I’ve been in love with Bon Iver for years. It’s kind of at that obsessive, “fangirl,” impressive-yet-a-wee-bit-sad level. I was able to see the head of the band, and my biggest man crush, Justin Vernon, perform with Volcano Choir (one of his many other creative projects) in Broad Ripple a few years back, but was still incredibly gutted that Bon Iver had decided to disband before I got a chance to see them live.
So, when I heard that they’d be reuniting to headline at the inaugural Eaux Claires music festival – two days of music and art performances dreamed up, curated, and managed by Vernon, and hosted in his hometown – I didn’t even hesitate at the thought of dropping the money and making the trek across the Midwest for the experience.
I’ve been curious for ages now what Eau Claire, Wisconsin is like. It’s not terribly far from Fort Wayne, and I’ve heard a few people who’ve visited compare it to our own city on a smaller scale, and truthfully, it did almost feel like “home.”
We didn’t get to experience a lot of the city itself, but took a bit of time to drive around. On our way out of town, we stopped at Northwoods Brew Pub (the waitress told us Justin stops in from time to time, and showed us his favorite seat) and a little shop called The Local Store.
We also drove over to Third and Lake (referenced in Bon Iver’s “Holocene“) and fell in love with that area of town. What really drew us into the area though was the beautiful scenery. The actual festival is held “in the arms of the Chippewa River Valley” and having that as a backdrop is pretty magical.
We chose the cheapest (and probably most popular) accommodation option, Whispering Fields campground. Had the rain stayed away, this field probably would have proved as pleasant as its name suggests, but unfortunately it was a muddy, stinky mess!
We still had a great time camping and had some cool neighbors, though.We reserved one of the smaller spaces on an outer edge of the field, and it was plenty of room to park our car and pitch a tent without feeling cramped. We would have liked to have seen more direction from volunteers upon our arrival and more port-a-potties throughout the field, but those were really our only complaints.
The Festival Grounds
The festival grounds were awesome. There were three main stages – only one of them a real hike (literally, a giant hill through the woods) away.
The grounds had several port-a-potties, water stations, food and drink vendors, arts and crafts booths, and art installations throughout.
Our only complaints here were: That giant hill I mentioned? When you got to the top, there were no water stations there. You had to be sure to fill up before making the trek.
Also, as a vegetarian, it was pretty difficult to find a food vendor who 1.) offered meat-free items at all or 2.) hadn’t run out of their meat-free option early on in the day.
This should definitely be a post in itself and I’m going to try to get Jeremy to write his own review. There wasn’t a single performance I didn’t enjoy – although I decided to sit out on Melt Banana’s performance (a little too heavy for me!)
The only “regret” I have is not leaving some performances early to catch a bit of others. We missed out on Aero Flynn, Colin Stetson, and Retribution Gospel Choir, and are really hoping they’re included in the line-up next year to make up for it!
- Hiss Golden Messenger
- The Lone Bellow
- Sturgill Simpson
- Blind Boys of Alabama
- Grandma Sparrow
- The Tallest Man on Earth
- The National
- S. Carey
- Haley Bonar
- Ragnar Kjartansson’s FOREVER LOVE
- Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires
- Melt Banana
- Sylvan Esso
- Sufjan Stevens
- Bon Iver
It was such a rush the entire time we were at Eaux Claires. It actually took us a couple of days to discuss the performances at length because cramming all of that greatness into just a couple of days is a little overwhelming!
S. Carey brought students from a local university’s music program on stage to back him up and they blew the audience away. The Blind Boys of Alabama made an appearance with The Lone Bellow, Justin Vernon popped up on stage with The National and Blind Boys during their sets. The Staves took the stage with Bon Iver for the grand finale.
* If you’re curious about our personal experiences during the festival, and our festival-going tips and tricks, you can read about those here!