Eaux Claires 2016: A Collaboration of Art, Music and Nature

We were greeted at the gates of Eaux Claires 2016 with a book. Filled with pronunciation guidelines and facts about the day’s moon cycles, this book also contained a request:

“Be kind, do good work. Even when at play.”

It was paired with the note:

“We are eager to share the thump and strobe, the hoot and holler, the comet-blast heathen-dance, the rainbows of spark and fire, the voluminous voices, the idea that people by the thousands can make a happy earthquake. But we are equally eager to share the quiet corners, the spot of shade, the acoustic fingertip, the line of poetry given eye-to-eye, the sound of the leaf as it kissed the water, with no plan but to begin…”


Eaux Claires 2016, set in the woods of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, was a collaboration of music, art and nature. A music festival in theory, Eaux Claires moved beyond the typical fest, with art instillations and surprises sprinkled throughout the grounds and woods. Eaux Claires embraced the world around it, and left us with full hearts.

Musical highlights of the festival included the live release of Bon Iver’s new album, 22, A Million, which is slated to come out at the end of September. Bon Iver’s first release in over five years, 22, A Million deserves more than I can say about it. It’s filled with such a warm sound. The premiere of 22, A Million left us in tears, eagerly awaiting its official release.

aUfq1IE.jpgOther day one musical highlights included Prinze George’s set, which was quickly followed by a performance by My Brightest Diamond (and I even got to talk to Shara Worden), James Blake, and Deafheaven. Day one closed out with a performance by sex-crazed Tickle Torture, who I was able to talk with a bit. The man behind the madness, Elliott Kozel, told me about his inspiration to create a Prince-like jam band, and his inspiration after Prince’s death to create a new music video. He also saw that I had a camera and requested I take a picture.

Day two started with a set from the lovely Shara Nova (of My Brightest Diamond) performing a set specifically curated for Eaux Claires with So Percussion called “Timeline.” Playing off the aspect of timing that’s involved with drumming, Shara created this piece as an ode to dance and the timeline between birth and death.


It was time to explore and discover some of the secrets that the festival curators had left for us. A walk in the woods lead us to a secret stage, where S. Carey would later perform. Deeper into the woods and off the trail were a set of monkey bars. Participants had to fight off the burning itch that came with tromping through the woods off-trail, but were rewarded with a beautiful secluded corner where one could climb around yet still hear Jenny Lewis through the trees.


Other instillations we visited included a structure which housed a whiteboard mural created by artist Gregory Euclide. Each participant was instructed to pick a square of the mural, and erase. This action was to symbolize the decay of nature, and help participants understand that even at a festival such as Eaux Claires where we are encouraged to interact and be understanding of nature around us, our actions still take their toll. We also visited a film program, where we were excited to take note of the anti-cultural appropriation at Eaux Claires, as the film highlighted various aspects of the lives and challenges faced by the local native population.

We heard some poetry, cried again, danced with Unknown Mortal Orchestra and Shabazz Palaces, got our jaw busted in a pit during the Melvins, and watched as Beach House used their dreamy voices and the smallest stage to create an intimate and beautiful performance that made us cry once more.

We walked out of Eaux Claires healed with full hearts and organ music playing, connected to each other and to the land around us. Justin Vernon succeeded immensely in bringing us together again, and trusting that we will rise to the challenges he put in our path as we learn more about ourselves and continue to question what a music festival should mean. Once again, I leave Eaux Claires floored by it’s sense of community between patron and artist. I left eagerly awaiting my return for part three, and our reunion.


JULIA OLSON | Still lost in the woods | Head Reporter


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