If there had to be one man who’s successfully captured the essence of a gruelling bitter heartache and put it into song, then it’s Bon Iver’s front man Justin Vernon.
And four seemingly quiet years later he’s returned, bursting with high–held visions that speak to a man and a mind that was never quite done with playing in the woods of Eau Claire. This July marked the first Eaux Claire Music and Arts Festival and for those lucky enough to have nabbed a ticket, Vernon secured quite the line up. Among them, Sylvan Esso, The Tallest Man on Earth, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, Francis and the Lights, Liturgy, the National and the much-anticipated return of Bon Iver.
When Justin took to burying his past in the snow-covered woods of Eau Claire, the result was a desolating infusion of guitar chords and soul destroying-ly beautiful lyrics. So much so that it came as no surprise when a friend mistook Vernon’s song writing for no more than a sympathy calling, feverish attempt to lure us deep into the cracks of a gut wrenching, stab in the heart Bridget Jones kinda break up. But delve in a little closer and you will discover something quite the opposite. In just two albums, Justin Vernon showed an astounding ability to take us on a journey of heartbreak, bitter resentment and ultimately hope, reaching far beyond the soppy I need wine calling love song and very quickly turning into an indie folk prodigy.
Bon Iver’s first album in 2008 For Emma, Forever ago effortlessly captured Vernon’s bitter heart-ache in a string of dark, subdued songs, absent mindedly sung and backed only by the bare strings of his acoustic guitar. In The Wolves (Act I and II) Vernon layers his vocals to project anguish, climaxing with an electrifying, soul infused clashing of chords that are quickly counterbalanced by the familiar undertones of his soft guitar strumming | ‘Someday my pain will mark you’ | he utters. And then there are other more fragile tracks like Re Stacks; so reassuringly simple but indicative of a man’s ability to use his own, pure voice to take comfort in his troubles and serving to remind us that we are all human, after all. ‘To me, it is not about getting over things and moving forward, it is about going through the sadness, taking some of it with you and being made whole because of it’.
Bon Iver’s self titled album in 2011 marked a turning point in Vernon’s life and his first foray into multi tracking, transforming his music into something so alive that you could almost feel Justin emerging from his cabin in the woods, soaking up the joys of spring in the rich pulsating guitar melody that introduces ‘Towers’ and the blissfully potent humming that features in the one and a half minute track ‘Lisbon’.
As Vernon explained, this festival was designed to melt away the music-genre-walls that we have become so accustomed to and to create an experience that goes far beyond any ordinary festival and boy, he delivered. In a setting sat very close to Vernon’s heart, Eaux Claire bragged an impressive roster of musicians, actors, filmmakers and visual artists, reveling as one to unite in a collision of artistic forces, on a stage unique to its own and in the comfort of Vernon’s very own home, Eau Claire.
Eaux Claires Festival July 17 – 18, WI | eauxclaires.com