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Next Big Fest? Justin Vernon proposes music and arts festival for July 2015

by Eric Christenson

Justin Vernon is tapping lighting and stage designer Michael Brown to create the new festival's  grounds and stages. Bon Iver's 2012 tour used Michael Brown for stage and lighting design – shown here at Radio City Music Hall. Image: JC McIlwaine, The Bowery
While the music lineup has not been revealed, Justin Vernon is tapping designer Michael Brown to create the new festival's grounds and stages. Bon Iver's 2012 tour used Michael Brown for its stage design – shown here at Radio City Music Hall. Image: JC McIlwaine, The Bowery

A new music and arts festival on the Country Jam grounds — primarily organized by Justin Vernon — could see its time in the sun next summer.

Dubbed the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival, the two-day festival is slated to bring a mixture of music, visual art, sound and light installation, dance, film, and even culinary art to the grounds one week before Country Jam on July 18 and 19 (the same weekend as Rock Fest in Cadott).


As far as who’s playing? That stuff’s been under wraps for a while and it still is, but Vernon himself tells us a notable aspect of the festival will be its art installations and its experiential aesthetics.

As far as who’s playing? That stuff’s been under wraps for a while and it still is, but Vernon himself tells us a notable aspect of the festival will be its art installations and its experiential aesthetics. Notable lighting and stage designer Michael Brown – a frequent Vernon collaborator – will lead a team in designing the festival grounds, the visuals and lighting fest-goers will experience throughout the two-day event. Brown has worked with a range of artists on stage-based art installations and lighting, including acts like The National, Grizzly Bear, Bon Iver, Volcano Choir, and even most recently, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (shown here).

But it’s not a done deal yet. Vernon and co-organizers Brian Appel and Jesse Du Bey (both of Boston-based production company Crash Line Productions) are currently seeking a conditional use permit from the town of Union — where the grounds are located, west of Eau Claire — to access the grounds for the festival, which would hold around 25,000 attendees each day. The application, which you can view in its entirety here, goes before the Union planning committee tomorrow, before the Union Town Board Oct. 14, and to the Eau Claire County Board’s Planning and Development Committee Oct. 28. Appel previously worked on the planning aspects of Boston Calling, a three-day music festival in Boston that Volcano Choir played in September.

A Grizzly Bear concert from 2012, stage design by Michael Brown. Image: WERS 88.9
A Grizzly Bear concert from 2012 also shows stage design by Michael Brown. Image: WERS 88.9

Volume One's been privy to rumblings about the proposed festival for more than a year, but with just a few rounds of approval to go through, Eaux Claires is more real than ever.

While Country Jam has just the one stage, Eaux Claires would have two-and-a-half — another smaller stage directly across from the main stage (the two will alternate acts) and a third late-night tent venue — closer to the river — to keep the party rolling until 2am each night with reduced volume. Festival-goers can camp overnight — similar to Country Jam — at Whispering Pines and Whispering Fields.

Though the target audience is roughly in the 21-45 age range, the permit application states a distinct aspect of the festival will be its appeal to both older music fans and families with young children.

The event merchandise will have a unique twist as well, with local and national designers commissioned to design one-of-a-kind apparel, artwork, souvenirs, etc. Additionally, some limited edition items will be signed and auctioned by artists, the proceeds from which will benefit local charitable organizations.

Many aspects of the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival are still unconfirmed, but it clearly aims at being a huge undertaking that could bring big names in indie music, art, and culture to the Chippewa Valley for a long, long time.

Watch: Michael Brown stage design

The National has toured with a stage and lighting show designed by Michael Brown. Image: LMG Touring.
The National has toured with a stage and lighting show designed
by Michael Brown. Image: LMG Touring

To give you an idea of the stage aesthetics expected at the Eaux Claires Music and Art Festival, check out some videos displaying Michael Brown's designs in action ...

> See The National's stage in action
> See Grizzly Bear's stage in action

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