The Eaux Claires festival, held in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is the brainchild of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner. A music festival only in the sense that it features music, the 2-day celebration of all things midwestern seems more like a Willy-Wonka-inspired music-themed playground. The grounds, located in the Chippewa Valley, will feature interactive art installations, day-long parades throughout the grounds, and the mysterious “Mouth of the St. Coix,” the field journal description for which reads, “You are a sinner. We know this. The Mouth of the St. Coix knows this. You want ablution, he has it. Yea, right there in his golden teeth. You can haz it. Come to the Mouth. On bended knee. Or call 715-575-3286. Confess.” Yeah, I have no clue what that means, either (the number goes straight to voicemail, in case you were wondering).
The first paragraph in the festival’s field journal sets the tone for just how different this festival has been from its very conception, stating, “Humility. It is the only suitable term. Even the word Welcome—which we hereby offer with all heart and heartiness—carries the implication that this place belongs to us, when in fact we belong to this place.”
The lineup for the festival is just as eclectic as you would think. Big names like The National, Sufjan Stevens, and Poliça (to name just a few) will perform alongside such bands as Japanese Noise-pop group Melt Banana, “Tantric Percussionist” Jon Mueller, and the impossible to pin down Grandma Sparrow. Many of the artists come from the midwest, and all were hand-picked by Vernon and Dessner. Bon Iver is set to headline Saturday night, breaking their all-too-long hiatus. Fans shouldn’t get their hopes up for the band’s return though, as Vernon has stated that the band has no intention of releasing a new album yet. When asked in a recent interview about his choice of artists for the festival, Vernon told Grantland, “[Compared to Lollapalooza] Ours is a different outlook. We’re not crushing ticket sales. But guess what? The people that end up taking a chance and seeking us out and coming to have an experience I think are going to be getting the best experience…Picking music for music’s sake seems like the obvious choice, but it doesn’t seem like the obvious choice when you look at a lot of the other festivals out there.”
The festival has no on-site parking, with a shuttle service offered to and from most major hotels in the city for a small fee, as well as a free shuttle from Chippewa Valley Technical College and UW- Eau Claire. A detailed list of shuttle stops and cost can be found here. Festival-goers have the option of purchasing a camping pass for the Whispering Pines/Whispering Fields campground, with free shuttle service included (camping passes are now sold out).
Eaux Claires promises to be a breath of fresh air to those music lovers that have become bored by the endlessly branded and monetized festivals like Lollapalooza and Coachella. The festival is more than a grouping of acts playing at stages in the same place, it’s a celebration of art, midwestern heritage, and above all, some really fucking good music.
(Title image via).