This weekend more than 20,000 music lovers are expected to pack into Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s Foster Farms for the second straight year.
The Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, curated by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (the National), isn’t just a Monsters of Indie Rock showcase -- it’s an adventure in interactive art, the collaborative process, and an attempt to bridge the gap between stage and crowd.
The stacked lineup offers Dessner’s one-off charitable Grateful Dead tribute, Day of the Dead, the live debut of Bon Iver’s first new album in five years, and performances from artists as diverse as Har Mar Superstar, Sarah Neufeld, Deafheaven, Erykah Badu, Bruce Hornsby, and so many more.
The key to the fest, though, isn’t just boozing and camping and getting too much sun and loud music. It’s the once-in-a-lifetime collaborations and seemingly random art from all mediums mixed into the flow.
Ahead of Eaux Claires, we asked Dessner to list the five acts he's most excited to see, and you can see his comments below. As Dessner talks about the fest, two themes come up repeatedly: excitement, plus the opportunity to be a music fan as much as a performer.
Of course, we had to ask what’s up the National while we had him on the line, just before he ran off to the final Day of the Dead rehearsal.
"A Javanese band that we learned about through a friend who made a film about them. It was a long shot that they would come. It’s experimental Javanese music that’s unbelievable."
"A band from Japan that has been something on a wish list that Justin and I had. They’re going to play Fantasma, one of their albums. We really wanted to get them to come but we weren’t sure it would happen. Last year we had Melt Banana from Japan and it’s good to keep that thread."
Richard Reed Parry
"There’s so much new music being premiered. Obviously Bon Iver but also Richard Reed Parry from Arcade Fire has been writing a record called Quiet River of Dust and he’ll be performing most of that."
Eighth Blackbird with Bryce Dessner and Bonnie “Prince” Billy
"Eighth Blackbird is this amazing chamber group from Chicago doing a lot of unreleased music with my brother and Will Oldham."
"One of the really exciting things is we’ve commissioned this art installation by an Italian artist Edoardo Tresoldi. It’s an organ sculpture. There will be organ music performed by two artists including James McVinnie, who was the organist at Westminster Abbey for a long time. He’s one of the best organists in the world. He’ll be performing all kinds of organ music. Old baroque music and more modern stuff.
I could go on and on. Day of the Dead in a first and only performance of Day of the Dead, Lisa Hannigan and I just made a record called At Swim that comes out in a week, and we’re playing a lot of that."
On how of often he'll appear onstage ...
"At least four or five, but probably more -- that’s the spirit of it. We got off to a great start last year. The goal was to do something different and to blur the lines between performances on the stage and in the audience and traditional versus unconventional and multi-disciplinary aspect. Michael Perry has curated a number of readings that are going to happen in the small dome we have.
There’s going to be roaming music playing in the audience. What I’m excited about is listening to a lot of music and seeing a lot. Hopefully I take something away from that, and the audience as well. And then the feeling of being at a festival where there is interaction with the audience and a less formal conventional experience."
On what's next for the National ...
"The whole band is here and will be playing in different forms. The whole band will be on stage for Day of the Dead at times. We’re deep into making a new record, taking our time and pushing somewhere we haven’t been before.
We’ve just been writing a lot of songs so there are more than normal. We’re probably working on more than one album and it’s unknown what that will become. It could take many directions. After this, in the fall, we’ll go to finish it. Right now it’s anything goes mode which is fun."
On why the National is not playing Eaux Claires this year ...
"The reason Justin [Bon Iver] is playing is he just finished a new record and this is the perfect place to premiere it. It’s really exciting. We don’t intend to just grow Eaux Claires to be The National’s and Bon Iver’s festival that we always play.
The idea is that we’ll probably always be doing projects -- all of us -- and it’s great to have a home for all the ideas and collaborations, but we want to include many other things. Having Bruce Hornsby, the Melvins, Mavis Staples, James Blake, and Beach House, there’s so much happening."
With: Bon Iver, James Blake, Bruce Hornsby, Day of the Dead tribute, Erykah Badu, Beach House, Vince Staples, Tickle Torture, many more.
When: Fri.-Sat., Aug. 12-13.
Where: Foster Farms, 3443 Crescent Ave., Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Info: Click here for tickets ($169 2-day pass; $90 daily) and here for full lineup/schedule.