It’s obvious that fans have already embraced the concept of Justin Vernon’s new Eaux Claires Festival, coming to Eau Claire, Wis., on July 17 and 18, 2015. The festival, which Vernon is curating along with help from the National’s Aaron Dessner, quickly sold out of presale tickets before a single performer was revealed, and a unique rollout of three-quarters of the lineup via personalized letters to ticket buyers only intensified the future attendees’ adoration for and commitment to the burgeoning fest.
So today’s reveal of the complete lineup almost feels like an afterthought — not to mention a no-brainer. But oh, what a lineup it is: Justin Vernon’s own Bon Iver will headline the festival alongside the National and Spoon, and a list of nearly 40 additional acts includes gospel icons the Blind Boys of Alabama; Japanese punk rockers Melt-Banana; buzzy newcomers like Eau Claire natives Aero Flynn and internet sensation Spooky Black; Minnesota heavyweights like Doomtree, Low, and Poliça; and Vernon’s idols, the Indigo Girls.
Vernon, Dessner, and celebrated Wisconsin author Michael Perry joined Steve Seel on The Morning Show today to discuss the lineup and their plans for the big festival. Find the full rundown of performers below, and more info about the Eaux Claires Festival on our events calendar.
Steve Seel: Justin, could you sum up for us why you wanted to stage this particular music festival, and what kind of festival you envisioned when you dreamed of putting this together?
Justin Vernon: Well, I think that many festivals — you go to a lot of them, as a musician, if you play, and there’s a sameness. We just wanted to do something different. I’ve been talking to Aaron for a number of years now, and we hooked up with this production company [Crash Line Productions] who were all very down to help us with our creative ideas. And we just saw an opportunity to do something in our town, which is kind of a mid-level Midwestern town, and do something that had the quality of something that nowhere else in the world had. To kind of break down the barriers of what normalcy is in that scenario, at a quote-unquote music festival or arts festival. We really just want ours to be special; we want it to sound the best, we want it to look interesting, to be a special experience for everyone. And I don’t think we’ve failed. I think we’ve done a really good job, and we’re all really excited.
Seel: Why is it spelled the way it is?
Vernon: There’s a guy named Michael Brown who works with Aaron in the National and also with me in Bon Iver, who’s the creative director of the festival; he does the lighting and the production. And one night around the campfire, we were trying to figure out what to name this thing, and he actually explained this old French spelling, Eaux Claires. And to me, it works along with people not understanding how to say Bon Iver. It’s a bastardized French situation. But to me it says that Eau Claire is a place. It’s a real place, but it’s also this place within a place, and we’re going to try to make our own little village, our own little town, our own community for one weekend this summer.
Seel: Aaron, talk about your relationship with Justin, and what you were looking forward to in putting together the lineup for this.
Aaron Dessner: I think our relationship goes back to 2008, 2009, when my brother Bryce and I were making Dark was the Night, this big charity compilation that benefitted AIDS and HIV charities. And Justin and I wrote a song by email called Big Red Machine, and I hadn’t met him — we actually wrote a song together before we ever met. And we actually met during rehearsals for the Radio City Music Hall big Dark was the Night concert. In that concert, there were probably eight or nine different artists, and Justin played with more than half of them. And it was a very community-oriented experience — and to me that’s what music festivals are all about, supporting community and building community. And the idea started kicking around about doing something here, and then I came to visit, and have since been to visit many times in Eau Claire. And I think we just always, you know, that idea — especially seeing how important community is here, and to Justin, and musically, the community of musicians that surround him, it just made a lot of sense to create a vehicle for that and to be able to celebrate that and expand on it.
Seel: You have brought along someone else as a creative partner, which is how you’ve described Michael Perry, the best-selling author. Talk about what his role is in all of this.
Vernon: Mike has been a key mentor to me, as a person, throughout time, but he’s also our state’s best-known author, and most important author. He explains what Wisconsin is to me better than I can explain it to myself, through his books. And it just so happens, randomly, that he’s my neighbor. So I just wanted to put him in the front of this thing, and have him be the host or the narrator or the voice of the festival. And hopefully we’ll be doing the festival for many years, and his role will change. But we just needed him to be here in these talks, because Mike’s always been able to understand us here in Wisconsin on all sides of every coin, how we are to each other and what it means.
Michael Perry: I think the role evolves with each day. I’m a flat-footed farm kid who grew up milking cows in rural Wisconsin. But late in my life, art transformed my life, and yet I remain very much a rural guy living in rural Wisconsin. Just this morning, before I came in to do this interview, I fed my chickens — not out of a sense of art, but because you’ve got to feed the chickens. And I’m still active — I’ve been a volunteer firefighter, I’m still active with the local emergency rescue here. I spend my life hanging out with blue-collar folks, going down to the feed mill, but then I’m also hanging out with artists and dancers and people like that. And sometimes I think there’s this false wall there, where you think you can’t exist in both worlds. And so if I have one task here, it’s to try to speak to some of the culture of the Midwest and Wisconsin in particular, but to also let folks know that man, if a guy in boots like me with a little chicken you-know-what on them can enjoy this sort of thing, it will appeal to a wide group of people.
Eaux Claires Festival
July 17-18, 2015
Blind Boys of Alabama
Francis and the Lights
Hiss Golden Messenger
Indigo Girls performing Swamp Ophelia
No BS! Brass Band
Retribution Gospel Choir
Spooky Black (Corbin)
The Found Footage Festival
The Lone Bellow
The Tallest Man On Earth