The Eaux Claires Festival Experience – Why You Can Expect Much More than Music


Start looking into plans for the first-ever Eaux Claires Festival and you’ll soon get the feeling that something special is coming to Western Wisconsin this summer.

Bon Iver front-man and Wisconsin native, Justin Vernon, has teamed up with Aaron Dessner of The National to bring in a wide range of musical acts. That includes everyone from Spoon and the Indigo Girls to the Japanese band Melt-Banana and the Wisconsin band Field Report.

However, the aim of Eaux Claires goes beyond musical variety. The goal is to make it all about experiencing art in new ways.

It’s interesting that Vernon and Dessner describe themselves as “curators” of this festival, rather than founders or organizers as you might expect.

Dessner used the same title for two other festivals he’s helped launch in Brooklyn and Boston. These events also featured filmmaking and other types of artistry in addition to groundbreaking musicians – but the Eaux Claires Festival may go further yet.

Vernon has described the pair’s vision for the July fest in his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin as something that would “encourage music-genre-walls to melt away.”

Watch the Announcement Video for the Eaux Claires Festival

The Creative Ideas Behind the Eaux Claires Festival

Michael Brown, the festival’s creative director, spoke with our friends at VolumeOne in Eau Claire this spring. Brown explained how those attending Eaux Claires will encounter art all over the festival grounds.

“We’re definitely trying to push and hopefully get people to understand that we ultimately want this to be an event, not just a music festival,” Brown said. “A lot of people reference Eaux Claires as a music festival because that’s the vocabulary we all know right now. That’s the easiest way for everyone to digest what it’s going to be in this first year. But it’s an art festival at heart…”

Displays mentioned in the VolumeOne article include a massive, rainbow-colored yarn creation from Minneapolis street artist HOT TEA, which will greet festival-goers at the entrance. HOT TEA is just one of several visual artists from the Midwest participating in the fest.

Artists and organizers are working together to make the festival interactive. Expect to see technology being used to enhance things in creative ways.

For instance, Brown teamed up with UW Eau Claire to create an area where people will encounter what VolumeOne described as experiencing “a live performance by viewing artists through translucent video elements and closed audio transmission via wireless headsets in a 270-degree environment.”

That sounds like something you’d need to see and hear in person to truly understand.

A recent blog post on explained how Bryce Dessner (Aaron’s twin brother) plans to use LEAV – a mobile platform for distributing digital art in specific locations, or sparked by certain environmental triggers.

That’s another idea that seems hard to grasp at first, because most of us have never experienced anything similar before.

Basically, LEAV will allow people to discover Bryce Dressner’s composition “Dessner’s Music for Wood and Strings,” on mobile devices as they wander around the grounds.

Initiating Music Lovers to a New Type of Performance

Experimental Musician Jon Mueller

Experimental Musician Jon Mueller

One of the many original concepts you’ll find at Eaux Claires comes from the mind of experimental musician Jon Mueller of Brookfield, Wisconsin.

The project, which goes by the name INITIATION, is actually Mueller’s latest record. However, you cannot download it or even purchase a copy of it. Mueller will premiere INITIATION at Eaux Claire in July as an exclusive live music experience. It will incorporate dance and video projection.

“When Justin [Vernon] approached me about doing something at the fest, he was very interested in something more elaborate than a straight live performance,” Mueller told WhooNEW. “As I continued thinking about what might be involved, I started to blur the line between what happens on a record vs. what happens in a performance, both for the audience and the performers. In the end, INITIATION was the result of this thinking.”

What a concert like that could do is magnify the value of the music – and the listening experience – to the listener.

The internet has done some incredible things for independent musicians. It has allowed them to build their own audience and blaze their own trail without relying on record labels. On the other hand, issues like file-sharing, piracy and the sheer volume of music now available pose challenges.

In some ways, Mueller’s INITIATION creates a sense of scarcity that will require the audience to live in the moment. Mueller describes it as the audience “living inside the record.”

“I hope it will inspire thoughts about what both records and performances mean to them, how they can reveal discovery and excitement and how they can shape one’s personal world.”

Get a Glimpse of INITIATION to Find Out More

The Lighter Side of the Eaux Claires Festival

While the bands and artists at this event are serious about their art – the festival doesn’t take itself too seriously.

There will be plenty of people looking to have a good time and share some laughs. That’s exactly what Nick Prueher and Joe Picket of the Found Footage Festival plan to bring to the table.

Prueher and Picket are Wisconsin natives who attended UW Eau Claire together. That’s where they started showing awkwardly funny video clips from old VHS tapes to their buddies.

The hilarious idea turned into an online comedy sensation. They’ve since launched a live touring show, which they host as curators of the weird.

Found--footage-fest-logo“It’s a guided tour through our collection of odd and unintentionally funny VHS tapes we’ve found at thrift stores and garage sales across the country,” Prueher explained to WhooNEW. “These are training videos, exercise videos, home movies–basically stuff that wasn’t meant to be shown in public. Then we show it in public, along with a running commentary of jokes, observations and where-are-they now updates.”

You may have seen the Found Footage Festival featured on late night TV talk shows, or perhaps you caught Nick Prueher pranking the local news as the bumbling character, Chef Keith. But Prueher says they’ll be bringing fresh material to Eau Claire in July.

“You’ll see footage you can’t see on the internet or anywhere else, including video of a woman massaging her pet possum. If that doesn’t entice people to check it out I don’t know what will.”

The guys from FFF are excited to come back to Eau Claire and visit their former stomping grounds. Prueher is also impressed by the caliber of talent.

“We’re looking forward to meeting the Blind Boys of Alabama and taking them to all our old college haunts. They’re going to love The Joynt!” Prueher says.

He believes the humor FFF brings to this festival is an important ingredient.

“Our goofy VHS show might be a little different than the rest of the lineup, but think of the Found Footage Festival as Rodney Dangerfield showing up on the golf course in Caddyshack and saying, ‘Hey everybody! We’re all gonna get laid.’ It’s essential.”

Watch the Video for More about the Found Footage Festival Show

Other types of filmmaking and video will play an important role in the first Eaux Claires festival too.

For example, Wisconsin band PHOX has plans to premiere a long-form video project they’ve been working on.

Of course, if you’re going to this festival to hear amazing music – you won’t be disappointed. The impressive lineup has something for everyone. That includes performances from the founders’ bands. The National and Bon Iver are both on the schedule as headliners, and it will be Bon Iver’s first live performance together since 2012.

The most compelling thing about this new festival is the fact that it feels like one gigantic, collaborative experiment. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” so the saying goes. But Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon may be developing an idea that brings art forms together and changes the way we view this kind of live entertainment.

“It might seem difficult to produce anything ‘new’ these days, Jon Mueller says. “But I think there are opportunities in examining how we think about things and the stereotypes of how situations are ‘supposed to be.’ I know Justin considered similar things when creating the festival itself. So, this is a great opportunity to try something different and I’m grateful to be involved.”

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