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Eaux Claires 2018 Highlights

This weekend, my favorite festival Eaux Claires returned to the forest for round four.

Since year one, Eaux Claires curators Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner have worked with musicians and artists to cultivate a completely unique festival experience, with common themes of community, improvisation, and collaboration remaining present each year. At conventional festivals, the line up usually gets announced before tickets go on sale, the schedule is released weeks or months in advance... and that's that. At Eaux Claires, it's always been about the music and the bonds created by the artistic process, with secret appearances, pop up shows, and "artists in residence" who will play multiple times with different people throughout the weekend. This year, the festival one-upped themselves with their surprises and decided not to announce the lineup until the gates opened on Friday, which is certainly not for the faint of heart, but didn't stop the diehard music fans from making the annual trip. If you didn't take the gamble and make the trip to Eau Claire, check out the highlights of EXC 2018 below.

The Lineup Wasn't Announced Until 1PM on Friday

As I just mentioned, this year Eaux Claires organizers took the level of surprise and mystery surrounding the lineup one step further and didn't announce any artists until Friday afternoon, which acted as both a highlight and a downfall of this year's fest. Despite the air of mystery, regular Eaux Claires attendees had hunches as to who some of the performers would be, solely based on past festival line ups. Especially with the "Artists in Residence" aspect of the festival, there has been a network of certain musicians who have continuously come back to collaborate, play their own sets, or guest star with other artists (i.e Francis and the Lights, Sylvan Esso, Phil Cook, and of course Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner). With those traditions already set in, there were certain "usuals" that frequent EXC goers expected, and even the festival merchandise hinted at the usual players by making shirts that read "The Fourth Annual Family Reunion" and "It's Thanksgiving in the Summer." The curators still manage to keep the festival refreshing and unique despite that sense of familiarity by always bringing in a few of the year's best new artists and creating new collaborations and super group performances among artists. For example, one of the final performances on Friday night featured Vernon and Dessner's project Bid Red Machine playing in the round on the Flambeaux stage with a variety of guests like Julien Baker, Gordi, Chastity Brown, Bryce Dessner, and more joining them. So sure, you may have seen Big Red Machine at Eaux Claires the previous year, but you didn't experience it in the same way. All in all, the surprise lineup lead to many highlights throughout the weekend because it allowed for music fans to go with the flow and follow the music. There may have been a larger amount of criticism for the lack of new names or big names, but the fest certainly stayed true to its values of one-off unique experiences, regardless of the fear of backlash. 


Francis Played Two Very Different Sets

This year, the festival also stepped up the art installation game by incorporating a few installations that actually had performances too. Early on Friday afternoon, Francis Starlite played The Jannette; which was essentially a triangular house with mirrors and a piano set in the middle of the woods. Fans of the singer songwriter, dancer, and frequent collaborator of Justin Vernon crowded around the small makeshift stage to experience a rare, stripped back performance of his songs. Later on, more fans got the chance to experience Francis in full capacity, along with some friends during the time slot on the schedule that was simply titled "Friends." (Again, there's that element of surprise...) Most people were savvy enough to figure out who would be playing during that time slot and again crowded around the round Flambeaux stage, where Francis climbed, crowd surfed, and danced with the audience to his own hits like "See Her Out" and "May I Have This Dance," as well as Kanye's song "Lift Yourself." While some of the second performance featured Francis performing solo again, he was joined by Justin Vernon and S. Carey for a few, including "Just For Us" and "Friends." 

Julien Baker Was Joined by Hanif Abdurraqib 

Singer songwriter Julien Baker played on just about every stage throughout the weekend, making guest appearances with the likes of The National and Big Red Machine, but her main performance on the Lake Eaux Lune stage acted as a stand out moment of all of Friday's performances. Baker began her set standing on the stage by herself, mesmerizing the large audience with her delicate guitar strumming and heartfelt narratives, before being joined by a violinist. Later, Baker was also joined by poet Hanif Abdurraqib, who read his poetry over the sounds of Baker's strums. Introducing Abdurraqib, Julien said, "This is a special festival with a special protocol, so I'm gonna bring out my friend Hanif." Once again, Eaux Claires presented a completely unique collaboration of artists-- not just musicians, but creators of completely different mediums and genres were able to produce something special.


Hand Habits Played a House Show at at Festival

Similar to the installation that Francis performed at earlier in the day, musician Meagan Duffy's brainchild Hand Habits performed later that evening at another art installation deemed the Music Box Village. The installation looked like a cross between a house and a playground structure, allowing for festival goers to walk through it when a show wasn't happening, but it also acted as a completely unique stage. "It's cool to play a house show at a festival," Duffy remarked about the installation, perfectly describing the rare set up. The Music Box Village hosted other artists like Phil Cook, Gordi, and Julien Baker throughout the weekend, providing the perfect little nook to watch bands in a relaxed and stripped down setting. This space still allowed for fans to have a good vantage point, unlike some of the smaller stages in the woods, which often got too cramped to allow most fans to enjoy the performances. 


Phil Cook Said It's Okay to Talk to Strangers

Eaux Claires regular Phil Cook's Friday evening set easily tied with The National's show for my favorite show of the weekend. Growing up in Chippewa Falls, Cook has been a part of the Eaux Claires process since its beginning due to his ties to the community, but this year he had a brand new album called People Are My Drug to perform to the EXC family. Cook's band for this performance, which happened to also be the band he made his latest record with, included Chastity Brown and Amelia Meath from Sylvan Esso, among others. "Everyone that was on the record is playing this show. This is the only time this is gonna happen," he told the audience. Cook also gifted the crowd with an inspiring speech, calling attention to the support of his tight-knit community, but also encouraging everyone in the audience to share their stories and absorb the stories of others. "Talk to strangers," he said, mentioning that his dad's record collection gave him access to the outside world via stories in the songs he heard, but he has gained so much from talking to strangers. In addition to his new music and motivational speech, Cook also had Nick Sanborn of Sylvan Esso come onstage to perform their song "PARAD(w/m)E" in honor of his son's birthday, and the set closed with an infectious, mood-boosting cover of "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher."

Francis Led a Dance Lesson....Again

Last year, early arrivers of the festival got a notification shortly after the gates opened that Francis Starlite would be teaching dance in 30 minutes, and those with the festival app or those that wandered by were treated with a last minute surprise that acted as a highlight of the entire weekend. The impromptu dance lesson was so successful that this year it was actually penciled in on the schedule that rolled out on Friday afternoon, and the Saturday dance lessons ended up drawing more people for a 2PM time slot than most early performers at major festivals. This time around, Francis amped up his dance lessons, jumping into the crowd a few times to dance with the groups of people hoarded around the stage, as well as cartwheeling and doing the splits in front of the crowd. The dance class set the tone for day two and left everyone walking away from the stage exuding positive energy. 

Phoebe Bridgers Started a Cult

Saturday marked Phoebe Bridgers first time at Eaux Claires, but she certainly made the most of her time by playing her own set before singing as a guest with The National and the People Mixtape performance. During her own early evening set at the Flambeaux stage, Bridgers attracted a large audience at the round stage, all eager to hear her witty and honest lyrical tales. Despite the serious and sometimes somber tone of her narratives, Bridgers and her band lightened up the mood with funny banter between songs. For example, Bridgers invited her friend and singer songwriter Christian Lee Hutson up and joked that they were going to start a cult together-- "a fun, woods cult" she said. "Not a kill yourself cult. A die-of-natural causes cult," Hutson added. The beautiful harmonies between Bridgers and Hutson were certainly mesmerizing enough to make me want to join their cult, and I'm sure most of the crowd agree, since everyone walked away from the show raving about how incredible it had been. The pair kept the lighthearted jokes going when Bridgers gave the spotlight to Hutson to sing a song he had written after playing in her band for only a week. 

Moses Sumney Got the Crowd to Assist With a New Song

Moses Sumney returned for his second Eaux Claires, having performed back in 2016. With his incredible vocal range and captivating live show, it's no wonder Sumney got asked to return again, and he came back with some new music to share with fans. For one of his new songs, he sang out a low note and asked everyone to sing it back to him and keep it going like they were "trying to make the stage fall down." The audience obliged and Sumney and his band built up the rest of the song's beat as the crowd held out the note. Sumney mentioned that during his live show, he doesn't use any backing tracks or prerecorded sound thanks to help of his band, and little moments like a festival crowd holding out a note add to the organic and unique nature of live music and the community surrounding it. Sumney's entire set felt inclusive and stayed true to the core values of Eaux Claires festival.

Noname Taught The Crowd to Rap

Chicago rapper and poet Noname made her first appearance at Eaux Claires, drawing a massive crowd to the House of Vans stage, where she also encouraged crowd participation. She and her band kept the mood light and relaxed, laughing and having fun throughout the set, which kept the crowd smiling and entertained during the sunny afternoon set. Noname would preface most of her songs with a backstory about the lyrics, and sometimes the introduction included instructions on how to rap the hooks and choruses with her. The crowd eagerly echoed the words back to Noname, giving her a warm introduction to the festival. 


Pussy Riot Educated the Crowd

Moscow collective Pussy Riot kept the crowd intrigued for the duration of their evening set at the Lake Eaux Lune stage, beginning their show with an informational video containing several political facts, which often had the crowd cheering in reaction. When the group members eventually took the stage, they wore matching lime green ski masks to promote a united front. Their songs also contained powerful political messages which reiterated what they had communicated in their introduction video and acted as a call to action for all of those watching their performance. Their set definitely stood out as different from anything else that weekend, which kept the festival goers on their toes and acted as an inspiration for people to use their voices and platforms. 


The National Incorporated Satellite Stages and a Lot of Guests

Co-curator of Eaux Claires Aaron Dessner and his bandmates filled the final spot of the Flambeaux stage for the weekend, utilizing it to the fullest to put on a magical, one-of-a-kind performance. By the time the group hit the stage, the sun had already set, so a simple, yet stunning lighting show illuminated the stage for this performance under the stars. The National's 90 minute set that night stood out for more reasons than the breathtaking architecture of the stage; In classic Eaux Claires fashion, the band invited several of the artists in residence and other performers to join them and they premiered a couple of new songs. While Phoebe Bridgers, Chastity Brown, Sharon Van Etten, and Gordi all joined The National on the main stage to lend their vocals to certain songs, their guest list also included Julien Baker, who performed from a makeshift satellite stage off to the side. An identical pop up stage situated on the other side of the Flambeaux hosted varying percussionists throughout the show, but Baker's shining moment included her on the other side performing her song "Appointments," which immediately transitioned into The National's "Fake Empire." The final vocal assistance during this set came from none other than the crowd themselves during "Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks," which was performed unplugged and with the entire crowd singing together. The National's shows are usually amazing in any setting, but there was something extraordinary about witnessing them perform with so many other talented musicians on a customized stage under a clear, star-speckled sky. 


After The National's show, most fans stuck around for People mixtape on the main stage, which acted as one more giant collaboration between Justin Vernon and other performers on the lineup, as well as a dance group and Iron Boy. The festival may not have ended on the same note as it did two years ago, when Francis and the Lights debuted a new album in full before being joined by Vernon and Chance the Rapper, or last year when Paul Simon and Wilco closed out the weekend, but if nothing else, the final performances of 2018 showcased the Eaux Claires traditions that have been built up over the past few years.  




Bonnaroo 2018 Saturday Highlights

Saturday at Bonnaroo featured tons of incredible shows from artists of every genre. In fact, the schedule was so jam-packed that it left a lot of fans wishing they could be two places at once due to conflicting shows. Here are some highlights you may have missed from the third day of Roo if you were busy hopping from show to show. 

POND Crowd Surfed During Their Second Song

POND took the stage bright and early on Saturday afternoon, breaking in the This Tent with their psych rock jams and laid back attitudes. The band let the crowd know that their Bonnaroo performance was the very last show of their recent US tour before they return home to Australia, and they definitely went out with a bang. Frontman Nick Allbrook began the set on the right foot, immediately jumping into the audience to crowd surf during the second song. From there on, the energy remained high, with Allbrook sauntering around the entire stage, jumping down at certain points to go up to the fans at the barricade. The crowd’s energy remained right up there with the band’s, with everyone dancing and singing along despite the extreme heat. 

POND Frontman Nick Allbrook

POND Frontman Nick Allbrook

Chance The Rapper Crashed Knox Fortune's Set

Chicago Producer and singer songwriter Knox Fortune has garnered buzz for his work with rapper Joey Purp, but more notably for singing the hook on Chance The Rapper’s song “All Night.” Naturally, when rumors surfaced on Friday that Chance The Rapper had been spotted around the Bonnaroo campgrounds, some clever fans began to speculate whether or not Chance might join Knox Fortune’s set to bring their collaboration to life. Sure enough, towards the end of Knox’s afternoon set at the That Tent, some lucky fans were able to witness a rare special performance of the track when Chance came onstage to perform his verses. Chance hasn’t made any other pop up appearances onstage this weekend, so this may have been the only chance to catch him (pun intended). 

Knox Fortune at The That Tent

Knox Fortune at The That Tent

Rag'N'Bone Man Apologized For His Dancing

British singer songwriter Rory Graham, aka Rag’N’Bone Man, combines his raw, bluesy vocals with soulful pop melodies to craft addictively catchy songs that made for a great sing along during his set. The success of his single “Human” from his debut album also of the same name attracted hoards of fans to the This Tent for his evening set. During his set, Graham displayed his humble nature, often thanking the crowd for turning up and making self-deprecating jokes. He told the crowd that playing festivals in the states can be quite daunting since he always thinks no one “knows who the fuck I am,” and he seemed genuinely touched at how many people turned up to watch him. All of the fans who showed up were treated to stripped down introductions and intricate arrangements of Graham’s songs, as well as some laughs when he chatted between tunes. “I apologize for my dancing,” Graham said, recalling a time someone wrote a review of his show saying he was good, but his dancing is awful. We’re all for his dancing here though since Bonnaroo is about radiating positivity. 

Rag'n'Bone Man at the This Tent

Rag'n'Bone Man at the This Tent

A Blow Up Doll Crowd Surfed During Post Animal

Our pals in Post Animal made their Bonnaroo debut last night to an overflowing and hyped up crowd at the Who Stage. Although their set time clashed with some other major shows, including Bon Iver’s first set, fans still flocked to see their second ever festival performance, following last month’s debut at Shaky Knees in Atlanta. Throughout the past couple of years, the group has beefed up their live show, honing in on their song transitions and arrangements to make for a special experience of their songs that you can only get at their live shows. Their efforts to put on a smooth and engaging show didn’t go unnoticed by their enthusiastic crowd, who immediately opened up a mosh pit and crowd surfed throughout the 45 minute set. One audience member brought a blow up doll with them, which surfed above the crowd and even ended up on stage at one point. Post Animal has never been known to put on a tame show, but last night was definitely one of the wildest. You can catch their next major festival performance later in the summer, when they take the Lollapalooza stage for the first time. 

Justin Vernon Brought The Eaux Claires Spirit to the Second Bon Iver Set

When Bon Iver’s first set of Saturday night consisted mostly of songs from the album 22, A Million, fans began to speculate that the later set would include some of the classics from the earlier days. However, Justin Vernon took a completely different approach by turning the set into a collaborative performance piece. The collaborative vision closely tied into the mission of Vernon’s hometown festival in Eau Claires, Wisconsin, which frequently features surprise sets and crossover between bands and artists during their shows. Not only did the Bon Iver show last night have special guest appearances, but dancers also accompanied the music for certain songs. Coupled with the intricate lighting design, the dancers tied together the show’s production level. As for the musical guests, Vernon first invited Francis and the Lights early on in the set, before welcoming him back to perform their hit “Friends”…with both Vernon and Francis joining in on the dancing. Other guests included Moses Sumney and Sylvan Esso, with the latter coming out on stage to perform “Flume” with the band, as well as their own song “Coffee.” Vernon even invited Parkland survivor Aalayah Eastmond out to speak about gun control, adding some activism into the set. Overall, the show was completely unique to most Bon Iver shows you’d catch, which made for the perfect ending to Bonnaroo’s third day. 

Don't forget to also check out our Thursday and Friday highlights, and stay tuned for coverage of the final day today!

Bonnaroo 2018 Friday Highlights

Bonnaroo continued on Friday with even more memorable moments than the first day. Read up on what you may have missed around Centeroo on Friday, and as always keep an eye on our social media for live updates throughout the weekend. 

An Encouraging Crowd Waited For Japanese Breakfast

Tons of Bonnarooians flocked to Centeroo early on Friday to catch Japanese Breakfast's set that was scheduled for 2:15 PM. Although the set got off to a late start, actually starting around 2:30, fans waited patiently, cheering and clapping through the last minute sound check. Front woman Michelle Zauner started off the set stationary with her guitar, but a couple of songs in, she roamed the stage sans guitar to get closer to the audience and work the entire crowd. As Zauner sang through songs on her 2017 album Soft Sounds From Another Planet, the crowd sang along loudly, getting Bonnaroo Day 2 off to a great start. 

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast

Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast

Sheryl Crow Teased an Unannounced Performer

"This [song] is older than most of y'all. You guys are younger than this song, and you know it. That's weird," Sheryl Crow addressed the overflowing audience at her early evening set at the What Stage, who had been singing along all the words. Although the hits Crow played during her Friday set may have been from years ago, that didn't stop the diverse audience from knowing them all, and she started strong with epic sing alongs like "If It Makes You Happy" and "Every Day Is A Winding Road." Crow's stage banter remained strong throughout her entire set, with her teasing both her participation in the Super Jam and a surprise guest appearance. After pointing out a Tom Petty sign one of the audience members was holding up, Crow asked for the fan to pass it to her, and she held it up, reminding everyone to come see the Super Jam tribute to Tom Petty later that night. "Y'all have a big weekend ahead of you," Crow said. "I just met someone who is gonna be on the stage later, but it's not announced. I would leak it, but I haven't had anything to drink yet." Maybe tonight we'll find out who the unannounced performer is, but Crow never did end up leaking it during her set. 

Paramore Finally Played Bonnaroo

Paramore hit the What Stage after Sheryl Crow, taking the stage to eager audience members, who were all excited to finally see the Nashville band on the Roo stage. "Right in our backyard and we never came to see you," lead singer Hayley Williams said to the Friday evening crowd, addressing the band's absence from the festival thus far. Although Paramore fans might have been waiting years to see the band on the farm, Williams and the band more than made up for it with a mix of songs from throughout their discography, Williams' powerhouse vocals that stayed strong despite her constant dancing and jumping, and the performance of a Halfnoise song (drummer Zac Farro's other project). The band also took the time to use their platform to promote positivity between their songs, Williams addressing the death of Anthony Bourdain, as the news had broken earlier that day. "I see a lot of smiles, and that's really nice to see in 2018," Williams said, continuing on to say that the news these days is usually pretty awful, but dancing and music has the ability to bring people together and add something positive to all of the negative news of the world. Paramore's set definitely acted as the perfect mood booster and distraction on a day that had begun with some heavy news for the entertainment industry. 

Okey Dokey Brought Out All Their Friends

Like Paramore, Nashville duo Okey Dokey also played their first Bonnaroo as this project, but lead singer Aaron Martin told the audience that this was his fifth time at Bonnaroo. In celebration of Okey Dokey making it to Roo, the pair invited a bunch of their musical friends to join them on The Who Stage. Liz Cooper of Liz Cooper & The Stampede joined the band on stage for the entire set, playing different percussion instruments (including a banana shaker), but towards the end of the set, she sang a duet with Martin. Rayland Baxter, who would later be joining in on the Tom Petty Super Jam, also joined this sort of mini Super Jam, singing the song he had written with the group. Brad Shultz and Nick Bockrath of Cage The Elephant even hopped on stage to play guitar for a couple of songs. 

Okey Dokey Featuring Liz Cooper

Okey Dokey Featuring Liz Cooper

Super Jam Featured an All Star Line Up Playing Tom Petty Hits

Every year, Bonnaroo puts on a Super Jam featuring a line up of musical guests performing at the festival throughout the weekend. This year, the Super Jam paid tribute to Tom Petty, which meant the entire crowd screamed along the entire time as the band played through hit after hit. The core band that played the entire two hour set included Patrick Hallahan, Tom Blankenship, Pat Sansone, Craig Pfunder, Daniel Creamer, and The Watson Twins, and the special guests ranged from artists just starting out to veteran rockstars. Bonnaroo first timers FRENSHIP and Durand Jones and the Indications joined early on in the set to play "Refugee" and "You Wreck Me," with legend Sheryl Crow following shortly after to sing "American Girl." The massive crowd that had flocked to the This Tent for the jam had dwindled slightly towards the end of the set, but the tent remained packed until past 3AM, with special guests like Matt Shultz (Cage The Elephant), Vanessa Carlton, Justin Vernon (Bon Iver), and Sameer Gadhia (Young The Giant) anchoring out the set with songs like "Breakdown," "Learning to Fly," and "Free Fallin'." The artists that contributed all sounded incredible together, paying a beautiful homage to Mr. Tom Petty. 

Super Jam closing out the This Tent on Friday 

Super Jam closing out the This Tent on Friday 

Get Ready for Eaux Claires 2017

It's that time of year again...Eaux Claires 2017 is just around the corner! Last year the forest won us over with exceptional, one-of-a-kind performances, secret art installations, and endless surprises. From the live debut of Bon Iver's new album 22 A Million (including a track- by-track song title reveal in the festival app) to Chance The Rapper crashing Francis and The Lights' late night set, Eaux Claires 2016 didn't skimp on the special moments. This year, with so many big names like Paul Simon, Chance The Rapper, and Wilco on the line up, there's no telling what wondrous collaborations will occur this time around.  To get ready for the revival of our favorite festival, we've gone through the daily schedule and art installations to select our most anticipated moments. 

The Schedule 

All Images Courtesy of Eaux Claires/44 Communications

All Images Courtesy of Eaux Claires/44 Communications

Times To Be Alert

  • Friday, 6:45PM- Midnight, OXBEAUX Stage:  "EXC TBD"
  • Friday, 12-8:30 PM The Banks: "EXC TBD"
  • Friday, 11PM-Midnight The Banks: "EXC TBD"
  • Saturday, 2-2:30PM, OXBEAUX Stage:  "EXC TBD"
  • Saturday, 9:45-10:15, OXBEAUX Stage:  "EXC TBD"
  • Saturday, ALL DAY, The Banks: "EXC TBD"

All of the above times are noted as "Open for Artist Collaborations" on the official schedule. Based on the many surprises during the last two years, you want to be close by to The Banks or OXBEAUX during the To Be Determined times in order to avoid major FOMO. Pro Tip: Download the Eaux Claires App, turn on notifications, and keep a portable charger with you! As we mentioned, Bon Iver debuted a new album last year, and the app revealed each new song title through the app. Impromptu performances were also announced via the app, so consider it your EXC Guru. Also, make sure to make a few festival buddies, since the ol' word of mouth system is also your friend at this festival. Last year, we saw the live debut of "Friends" by Bon Iver and Francis and The Lights during Francis and The Lights' set, which is something you just had to be there for. 

The Art

Known for its secrets and surprises, the "extras" at the Eaux Claires are always evolving. However, here are some of the art installations that you definitely need to be on the look out for!

  • Moms Booth: If you're the type to get homesick at a music festival, perhaps this attraction will help! The festival organizers elaborates on this installation, saying "interactive installation staffed with real moms from the local community, including mothers of artists at the festival." If you're in need of some words of wisdom or some mom time, stop by this booth during your breaks from the music.
  • Living Room: Escape from the crowds of Eaux Claires and plop down on a couch in the middle of the forest in "Living Room." This installation also promises a stereo that may also be pumping out new music from some of the festival's artists. 
  • Crickets: You guessed it- this installation will feature actual crickets, thousands of them. The artist behind this installation, Chris Kallmayer, says crickets will point to the memory, the passage of time, and the poetics of place." 

These installations are just our top three of the countless art installations already announced, which will feature anything from live painting to poetry to sculptures. On top of the announced artists and exhibits, there's sure to be pop up features along the way. Download the app to say in the know.

Keep your eyes on our social media all this week leading up to the fest for more on what we're looking forward to, and tune in during the festival for live updates of Eaux Claires 2017!