Local Current Blog

Preview: Eaux Claires 2016

A sign at last year's Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival (Nate Ryan/MPR)

Camping and/or dorm supplies stowed in your car? Directions to Foster Farm pulled up on your phone? Bruce Hornsby cassette loaded in the tape deck?

Okay, you might be saving all the preparation for the last minute. But that’s what this final pre-festival day is for, right? We’re talking about Eaux Claires 2016, the second installment of the festival that brought 22,000 people out to Eau Claire, Wis. last year. Curated by the National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, Eaux Claires 2015 transcended your typical music festival. This year, it returns bigger and better, with Bon Iver reportedly performing “a set made of NEW music.”

Bon Iver rumors will swirl through the weekend, thanks in part to a mural storm that hit Minneapolis. Does it mean a new album? Or simply new songs?

Meanwhile, though, Eaux Claires’s several stages will enjoy music from legends, stars, and upstarts. Whether you’re a bigger fan of Vince Staples or Mavis Staples, there’s certainly music for you; just like last year, the line-up is huge, high-quality, and eclectic.

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(Extra resources include this chronological schedule and monster Spotify playlist.)

At the heart of the whole festival all lies Day of the Dead, an enormous compilation album of Grateful Dead covers. It features Eaux Claires 2016 performers Bruce Hornsby (who was actually a touring Grateful Dead member), Phosphorescent, Jenny Lewis, Moses Sumney, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Lucius, Lisa Hannigan, Bryce Dessner (of the National), yMusic, So Percussion, Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire), and Sam Amidon, and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, plus 2015 festival alumni The Lone Bellow, Charles Bradley, The Tallest Man On Earth, Marijuana Deathsquads, Hiss Golden Messenger, and The National (who sang one of their Dead songs, “Peggy-O,” on the Lake Eaux Lune stage last year).

The Red Hot benefit album is 59 tracks long, and Eaux Claires is, so far, the one and only place where several of its contributors will gather. Therefore, Saturday’s main event is a Day of the Dead set, which will feature the National, Justin Vernon, Jenny Lewis, Phosphorescent’s Matthew Houck, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Sam Amidon, Richard Reed Parry (Arcade Fire), Lucius, Bruce Hornsby, and Ruban Nielson (Unknown Mortal Orchestra).

There’s no official FAQ this year, but the Eaux Claires Twitter has launched an outpouring of information. Among the flood: box office/gates schedules, parking/shuttle information, a “Lighthouse” teaser (see: incredible authors and intimate readings), and a map of the festival grounds.

Those who went last year will notice the two main stages are still facing each other, positioned the same way, but new stages the Kills and the Banks have joined the Dells up on the hill.

Baroque, number three on the map, is one of a multitude of new art installations. Volume One reports, “It won’t get much bigger than ‘Baroque,’ an enormous, ornate cuboid structure of metal mesh by Italian sculptor Edoardo Tresoldi. It’s essentially a massive baroque organ in the center of the grounds,” and it will be played throughout Friday and Saturday (the slots are on the schedule).

There’s a lot of music to focus on, so make your life as easy as possible by bringing sunscreen, hats/sunglasses, comfortable shoes, and one empty water bottle (if you’d like to use the water refill stations). Small snacks are okay, but factory-sealed water bottles are the only beverages allowed in. There is to be no glass in the campgrounds; don’t bring chairs, blankets, spray bottles, bicycles, instruments, or umbrellas to the festival grounds, but do check out the website for a few more details about allowed and disallowed items. (Last year, small backpacks were okay.)

Even though it’s only one year old, the Eaux Claires Festival is already a Midwest favorite. Last year, Andrea Swensson wrote, “[At] the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival this weekend, I couldn’t believe just how many times I found myself shaking my head in disbelief, goosebumps rising on my sweat-soaked arms and mouth literally hanging open in awe” at so many “soul-shaking moments.” This year, we march back to the Chippewa Valley, yes: returning to the river.