Day 2 began for me a bit more sleepily than I had planned. The excitement of the first day finally waned in the wee hours of the morning, and I reluctantly dragged myself off to bed. But my tiredness was replaced by excitement when I boarded the shuttle bus and saw the mirrored excitement in the faces of my bus mates yet again. We were headed back to the place where everything seemed to make sense again. I smiled involuntarily at the thought of the day’s promises.
My first stop on the grounds saw me back at the Creek stage, again watching Justin Vernon open the day, this time with People Mixtape, Vol 2. A conspicuous stain marked his “PEOPLE” t-shirt, which I decided had to be coffee since he had to be exhausted from running everywhere the previous day. “I didn’t have another one!” he yelled out to the audience. The crowd laughed and offered to run to the merch tent to drop the $10 it cost to get him a new one. Justin just laughed in return and kept on setting up his gear.
Surrounding him once more were friends, Channy and Ben from Polica, frequent collaborator Ryan Olson, Joe Westerlund on drums who he had once played with in Deyarmond Edison, CJ Camerieri from yMusic, good friend Trever Hagen took over trumpet duties from his spot crouched on the floor, and even Aaron Dessner appeared alongside him once more. The music they put together onstage today sounded a lot like Marijuana Deathsquads to my surprise. It was like one big jam session, with each person involved breaking out into the biggest grins at what each other would do on their respective instrument. I was also happy to see Ivan Howard hop onstage to contribute some silky vocals to the mix before their set ended.
Back at Lake Eaux Lune, s t a r g a z e was back in action, but this time, they decided to play their compositions and invite hip-hop artists to rhyme over them. Once more I found myself beaming excitedly when Astronautalis came out to contribute. Having enjoyed his confession booth from year one, and missing his presence during year two, his return was very welcomed. He mentioned to the crowd he was lazing away in a hammock when he got the call to hop onstage, and he didn’t waste any seconds of his time there. With the infuriating news of the Philando Castile case still fresh in everyone’s minds, Astronautalis made sure to drive the point home about how he “woke up thinkin’ ‘bout Philando.” As he freestyled, the passion in his delivery intensified. His emotions seemed to sway from anger at the absurdity of the outcome, to awe in his own presence onstage to be the one to deliver the message. He captivated me, and he delivered one of my favorite sets in the history of Eaux Claires.
Still reeling from his performance, I took a minute to sit, and reflect on what I’d just heard, but at the same time, I felt grateful I was in a place where, for a small while, didn’t have to carry the weight of reality on my back. The sentiment continued to echo in my mind as I made my way back to the Creek to check out another offering from Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner, called Big Red Machine. The duo had previously collaborated back in 2009 on a song of the same name for a compilation called Dark Was The Night which benefited the Red Hot Organization, which raises awareness and funds for HIV and AIDS. This project, however, had morphed into something different. While the original song was sparse, mostly piano and strings accompanying Vernon’s voice, their offering during this set was more electronic, and experimental. Dessner noted at the start of their set, how many of the songs they would debut were still unfinished ideas. What we heard, while unfinished, were interesting enough to capture the crowd’s attention for the duration of the set. One of the new songs, that I suppose is called “More Time” judging by the repetition of the phrase during the chorus, was probably my favorite of the new songs to appear. I’m hopeful at some point these songs will be recorded and properly released.
Again at Lake Eaux Lune, I was bowled completely over by Perfume Genius. I have been hearing that name floating around in the NY music scene for quite some time, and hadn’t had the chance to listen to his music before I made my way out to Eaux Claires. His set might have been one of the biggest surprises of this year’s lineup. Absolutely fearless in his delivery, is the best way I can describe it for you. Do yourself a favor and go see him perform live.
Over at Flambeaux, Feist took the stage in a hot pink jumpsuit and made the decision to play through her new album, Pleasure, to the Eaux Claires crowd. Cheers erupted at the announcement and from what I heard, it was a sound decision.
After Feist’s set, I made sure to visit the woods again, to make sure I soaked in all the beauty before the weekend was over. This time, the blue lights lit up the canopy as we all strolled along the paths. For someone who is used to seeing tall buildings of glass, steel and concrete, seeing such an abundance of trees, grass and foliage was so refreshing. I was glad to have made the decision to visit the woods, because the threat of severe storms caused the schedule to be revamped. Everything scheduled for the stages in the woods was canceled, and the performances at the two main stages were pushed up. Understandably for our safety, the changes were necessary.
Dialing the energy levels back up to 10 at Lake Eaux Lune was Detroit’s own, Danny Brown. As his set began the storm clouds made their presence known as well, unleashing the brunt of their fury on the crowd beneath. Neither Danny, nor the crowd was deterred, as a full on dance circle formed despite the torrent. The bass rattled my chest while the rain beat down relentlessly. It was a spectacular moment to be a part of.
Equally as spectacular at Flambeaux was the pairing of chamber music ensemble, yMusic and Paul Simon. I swear I’m probably the biggest fan yMusic has in New York, so I take any and every opportunity to see them perform. The last time I saw them at National Sawdust, I remember asking CJ what they had planned for Eaux Claires and he mentioned to me that it was definitely something special and something he was very excited and proud about. Well, it was worth the wait. Each song that was played had brand new arrangements, with compositions from the likes of Ryan Lott, Gabriel Kahane and Marcos Balter. My favorite composition however, was from violinist Rob Moose. Now, when I was a young girl, I had always had an interest in music, and I begged my mom for violin lessons. She was convinced I wasn’t disciplined enough to keep up with violin so I ended up with a Casio keyboard instead. But I’ve always had a soft spot for violin in my heart, and Rob Moose is my favorite. So hearing him play along with the rest of the ensemble, to his composition of “The Sound of Silence,” with Paul Simon crooning, thunder rumbling in the distance and lightning streaking across the sky was about the most surreal and arresting things I’ve been a part of in a long while. It was definitely another high point of the entire weekend.
Closing out the fest was none other than Wilco. While the various members of Wilco all made appearances throughout the weekend with other collaborations, Wilco was the band to close out the fest, and judging by the crowd that formed for them, it was a good way to wind things down. I stood back from the stage, next to the Eaux Claires sign, and watched the lightning dance across the sky. Wilco was singing “Cry All Day” at the moment, and the lyrics “Another goodbye, I’m gonna cry” once again made me a bit sad. I was sad that Eaux Claires was coming to its end.
As I walked across the grass, watching Wilco’s stage lights flickering in the distance, the vendors packing up the last of their wares and getting ready to head off home; I thought again about Michael Perry, and his essay “Gratitude.” The different ways he was able to describe what gratitude is, or could mean. Thinking about this festival, how it was just a small idea in Justin and Aaron’s minds, and how it blossomed into this thing that is able to mean so much to so many people all at once. How so many friends came when they called, to participate in this grand experiment of expressionism, and trust. And we, the crowd, trust enough in their vision and their promise of something sacred and magical. The promise of something you can take with you, something that will change you. It’s why people will keep coming back every single year. Chance mentioned onstage that Eaux Claires might give Bonnaroo a run for its money in terms of the overall vibe of the fest, but I believe Eaux Claires is carving out its own niche and can’t be compared to any other festival out there, before or after. I’ll continue to claim my spot by the river for as long as they’ll have me.
Article: Lesley Keller