|Genre||Indie, Rock, Art Rock|
|Dates||July 6–7, 2018 (currently)|
|Location(s)||Foster Farms, Eau Claire, Wisconsin|
|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, 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.
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.
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".
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- 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