|Genre||Indie, Rock, Art Rock|
|Dates||July 6–7, 2018 (most recently)|
|Location(s)||Foster Farms, Eau Claire, Wisconsin|
|Years active||2015-2018, 2020 (planned)|
|Founded by||Aaron Dessner, Justin Vernon|
Eaux Claires, also known as the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, is an annual two-day music and arts festival that takes place in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The festival was founded in 2015 by Aaron Dessner of The National and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver in order to shine a spotlight on the region, and to provide an outlet for musicians of all genres to gather and perform in a space both designed and populated by artists of other mediums. The festival is currently held at Foster Farms in Eau Claire County.
Past performers include Bon Iver, The National, Paul Simon, Chance the Rapper, Wilco, Sufjan Stevens, Erykah Badu, Spoon, Blind Boys of Alabama, Sturgill Simpson, Doomtree, Vince Staples, and James Blake. Originally in July, for subsequent years the festival moved to August in 2016 and June for the 2017 edition. On November 15, 2017 the fourth year was revealed to be scheduled on July 6 and 7 2018.
On December 10th 2018, the festival organizers revealed that the festival would "take a year off" for 2019, with a planned relaunch of the festival on a different site with a new format in 2020.
History, First Two Years
Having met in 2008, Vernon and Dessner developed a common vision of an artist-friendly music festival in the spirit of Music NOW and Boston calling, where the festival was more "an experience and a village" than just a place to see bands perform, avoiding “all the things I hate at festivals: really loud music all the time, no breaks, bad food, all that kind of thing.". In 2014 the creative team announced the new festival named Eaux Claires, and in Feb 2015 it was announced via mailers sent to ticket buyers that the inaugural lineup would include the first Bon Iver performance since 2012.
For the inaugural year, The National closed out the main stage Friday evening followed by late night sets at the uphill stage including Lizzo and Marijuana Deathsquads. The second night was anchored by Sufjan followed by Bon Iver, who closed the festival playing songs from both of his albums along with many guest artists. The festival leveraged much of the regional infrastructure in place for the Country Jam music festival, including the Foster Farms location and the Whispering Pines campground, with school buses used as shuttles between the two, while expanding the venue to include art domes and smaller stages in an uphill field previously unused by prior festivals.
The visual and performance arts experience began the moment festival goers entered the grounds, walking under an art piece of dangling colored yarn in a work commissioned from Eric Rieger, and continued through the giant letters of the Big Eaux sign. During the festival musicians roamed the grounds both playing music and performing impromptu art pieces, and uphill art domes included such things as confessional booths and experimental music performances. On a side stage each day the festival opened with a performance of Ragnar Kjartansson's Forever Love, a collaborative song cycle including costumed performances from Bryce and Aaron Dessner.
The 2016 festival expanded the ideas of the first year, adding even more bands and reconfiguring the grounds. A small forest stage and a second amplified stage were added atop the hill, while the downhill area changes included retiring the children's stage. Gone were the sweltering uphill art/music domes of the first year, replaced by an air-conditioned headphones dome. The Thursday night campground performances were replaced by a ticketed show in downtown Eau Claire by Phil Cook and the Guitarheels, who would also play the festival itself.
Notable performances in 2016 included the live premiere of Bon Iver's 22, A Million, and the only live performance of the Day of the Dead collaboration based on the album tribute charity album curated by the Dessner brothers. Also new in 2016 was the inclusion of an art installation organ downhill where musicians would play unannounced performances in-between sets, and other hidden art pieces scattered around the grounds that festival goers had to seek out.
A common theme in both years of the festival was collaboration, including in the first year The Blind Boys of Alabama playing with the Lone Bellow, Amy Ray of Indigo Girls performing with Phil Cook, Sufjan Stevens playing with The National, No BS Brass Band and Bryce Dessner playing with Sufjan Stevens, Vernon playing with his old bandmate Aero Flynn and The National, and in the second year Lucius and The Staves making multiple guest appearances.
In early February 2017 the creative team announced an overhaul for the third iteration of the festival via a bound book Troix. Sent to pre-sale ticket buyer it included both the lineup and artist statements about how the festival had evolved, with a video including festival narrator Michael Perry laying at the outset that "the river doesn't plan its course ... it finds its course", likely pointing to both internal and external forces. One of the largest changes included decreasing the number of stages along with a halving of the number of billed bands, while simultaneously bringing back several musicians from prior years, including Jenny Lewis, Phil Cook, and Vernon himself, under a new Artists-In-Residence cohort. In an April 2017 interview Dessner described the idea that the festival had developed into "anti-music-festival festival", having already eschewed many of the big festival tentpoles such as dedicated VIP viewing areas, branded stages, and big-font delineated headliners, and these resident artists were an extension of the idea in that they would be “roaming the grounds performing where and when they see fit, and joining other artists onstage, prompted or unprompted.”
Scheduled performances included Paul Simon, Chance the Rapper, and Wilco, and notable sets include Feist's only scheduled festival performance of 2017, a new Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner collaboration entitled Big Red Machine, and a musical tribute to John Prine including the artist. Several acts including Francis and the Lights, Sylvan Esso, and many of the Artist-In-Residence such as The Staves have members returning for their third year (also Sam Amidon, S.Carey, yMusic, Chris Rosenau, Bryce Dessner) and a few returning for their second (Jenny Lewis, Midnite Express). The third year is notable, though, for having neither Bon Iver nor The National playing sets of their own music, with the members of Bon Iver presenting music from John Prine and no scheduled involvement from the Dessner's bandmates (Behringer performed in the Day of the Dead in 2016). Additional changes included the uphill area no longer being used, a revamping and expansion of the forest trail stages, and minimal[clarification needed] schedule overlap between band sets.
Common to prior years the focus on music-plus-arts was continued, with an online-only Troix II book outlining many of the planned pieces including the Pickup Music Project's community music space and several visual art installations. Also returning and expanded are the Thursday night ticketed shows in downtown Eau Claire, including a street show headlined by Vernon and Phil Cook side project The Shouting Matches, and a return of Alpha Consumer and others for an after-party at a local pizza restaurant.
IV and Beyond
On November 15, 2017 the fourth edition of the festival was announced and tickets went on sale immediately alongside a cryptic 29-minute audio file Please Listen #1 that included voice recordings and music clips. Later a second audio collection called Please Listen #2 was released alongside several instagram posts with videos featuring discussions about The National and Sharon Van Etten performing. The organizers later revealed that there would be no "marketed lineup" for this fourth year of the festival, though through his Twitter feed Justin declared many of the bands from the Please Listen podcasts as being highly likely, while later making note that they've not "announced anything". The week before the festival started Vernon noted "you could find out basically everyone who's playing if you really wanted to", and soon after the official Eaux Claires app started publishing playlist that seemed to confirm many of the hinted arists, though the official release of the lineup didn't occur until the day of the festival.
The final band list included headliners The National, Big Red Machine, Pussy Riot, and People's Mixtape, the latter Mixtape originally starting as a collaborative jam creation between Vernon and company launched at the 2017 festival as a side-stage improvisational act, with the 2018 version being a Vernon-fronted collection of covers and collaborations including two Bon Iver tracks (the newer track "Hey Ma" and the rarely-played "89"). Additional acts included main stage sets from Wye Oak, Serengeti, Sharon Van Etten, Kevin Morby, Moses Sumney, Noname, Phoebe Bridgers, with acoustic performances from Hiss Golden Messenger, Dirty Projectors, and late night sets from Low, Mouse on Mars, and Marijuana Deathsquads. Additionally Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Gordi regularly made appearances similar to the prior year's Artists in Residence program.
Reception for 2018 was mixed, with some fans enthusiastically embracing the model and others frustrated by the final product. In the press the reviews were also mixed , focusing on both logitistical and creative components including the lack of big-name acts compared to prior years, multiple sets ending early including Big Red Machine, and scheduling concerns that led to some sets being "drowned out" by music from other stages. Well-received elements included a hidden dj booth in the woods, and The National's universally-praised headlining set .
During the festival a fan-made booklet was released with an interview from one of the festival organizers Michael Brown, including the quote regarding the festival being about creation, speaking of "polished" performances as "there are thousands of options to go see that, literally all over the country..... We don’t want more people. We want less people." For many "true believers" this became a rallying cry against anyone who expressed criticism of the festival, with a common response that anyone who didn't unapologetically love IV should just go to another festival and stop complaining about 'theirs'.
On December 10th 2018, the festival organizers revealed that the festival would "take a year off" for 2019, with a planned relaunch of the festival on a different site with a new format in 2020. "Ultimately, we want a better experience – not just for us, but for everyone."
- "Eaux Claires Music Festival, Curated by Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner, Announced for Summer 2015". Billboard Magazine.
- "Eaux Claires Music Festival 2015 Lineup: Bon Iver, The National, Spoon, and More". Spin.
- "Eaux Claires 2016 lineup revealed: Bon Iver, James Blake, Grateful Dead superjam". Consequence of Sound.
- "Eaux Claires 2017 Lineup". Stereogum.
- "Justin Vernon's Eaux Claires festival returns July 6 and 7, conflicting with Summerfest". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2017-11-16.
- "Justin Vernon's Eaux Claires fest canceled for 2019; back in 2020 in new location". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
- Barton, Laura (2015-07-18). "Bon Iver's Justin Vernon on his festival: 'It's a chance for people to disappear'". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- "Justin Vernon's Eaux Claires Fest unveils its full inaugural schedule". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- Swensson, Andrea. "Justin Vernon-curated Eaux Claires Festival coming to western Wisconsin in July 2015". Local Current Blog | The Current from Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- "Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival: Neither wind nor rain nor Icelandic dancers keep crowds from great music". madison.com. Retrieved 2017-06-01.
- "Ragnar Kjartansson's Forever Love: Trees and Longing | Eaux Claires". eauxclaires.com. Retrieved 2017-06-01.
- "Eaux Claires Presents: Phil Cook at the Lismore - The Lismore". volumeone.org. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- "Up in the Woods: A Breakdown of Bon Iver's Eaux Claires Festival | Pitchfork". pitchfork.com. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- "In Photos: Sufjan Stevens makes a memorable appearance at Eaux Claires". AXS. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- "TROIX". eauxclaires.com. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- Eaux Claires (2017-02-06), TROIX, retrieved 2017-05-31
- "Watching A Festival, And Its Music, Take Shape". NPR.org. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- Wagner, Danielle. "Town Board of Union votes to delay an ordinance impacting festivals". Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- "Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and The National's Aaron Dessner on Their 'Anti-Festival' Eaux Claires". Billboard. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- "TROIX". eauxclaires.com. Retrieved 2017-05-31.
- Gabler, Jay. "Eaux Claires announces 2018 dates: July 6 and 7". Local Current Blog | The Current from Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2018-03-02.
- "Eaux Claires on Instagram: "20 minutes... #preshowdefensivecrouch . @aarondessner @sneezingcow"". Instagram. Retrieved 2018-03-02.
- "Eaux Claires on Instagram: "Sorry, Mom. (1/3)"". Instagram. Retrieved 2018-03-02.
- "Size Doesn't Matter: Why Festivalgoers Should Think Smaller". Consequence of Sound. 2018-02-09. Retrieved 2018-03-02.
- "Eaux Claires tease more of 2018 lineup (The National, Phoebe Bridgers, Sharon Van Etten?)". BrooklynVegan. Retrieved 2018-03-02.
- blobtower (2018-02-28). "What repeats? We haven't announced anything yet! That's the point ! https://twitter.com/gingimli/status/968693952198176774 …". @blobtower. Retrieved 2018-03-02. External link in
- Huynh, Nick Meyer, photos by Luong. "LISTEN: Justin Vernon Talks to V1 about the City, the Festival, and His Creative World". volumeone.org. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
- "Eaux Claires *finally* reveals 2018 lineup". Consequence of Sound. 2018-07-06. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
- "Eaux Claires IV lacked surprises and common sense (and Bon Iver, too)". Star Tribune. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
- "Sounds Like Eaux Claires' Surprise Lineup Experiment Didn't Go So Well". Stereogum. 2018-07-09. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
- "Eaux Claires recap: The best and worst of the indie festival in its 4th year". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
- Miller, Jeff; Miller, Jeff (2018-07-08). "Concert Review: Eaux Claires Festival's No Advanced Lineup Concept Proves a Risky Affair". Variety. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
- Grihalva, Joey. "Who and what was Eaux Claires fo(u)r?". Wisconsin Gazette. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
- "r/EauxClaires - Full transcript from the newsletter interview with Michael Brown". reddit. Retrieved 2018-12-20.
- "r/EauxClaires - Can we stop holding this festival and it's curators on a pedestal?". reddit. Retrieved 2018-12-20.