“…That’s a thing now.”
– Justin Vernon
Thoughts and photos from the inaugural Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival
Photos & Words by Benjamin Wick
“Eaux Claires…that’s a thing now,” said Justin Vernon as he summed up the inaugural Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival during his finale set with band Bon Iver. Along with Aaron Dessner of The National and creative director Michael Brown, Vernon put on a unique, refreshing take on the outdoor music festival. Meant to stand out from the sometimes homogenous lineups and corporate logo-ridden festival contemporaries, and purposely booked during the same weekend as Pitchfork, Vernon thanked fans, saying they had “made the right choice.”
Fest goers were greeted at the front gate with a flowing, colorful installation by Minneapolis yarn artist Hot Tea and a physical Field Journal notebook including maps, band descriptions and an introduction by author and festival narrator Michael Perry who provided a cohesive if cryptic voice for the festival from inception to culmination.
Constant collaborations, a diverse roster of artists and a selection of smaller stages and surprise shows made Eaux Claires feel less like a giant festival and more like a big party in a friends backyard. Large enough to pull big names (The National, Sufan Stevens, Spoon) but small enough that you could discover new bands and run into friends and co-workers on the grounds.
Many artists were associated with Vernon in one way or another. Either musical collaborators, (produced and recorded at Vernon’s studio on the outskirts of Eau Claire) or regionally related with midwest artists being heavily represented. Many of those artists personally thanked Vernon and Dessner and seemed genuinely happy to be there.
Despite some uncontrollable aspects – heavy rainstorms at night and blistering heat during the day, Eaux Claires was a bonafide success. Over 20,000 fans took a chance on a first time festival and came together on the banks of the Chippewa River. It definitely felt like the right choice.