Local Current Blog

Recap and photos: Variety wins the first day of Eaux Claires

James Blake performs at Eaux Claires 2016. All photos by Nate Ryan/MPR.

It’s been a smooth first day at Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, the sequel to last year’s premier Eaux Claires (a.k.a. the renaissance of Bon Iver). The lines have been short, the water has been plentiful, and the music has been incredible. All day long, I sampled songs around the festival, picking up pieces of sets here and there before moving along.

I heard the pop fervor of Prinze George, the screams of Indonesian metal band Senyawa, and the spoken-word fire of Joe Horton (Mixed Blood Majority), which was cloistered in the tiny lightHouse. I witnessed the bash of Crescent Moon & Andrew Broder, plus the roar of punk band Tenement, plus the tranquility of the Staves and yMusic‘s almost entirely new 40-minute set (thanks to yMusic’s classical nature, the Staves can now call their songs “pieces” — which they say makes them feel “very proper”).

Even while running around, I found myself captivated by My Brightest Diamond, a.k.a. Shara Nova and her band; her powerful orchestral pop met fierce dancing on the Flambeaux stage (“I’m here for your morning aerobics routine,” she joked). As with the best of them, her live show elevated her studio albums.

Little Scream (Laurel Sprengelmeyer) and her guitar-driven pop ruled the Kills stage up on the hill, her band (which sometimes include Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry and The National’s Aaron Dessner) grinning wide while they surfed through tempo changes. When a fan threw a scarf onstage, Little Scream wrapped it around her mic stand, referencing Aerosmith’s famously scarf-tying frontman: “Steven Tyler right here!”

Rapper Vince Staples played Summertime ’06 cuts, plus his Flume collaboration “Smoke and Retribution” (also featuring Kučka), with seagulls flying behind him on the video screen. The bass hit so high in my throat I needed a second to swallow, and the opening thuds of “Lift Me Up” sank in like a salve.

A few hours of rain crashed the party during the late afternoon, but that didn’t stop “The Way It Is” superstar Bruce Hornsby from giving the crowd his all. Hornsby especially delighted festivalgoers when he played “Mandolin Rain,” the third track on his biggest hit’s eponymous album, singing as the drops poured down.

James Blake played several songs from new album The Colour in Anything (which features Bon Iver on “I Need A Forest Fire”). The music was tall and sturdy as a tree, and Blake’s voice whipped around its branches.

Nearly everyone I talked with in line told me they were here for Bon Iver. Some had missed the band last year, and some were returning because they enjoyed the inaugural festival so much — but everyone was excited for their new music. Last year, festivalgoers heard two new songs; this year, Justin Vernon and the band treated us to those plus the rest of an entire album, called 22, A Million, which dropped during the show (Andrea Swensson writes about the album and Bon Iver’s performance here).

After Bon Iver, experimental artists took the stages as attendees trickled back to their campgrounds, dorms, or hotels. Cornelius knows how to find a groove; the Japanese producer performed his 1997 experimental album, Fantasma (meaning “ghost” in Spanish), in full on Friday night. Minnesota’s own Tickle Torture sang and danced at the Kills stage. Producer Jon Hopkins and comedian Jacy Catlin closed out the night.