Eaux Claires, WI + Justin Vernon + Aaron Dessner = The newest, coolest music festival in the land.
This is the second year of this festival. We went last year, and then when we saw the line up for this year we hopped to and bought tickets again. I would never consider myself an avid festival attendee. I'm more of a 'here I am playing, and look at these cool other musicians I accidentally got to see because I'm already here'. This is the only festival I have ever wanted to go to as an audience member. I morph back into a version of myself that is geeky and excited about music in all shapes and sizes and wants nothing more than to hang out, listen, and watch.The variety of music, the diversity of performers, the collaborations that are encouraged are just so cool. This year they were even bigger and better than last year, which was a feat in and of itself because last year was AWESOME!
Here is my festival story. I didn't get to see everyone or everything but there were so many great performances, art, performers, food, refreshments, you name it.
We arrived promptly at noon. I really wanted to see So Percussion but I was pleasantly surprised to see and hear an organist sitting on the main festival grounds and played regularly throughout each day. Hark! Is that Bach I hear blaring between rock ‘n’ roll sets?
So Percussion 12pm (with Buke and Gase)
I was so excited to see these guys! They were in NYC when I visited a few weeks ago but I opted out of seeing them because I knew I would be able to soak them in NOW. And what a great surprise to see Buke and Gase with them! I can’t think of a better way to start a music festival!
Here is a quick excerpt from their bio -
With its innovative multi-genre original productions, sensational interpretations of modern classics, and “exhilarating blend of precision and anarchy, rigor and bedlam,” (The New Yorker), Sō Percussion has redefined the scope of the modern percussion ensemble.
Their repertoire ranges from “classics” of the 20th century, by John Cage, Steve Reich, and Iannis Xenakis, et al, to commissioning and advocating works by contemporary composers, to distinctively modern collaborations with artists who work outside the classical concert hall.
My Brightest Diamond
I have loved this band for years. Shara Nova (new name) is a true talent. The My Brightest Diamond cover of “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone is one of my ALL TIME FAVORITES EVER
In fact, here it is…
And from their website...
Not many people can front a rock band, sing Górecki’s Third Symphony, lead a marching band processional down the streets of the Sundance film festival and perform in a baroque opera of their own composing all in a month’s time. But Shara Nova can.
Her multi faceted career as My Brightest Diamond, which began with an acclaimed independent rock record, has reflected her journey into the world of performing arts. Born in diamond rich Arkansas and then raised all around the country, Nova came from a musical family of traveling evangelists. She went on to study operatic voice and then classical composition after a move to New York City.
Shara began issuing recordings as My Brightest Diamond in 2006.
S. Carey on a tiny stage in the woods
-He is not my type. I want to like him so badly! I don’t know what it is that just makes me think ‘meh…’ but the setting was perfect for his sincere and soft musical stylings.
By far one of the weirest most unexpected performances I saw. Very very cool! Glad I stopped at the Foxy Falafel and was accidentally enthralled with their exotic and totally captivating sounds
Here's a little bit about them...
Jogjakarta’s Senyawa embodies the aural elements of Javanese music whilst exploring the framework of experimental music practice, pushing the boundaries of both traditions. Their music strikes a perfect balance between their avant-garde influences and cultural heritage to create truly contemporary Indonesian new music.
Their sound is comprised of Rully Shabara’s deft extended vocal techniques punctuating the frenetic sounds of instrument builder, Wukir Suryadi’s modern-primitive instrumentation. Inventions like his handcrafted ‘Bamboo Spear’; a thick stem of bamboo strung up with percussive strips of the animal skin along side steel strings. Amplified it fuses elements of traditional Indonesian instrumentation with garage guitar distortion. Sonically dynamic, the instrument can be rhythmically percussive on one side whilst being melodically bowed and plucked on the other.
Since then they have gone on to perform at MONA FOMA Festival in Tasmania, the Adelaide Festival with Korean singer Bae Il Dong, toured as special guests of Australian supergroup Regurgitator, performed at the Glatt und Verkert Festival in Austria along side Japanese guitar master Kazuhisa Uchihashi, as well as the Malmo Sommarscen Festival in Sweden, Salihara Literature Festival in Jakarta, CTM Festival in Berlin, Copenhagen Jazz Festival, Clandestino Festival in Norway and Oct Loft Jazz Festival in China. Senyawa was awarded a one month residency at AIR Krems as part of the Krems city wide festival in Austria where they were the star guests.
yMusic and The Staves
This was my absolute favorite performance from last year’s festival. The eerily haunting vocals of the staves blend perfectly with yMusic’s sound. They said they reworked some of their music and also reworked traditional English folk tunes for this performance. I cannot gush about this collaboration enough!
Art in the woods and rain
It started to rain, thank goodness we brought ponchos! We headed into the woods to see some of the installations, hide under the tree canopy and tromp around in the mud a little bit. We made some fellow festival friends but did not manage to stay super dry. My pink TOMS turned brown. Lovely
Sarah Neufeld is a violinist and composer based in Montréal, Canada. Best known as a member of Arcade Fire, she is also a founding member of the acclaimed contemporary instrumental ensemble Bell Orchestre, and most recently as half of an exciting new duo with renowned saxophonist Colin Stetson.
Neufeld began developing pieces for solo violin in a formal sense in 2011, though she has made improvisation and solo composition part of her process and practice since first picking up the instrument at a young age. Neufeld counts Bela Bartok, Steve Reich, Iva Bittova and Arthur Russell among the formative influences for her solo work, in tandem with an ear for the textures and sensibilities of contemporary electro-acoustic, avant-folk and indie rock music.
A rapper in the middle of the WI woods? What? I'm not too savvy in this genre but he certainly put on a great show and used really provocative video footage and installations in his performance.
James Blake in the Rain
I have never seen so many people want to dance while the performer sits behind a keyboard. He didn’t stand up once and yet people were dancing and jamming out in the rain. Also, he composes and records everything electronically but performs everything live with a band. All of those beats are recreated in real time with an actual drummer. It is incredible
Also, I ate the most amazing cheese curds in the rain and have been craving them ever since. The Curd Girl A true love of my life…..I will never forget those curds (swoon).
The Debut of new music. WOW. Just wow.
I love that every time I hear Bon Iver perform his songs have been reworked and reorchestrated, incorporating new instruments and arrangements every time. That is so special! I cannot gush enough about how awesome that is. Do you know how hard it is to continually breathe new life into ‘old’ works? Not everyone can do it and certainly not everyone wants to.
You know what else I love? That this is a great show to watch because of the music. No dancers, no (super) crazy light show, no videos just a dude from Eaux Claires and his band rocking out to some soulful, heartfelt, from the heart rock (if you can call it that) music.
I got back to the hotel, looked in the mirror and realized I resembled a drowned rat and I didn’t even care. Guys I’m telling you – music! Whoa!
We had breakfast with friends AWAY from the festival before heading back for round 2. Our feet were sore and needed a break....and some coffee.
Then off we went!
Coffee, Sunshine, and Eighth Blackbird playing Bryce Dessner’s Murder Ballads
Here is a little bit about them....
Eighth Blackbird’s “super-musicians” (Los Angeles Times) combine the finesse of a string quartet, the energy of a rock band, and the audacity of a storefront theater company. The Chicago-based, four-time GRAMMY Award-winning sextet celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2016: two decades of performing for audiences across the country and around the world with impeccable precision and a signature style.
A winner of the 2016 MacArthur Award for Effective and Creative Institutions, Eighth Blackbird has been described as “one of the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet” (Chicago Tribune). The group began in 1996 as a six entrepreneurial Oberlin Conservatory students and quickly became “a brand-name…defined by adventure, vibrancy and quality….known for performing from memory, employing choreography and collaborations with theater artists, lighting designers and even puppetry artists” (Detroit Free Press).
Filament centers around a live recording of Philip Glass’s early masterpiece, Two Pages, and includes world premiere recordings of works by Bryce Dessner (Murder Ballades), Nico Muhly (Doublespeak), and two remixes by Son Lux, whose tracks gather sounds from the other compositions on the album, stringing together the album’s musical ‘filament’ and adding the voice of Shara Worden (of My Brightest Diamond). Filament was selected as Album of the Week by WQXR/Q2 Music, Seattle’s Second Inversion, and the Chicago Tribune. The San Francisco Chronicle called it “wonderful…a fine release…comprising both restless energy and reverence.”
Eighth Blackbird’s mission—to move music forward through innovative performance, advocacy for new music by living composers, and a legacy of guiding an emerging generation of musicians —extends beyond recording and touring to curation and education.
I love their most recent album Filament! Seeing this ensemble on the festival lineup was definitely an incentive to buy tickets. They performed several times each day. I am so happy we caught ‘Murder Ballades’ – an historical musical trend that I can get behind (traditionally songs written about famous murders and murderers but with a catchy upbeat vibe….dark, dark, dark, right?)
Anyone who thinks classical music is dead/dying/no longer relevant clearly needs to spend a weekend in the woods of WI!
Mavis Staples will doubtlessly go down in history as one of the greatest gospel singers of all time, the breathtaking voice powering one of America's great family bands, The Staple Singers. From the traditional gospel music of the 1950s to the 1960s protest songs that underscored some of the decade's most dramatic social changes, from the self-empowerment anthems of the 1970s to the soulful love tunes and mature Americana of more recent years, Staples and her family have consistently created some of the best and most inspirational music of the past half-century.
And although Staples is now more than 70 years old, she has no intention of giving up the calling that has consumed her since she was a child. "Ain't no stopping me, I will sing," Staples declared in a recent interview. "You know, you'd have to come and scoop me off the stage. I'm gonna sing till I die."
What a great show! She has so much energy! She also brought Lucius on stage to sing some back up vocals and made it known that if Justin Vernon asked her out ‘She’s available!’
It was great fun!
Next up was Shabazz Palace.
Filling time before the yMusic performance (one of my ‘Can’t miss this!’ performance of the weekend) Somebody recommended we check this one out. I had never heard of them but hot diggity they sound good with a meal of Cauliflower Steak with Saffron Aioli (Foxy Falafel needs to open a branch in Tulsa!)
Fan girl moment! I love this group! I love the music written for them, the collaborations they choose to take part in (pretty much everybody). Nadia Sirota hosts one of my all time podcasts “Meet the Composer”
Hailed by NPR’s Fred Child as “one of the groups that has really helped to shape the future of classical music,” yMusic is a group of six New York City instrumentalists flourishing in the overlap between the pop and classical worlds. Their virtuosic execution and unique configuration (string trio, flute, clarinet, and trumpet) has attracted the attention of high profile collaborators—from Ben Folds to Dirty Projectors to Jose Gonzalez—and inspired an expanding repertoire of original works by some of today’s foremost composers, including Nico Muhly and Andrew Norman.
In addition to performing their own repertoire, yMusic serves as a ready-made collaborative unit for bands and songwriters, and have lent their distinctive sound to dozens of albums, most recently, Ben Folds’ 2015 release “So there.” Other recent collaborations include recording and tours with José González, The Tallest Man on Earth, Dirty Projectors, The Staves, Bon Iver, and Blake Mills.
Buke and Gase
I have friends who know these people. I have friends who have admired their music for years. Although not the most captivating live performers (I think what they have to do a whole bunch of very complicated things that I totally don’t understand but sound really cool) there music is really awesome! I walked away from their performance excited to listen to more (so did Jeff). I also really liked that the singer’s mom came to the show and her daughter enthusiastically greeted her from the stage. How cute is that? Who cares about being a ‘cool’ rocker? What’s cooler than having your mom in the audience for your show.
We tried to get into the Grateful Dead cover performance that featured pretty much every famous person they could get their hands on but none of us are really ‘Dead Heads’. I didn’t grow up listening to it, I’m not a super fan of tie-dye and I’m pretty sure I’ve never done the amount of drugs needed to get on ‘that level’ so we headed up the hill to catch a little bit of the Har Mar Superstar set
Har Mar Superstar
Sounds like Justin Timberlake, moves like Jagger, looks like……ratatouille. Just kidding (kind of)
A crooner who likes to get naked and has not one bit of body shame. Always a good time. I’ve seen him live several times and seem to keep going back for more.
She may have been 30mins late to her own set.
But when she showed up she slayed.
She is an artist through and through. She clearly has a vision for herself, her music, and her performance.
Even though it was almost half as long as it was supposed to be, her performance knocked everyone’s socks off. No offense to Beach House but it would be hard for anyone to follow this act. I could seriously gush about how awesome she was, her band was, the performance, the vibe. I'd go again in heart beat!
This was the last night of the festival. We were staying to the end NO MATTER WHAT!
Beach House is a band that I always enjoy and always forget to think about. Is that bad? I feel bad saying that because I would never want to be described that way.
I have to say that their website is delightfully elusive.
Francis and The Lights
The very last act of the festival. SO much pressure? I really didn’t know this guy or his music before looking into the festival line up. There isn’t a ton of current music available to listen to, some EPs that are a few years old, some collaborations etc. but he totally got a bunch of buzz due to this video:
So guess who everyone was assuming/hoping/expecting to show up? Kanye West.
This guy has the stage presence of Kramer and Edward Scissorhands rolled into one dancing, singing machine. It is amazing what one performer can do sometimes to keep a crowd’s attention.
For the very last song of the very last night of the festival he was joined onstage by Justin Vernon and……
Chance the Rapper.
Perhaps a stand in for Kanye? I know, after doing a little research, that they have worked together. They did the dance from the video (see above) and the crowd went wild. It was a great dance party to end the night and festival.
My feet were tired, my shoes were covered in mud, my legs ached from the walking and standing but it was another great festival. Music, man…..it is just the greatest.