldn’t have wanted the festival to end any other way, and I don’t know if you’d find anyone who would disagree with me.
Video by: Holly Dockendorf