Preview by Anmol Gupta
June 15, 2017
Three years deep, and Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner are going three times as hard for Eaux Claires 2017. Once again, the lineup does not fall short of phenomenal, featuring legends: Paul Simon, Chance the Rapper, Sylvan Esso, Perfume Genius, Cup (Nels Cline and Yuka C. Honda), Danny Brown, Feist, This Is The Kit, S. Carey, Wilco *and* Tweedy and, of course, Bon Iver (presenting "John Prine And The American Songbook").
While an unarguably strong and sincere roster of headliners, some of the most compelling parts of the Eaux Claires lineup aren’t the artists that I’m familiar with or have seen live -- rather they are the artists that I don’t recognize or the ones that haven’t released music in a while (e.g., This Is The Kit, Mountain Man) or those who have just released a new project and are looking to explore their work as it evolves in front of a live audience (e.g., Feist, Perfume Genius, Bon Iver).
Last year, Lisa Hannigan and festival curator and performer, Dessner played the vast majority of Hannigan’s latest album, “At Swim,” live, before its release, in front of the Eaux Claires festival audience, as did Francis and the Lights for his set -- the one to close out the weekend. (See our coverage of the 2016 festival here.) In it, he brought out one of many festival surprises, Chance the Rapper. And most notably, among 2016’s highlights, Vernon unveiled the unforgettably stunning, *live* debut of the masterpiece “22, A Million” with supernaturally-charged audio and visual effects for his audience.
Perhaps this year could treat us with surprise appearances by Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, James McAlister and/or Bryce Dessner, who just released and have been touring with their latest project, “Planetarium,” a grandiose concept album, which channels cosmic metaphors about the frivolity of humanity.
What I’m most excited for is the festival’s efficacy of synthesizing art and nature to breath life into this production. I remember walking into 2016’s Eaux Claires and becoming wholly engulfed by its marvel and majesty. In the middle of a forest, Eaux Claires goes beyond festival offerings, using its environment in a way that not many festivals can, or even think, to do. The stages with baroque organs that glow softly upon nightfall, the beaten-in trails, even the program… hell, even the app, are all designed with great purpose -- a vision and truly heart-ful design.
This year’s installations will be highlighting over 20 innovative artists spanning a variety of disciplines and interpretations. I am looking forward to be immersed in this aspect of the festival’s collaborative and sensory atmosphere. The featured installations for this year are expected to enhance, expand and reimagine reality as we know it. My anticipation grows as I prepare for my spirit to be lifted into this summer season.
Throughout its nature-set glory, every element of the festival fuses together as if it were formed long before humans ever graced the earth. Moving from area to area within the festival, whether walking through the forest, near the river, around the smaller stages or even in the vast, open grass surrounding the main stages, it feels like you are entering another world throughout each backdrop: Each stage, each display, each pathway and the beloved Chippewa River has its own spirit that inspires every realm of this festival.
Last year was my first year at this particular festival, but in my experience, I found Eaux Claires to be a humbling yet powerfully sensational source of awe and inspiration, so I can’t look forward to this year’s rendition enough.
Features by Liam McCarty
June 15, 2017
Most recently, Paul Simon's 2016 album "Stranger to Stranger" ties many of his folk and world influences together in a seamless but bizarre manner, refusing to conform to definitions. Also performing alongside Simon at this year’s Eaux Claires fest is yMusic. Not unlike Simon, himself, the six piece New York chamber ensemble constantly tests the waters by incorporating classical instruments and orchestration with contemporary stylings of folk and pop. In addition to Simon, yMusic has collaborated with the likes of Bon Iver, Chris Thile and Ben Folds, to name a few. The combined innovative brilliance of Simon and yMusic on one stage is sure to entrance listeners, regardless of their musical preference.
A recipient of sixteen Grammys, a Lifetime Achievement award, and Rock Hall of Fame inductee, Paul Simon got his start with iconic duo Simon & Garfunkel in 1964. Very much a folk musician at the beginning of his career, Simon eventually left the duo in 1970 to pursue his solo career in which he began experimenting heavily with world music. Simon is said to be one of the first white artists to record reggae with his album Mother and Child Reunion, which earned very glowing reviews, hitting No. 4 in the U.S. and No. 1 in the UK and Japan. Since then Simon has pursued other world styles such as Brazilian samba with his 1990 album "Rhythm of the Saints," all the while maintaining strong ties to his folk roots.
Appearing at Eaux Claires for their second time, electronic indie-pop duo, Sylvan Esso is a group well known for their unique sound. Consisting of singer, Amelia Meath and producer, Nick Sanborn, Sylvan Esso released their first single, “Hey Mami” in 2013 to applauding reviews, garnering Song of the Week by NPR’s "Here and Now" in March of the same year. Their self-titled debut album followed closely on its heels, generating a similarly positive reaction, reaching No. 39 on the Billboard 200. With only a single album under their belt, Sylvan Esso made appearances on The Tonight Show and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, rewarding them with a great boon to their notoriety. Sylvan Esso returns to Wisconsin this year with their sophomore album, "What Now," edging away from the more radio-friendly vibe of their first album and turning to a more experimental sound with stuttering beats and edgy lyrics. Truly in a world of their own, Sylvan Esso is incredible live and just feels so right at a music festival as captivating as Eaux Claires.
Musical bastion, Bon Iver fronted by Eau Claire-native and Eaux Claires-festival co-curator, Justin Vernon is headlining again this year. From its 2007 conception in a northern Wisconsin cabin to critical acclaim and two Grammys, Bon Iver’s story is one compelling storyteller and master of sound. Ravaged with mononucleosis and shacked up in his father’s Dunn County cabin, a solitary Vernon heard the greeting ‘bon hiver’ (which means ‘good winter’ in French) while watching an episode of the show "Northern Exposure." This would be the catalyst to the band we know today as Bon Iver.
Recently having helped record another band, Vernon had his cabin equipped with basic audio equipment and instruments. Tracking each instrument on his own, Vernon wrote his first album, "For Emma, Forever Ago" in confinement. To Vernon’s surprise, the album was received incredibly well with the track “Skinny Love” hitting iTunes Tune of the Week. Three albums, nine years and only 30 miles later, Vernon’s genius artistry has landed his applauded band for a third time at his wildly successful music and arts festival, Eaux Claires. This year, Bon Iver will be performing a project called The American Songbook with country legend John Prine, the source of much of Vernon’s inspiration. Not to be missed!
Hailing from Chicago is superstar Chance the Rapper. Chance’s notoriety has blown up since the 2013 release of his second mixtape, "Acid Rap." Since then, he has collaborated with the likes of Lil Wayne, Childish Gambino, Busta Rhymes and his idol, Kanye West. “Thanks kanye. U put me on rappin.” said Chance via Twitter before his 2012 debut mixtape, "10 Day." Finally, in 2016 he was featured on Kanye’s hit, "Ultralight Beam," off the album "The Life of Pablo." Quickly returning the favor, Kanye co-wrote the opening track of Chance’s debut 2016 album "Coloring Book," entitled "All We Got." "Coloring Book" quickly shot to no. 8 on Billboard’s top 200 albums chart based on streaming alone, and was instrumental in securing Chance’s 3 awards at the 59th Grammy Awards. These titles were Best New Artist ("Coloring Book"), Best Rap Performance ("No Problem"), and Best Rap Album ("Coloring Book").
As Lil Chano's commercial influence has grown exponentially, his sound has followed suit. Over the course of his roughly five-year journey to stardom, fans have heard his unabashed Kanye influence over a series of Garageband beats transition to the soulful, gospel infused style he is recognized for today. Chance is always working a project that is pushing the way he creates rap music.
Lastly, but not least of our artist features, another one of Chicago's own, Wilco, will be headlining Eaux Claires this year. From the ashes of the late 80’s alternative folk band, Uncle Tupelo, singer songwriter Jeff Tweedy and bassist John Stirratt created the Grammy Award winning band that has defined the Midwest alt-rock sound for over a decade. Since its 1994 inception, Wilco has seen many members come and go, but at its core, Tweedy and Stirratt have seen the band through ten studio albums and five EP's.
Their sound really begins to veer from the classic Tupelo style in their fourth album, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (2001) when percussionist Glenn Kotche replaced Ken Coomer. Being from a more classical background, Kotche incorporated instruments not traditionally seen in the rock community such as hammered dulcimer and other multi percussion instruments. Kotche’s innovation led Wilco’s sound away from their country folk roots into more experimental waters with "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot," arguably their most controversial album to date.
Much of Wilco’s greatness lies in the skill of its individuals, all of whom have made names for themselves outside of the band. Guitarist Nels Cline (with Wilco since 2004) has had much success as a composer and a jazz guitarist independently of Wilco. Also a composer, Glenn Kotche has established himself writing chamber pieces for percussion ensembles. Among the most influential in the chamber percussion community is his piece, “Wild Sound,” which has been performed by the likes of renowned percussion quartet, Third Coast Percussion. Cline and Kotche are also each performing their own compositions separately from Wilco this year at Eaux Claires – Cline with his partner, Yuka Honda, and Kotche with Bon Iver drummer Sean Carey. The experience is unparalleled within this collaboration.
Learn more about Eaux Claires by visiting eauxclaires.com.