Although Justin Vernon recently said that he had no future plans for Bon Iver, things could be looking more hopeful for Bon Iver fans.
This weekend saw the inaugural Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, organised by Vernon himself. Headlining Friday, Vernon and Surfjan Stevens surprised the crowd by joining The Nationals on stage. Then on Saturday during Bon Iver’s performance, Vernon debut a pair of new songs for his fans.
Its been a long four years since the last Bon Iver album was released, and three years since his last performance under the project. However the new songs were fairly familiar, deploying electronic elements that we have heard from Bon Iver in the past.
These days, there are a lot of music festivals, particularly in America. Thousands of people are put together with a buffet of headliners in established events, with organisers using a ‘the bigger the better’ approach, concerned over business interests. Emerging from a blur of summer music festivals – from Coachella to Lollapolooza, the Eaux Claires festival was a local and intimate celebration of music. The vision of Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner was focused and well executed this weekend, crafting an intimate and laid-back festival experience.
The festival was the perfect setting for Vernon to take it back to where it all started. It must have been the most bewildering experience to go from recording songs in a nearby Wisconsin cabin to collaborating with Kanye West and winning a Grammy. So the return of Bon Iver in the place where everything had started for him made sense, especially considering how he recently revealed his mistakes in letting the pressures get to his music.
“I didn’t really have a chance to really have a full-blooded, wide-eyed perspective on what was happening to me and my squad with the Bon Iver stuff. And I think we made a few mistakes, as far as, like, bending. At the same time, I don’t have any regrets. But I think we made a few mistakes as far as letting it, they, them, the world, the pressures, the pattern, the subscribed thing kind of spoil certain aspects of it — i.e., enjoying playing music.”
Vernon’s performance on Saturday concluded with an acoustic performance of Skinny Love, sans intricate vocal layering. It was an intimate performance showcasing his true colours, allowing him to reclaim his down-to-earth roots. And the aggressively local vibes at the idiosyncratic festival formed the perfect outlet for Vernon to express this.
It also created a platform for other artists to collaborate for a festival where it otherwise wouldn’t have worked for them. For many indie artists, the established ethos and character of major music festivals don’t work for their performances – “I’m always afraid I’m going to get Lyme disease or an STD,” Stevens once joked.
However, like Stevens, many of the performing artists had strong ties to Vernon – when Stevens was having troubles finishing Carrie & Lowie, Vernon invited him to Wisconsin to clear his mind. Many were long time associates of Vernon such as The National, others shared a common home town, and The Staves recorded one of their albums If I Was Here in Vernon’s studio.
Because the show was run by performers, closely working for the needs of other performers, the festival was a pure celebration of the artist executed with the impeccable creative design of Michael Brown. It was music for music’s sake, or as put by Stevens, “like a 48 hour episode of My Little Pony.”
Watch Justin Vernon perform the new Bon Iver songs below.