Wednesday, Aug. 17th, 2016

Eaux Claires 2016 Recap: Unapologetically Bold

Native Eau Clairians Phil Cook and Justin Vernon on stage at Eaux Claires 2016.
Native Eau Clairians Phil Cook and Justin Vernon on stage at Eaux Claires 2016.

With a handful of stages pumping out tunes from a stunning expanse of genres, interactive art installations scattered in every nook and cranny of the grounds, secret stages, collaborative performances, noise, circuitry, and experimentation – the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival went bold this year, and never looked back.

There’s the big stuff you’ve probably heard about already: Justin Vernon and the Bon Iver crew debuting the band’s unreleased new album 22, A Million live for the first time, the waves of musicians hopping in and out of the massive Day Of The Dead performance anchored by members of The National, and the debut of a forthcoming Francis and the Lights record called Farewell, Starlite! marked with a walk-off surprise cameo by Chance The Rapper and Vernon to close out the fest.

The two-day experience was just as good for those huge moments of togetherness as it was for quiet time alone. Like one moment you’d be enduring a steady rain shower among thousands while watching James Blake’s melancholy electronic wizardry shake the audience with tremendous bass tones; then the next, you’d be wandering off the beaten path discovering a leaf hanging from a nearby branch stamped with a small, starry-eyed inscription like “everything else can wait but not this." You’d head up the hill and see some of Deafheaven’s unhinged metal or Shabazz Palaces’ experimental hip hop, before accidentally stumbling on an intricate diorama by artist Gregory Euclide underground, only visible via porthole. Stuff like that.  

The "Baroque" organ/sculpture art installation.

There was almost too much to do in two days, which is a blessing, I suppose. There’s so much to take in from every angle that sitting and waiting to get a good spot for an act you really want to see feels like you’re wasting time and missing out on a hundred other things transpiring elsewhere on the grounds.

Art was everywhere if you knew where to look for it, and that only added to the strength of the musical performances.  

Moses Sumney had my favorite performance of the weekend, catching uproarious applause after making his afternoon crowd swoon with otherworldly falsettos and his old school soul stylings. Beach House were incredible in their perfectly infectious late night set. They were back lit the whole time, looking like swaying shadows, which definitely enhanced their witchy pop songs and stirring moments of guitar-driven chaos. Erykah Badu started almost 40 minutes late, and her set had to be cut short, but never have I seen an antsy and annoyed crowd flip moods so quickly. Such is the power of Badu. She used her time to absolutely slay her handful of tunes, and stir the souls of everyone in the bowl with her one-of-kind vocal trapeze and commanding stage presence.

There was almost too much to do in two days, which is a blessing, I suppose. There’s so much to take in from every angle that sitting and waiting to get a good spot for an act you really want to see feels like you’re wasting time and missing out on a hundred other things transpiring elsewhere on the grounds. But part of any festival experience is accepting your limitations and planning ahead.

"The Kills" – one of three stages on the upper field.

Beyond the Music and the Art

We’re finding out that a particularly cool facet of the Eaux Claires festival is the massive wave of reaction from fans, travelers, media, writers, photographers, and everyday people from around the world, making their remarks about Eau Claire – our city and our people. Thousands of people who have never been here before are suddenly upon us, discovering places we see everyday for the first time. It kinda makes you laugh a little, and maybe remember what made this place special to you in the first place.

“These people love where they’re from, and they want you to love it, too,” wrote Pitchfork after the fest. “They make a pretty convincing case.”

Many outlets praised the idyllic setting of the festival smack dab in the middle of a luxuriant Wisconsin summer. The woods and water are as much a part of this festival as anything, and I think that’s a magical thing you don’t usually get at bigger, urban festivals.  

"Secret" woodland performance space.

“The Eaux Claires venue is tucked away in a few secluded fields near the banks of the Eau Claire River, and it’s easy to believe that it exists in its own pastoral world of echoing amps and endless cheese curds,” wrote Consequence of Sound in a recent recap.  

It really couldn’t happen anywhere but here, and fest organizers made sure that visitors would leave with a piece of Eau Claire to take with them. Tangibly, maybe festgoers grabbed a keepsake notebook, some merch from Ambient Inks’ invariably busy merch tent, or something from The Local Store. But maybe they took in some intangibles too, like our community spirit, the friendliness of the people out here, or the fact that Justin Vernon was wearing a Sled Napkin t-shirt on stage.  

No doubt about it, Eau Claire is everywhere you look at Eaux Claires.  

That being said, no two attendees' festival experience is the exact same. Eaux Claires is proving to be an awesome thing out of which you can, more easily than ever, carve your own individual experience. With all its premieres, surprises, collaborations, rainfall and sunshine, Eaux Claires Deux is in the books. That’s it for this year’s festival season on those grounds. In the coming months, the grass and the dirt will get buried by snow and ice, but only for a while, until the summer sun comes back next year to melt it all away again.

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Monday, Aug. 15th, 2016

GLEAUXING REVIEWS? What People Are Saying About Eaux Claires II (updated)

Photo: J. Scott Kunkel
Photo: J. Scott Kunkel

The stages and speaker stacks have been packed away, the last Kind bars and Brewing Projekt beers have been consumed, the little orange journals have been tucked into hand-crafted memory boxes, and we’re easing our inevitable post-Eaux Claires cooldown by reliving some of the best moments of the second annual festival – as seen through the eyes of music journalists and bloggers near and far. Here’s a cross-section of what people are saying about the sophomore incarnation of the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, which brought an estimated 20,000 fans to Eau Claire on August 12-13.

The Bon Iver Debut

Photo: David Szymanski
Justin Vernon. Photo: David Szymanski

Inevitably, much of the coverage focused on the release of the much-anticipated new album from Bon Iver, the main musical project of festival founder and curator Justin Vernon. The Friday night crowd heard 22, A Million live for the first time on Friday night, with Vernon and his huge team of collaborators playing the new disc from beginning to end (with an encore of older favorites).

Ana Gaca of Spin described 22, A Million as...

“... a lovely, weird, unpredictable record, combining Vernon’s characteristic multilayered songwriting with an ever-grander embrace of electronics and an occasional blast of noise.”

“As odd as it can be to hear lyrics about creeks and reeds through a thicket of Auto-Tune,” she continued, “22, A Million sounded crisp: Eaux Claires’ organizers clearly prioritize audio quality, and perhaps it’s only to be expected that Bon Iver’s music should sound better near a forest beside a river in northwestern Wisconsin.”

"The adventurous new material pulsed with a bold urgency, as if the songs were just waiting to be unleashed to a live audience. They arrived fully formed, tightly wound, and well rehearsed, injected with the self-assurance of an artist who knows he is sharing his very best work with his fans and his friends.” – Erik Thompson, City Pages

Erik Thompson of City Pages opined that “the adventurous new material pulsed with a bold urgency, as if the songs were just waiting to be unleashed to a live audience. They arrived fully formed, tightly wound, and well rehearsed, injected with the self-assurance of an artist who knows he is sharing his very best work with his fans and his friends.”

The album release was big enough news for music website Pitchfork to live blog the Bon Iver set, offering a minute-by-minute account of the new tunes. (Sample song description: “Opens with plinky Casio rhythm and strumming intro. It’s spacious and gorgeous. There’s another big build with a drunken brass section behind Vernon. The song is built around a simple but effective riff.”) The Pitchfork writers cited a grab bag of musical influences on the album ranging from Bruce Hornsby and James Blake (Vernon collaborators who played their own sets Friday) to Radiohead and Kanye West.

Meanwhile, much digital ink was expended highlighting Vernon’s gutsy decision to debut so much unheard material in front of a massive crowd. Leonie Cooper of British music mag NME blogged that Bon Iver “has casually just revolutionised the way people premiere albums.” She continues ...

“Vernon’s most experimental work to date – ambitiously described as ‘poly-fi’ by his collaborators – it’s a world away from his woodman-sy 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago, but still houses that unmistakable falsetto which will make your soul soar and your eyes damp,” she wrote. “Computer bleeps clash with guitar twangs, skittering drum machines and misty melodies for something very lush indeed.”

The Eclectic Eaux Claires Lineup

Photo: Luong Huynh
Photo: Luong Huynh

Bon Iver may be a hometown (not to mention worldwide) favorite, but the band’s performance was just one of dozens to enjoy over the weekend. By most accounts, Eaux Claires Part Deux went off without a hitch.

After Day One, Cecilia Johnson of Minnesota Public Radio’s The Curent wrote ...

“The lines have been short, the water has been plentiful, and the music has been incredible.” That plentiful water included a steady rain on Friday, but festgoers were largely undeterred by the inclement weather. They also seemed to revel in the eclectic nature of the fest, which eschewed narrow genres and embraced a broad spectrum of music, as well as literature and art.

I heard the pop fervor of Prinze George, the screams of Indonesian metal band Senyawa, and the spoken-word fire of Joe Horton (Mixed Blood Majority), which was cloistered in the tiny lighthouse,” Johnson write. “I witnessed the bash of Crescent Moon & Andrew Broder, plus the roar of punk band Tenement, plus the tranquility of the Staves and yMusic’s almost entirely new 40-minute set (thanks to yMusic’s classical nature, the Staves can now call their songs ‘pieces’ — which they say makes them feel ‘very proper’).”

"Between the near-perfect 80-degree weather on Saturday, the moderately short concession lines and all the festival’s extra gimmicks and artsy touches, most of Eaux Claires’ 20,000 attendees worked their smile muscles as hard as they did their calves." – Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune

In the Star Tribune, Chris Riemenschneider’s festival wrap-up carried “Year Two twice as fun” as a subtitle: “Between the near-perfect 80-degree weather on Saturday, the moderately short concession lines and all the festival’s extra gimmicks and artsy touches, most of Eaux Claires’ 20,000 attendees worked their smile muscles as hard as they did their calves. The latter were tested going up and down the hill and through the woods to get to all of the event’s seven stages.” Riemenschneider continued ...

“Many of the musicians appeared to be having as merry a time as the crowd. Year Two offered even more of the artistic mix-and-match and push-and-pull that Vernon pushed for in Eaux Claires’ inaugural year.”

For example, after his thunderous set Friday night, Vernon spent Saturday jamming with former Eau Clairite Phil Cook, popping onto stage with the Grateful Dead tribute set Day of the Dead, and even showing off synchronized dance moves at Francis and the Lights’ festival-ending set. As festival co-curator Aaron Dessner of The National told the crowd during the Day of the Dead performance, “This is like band camp for adults.”

 And those who attended realized Eaux Claires wasn’t all about music; the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Piet Levy called it an arty escape:

“Along the wooded trail connecting the two sections of the grounds, a geodesic dome was hidden among the trees, a little padded nook inviting people to lie down and listen to an ambient synthesizer loop. Not too far away, leaves were tethered to strings, dangling in the air, stamped with phrases like ‘Be sure not to add to the heartache.’ And inside a mobile hotel room, I sat with four other people, listening to a pained, intimate reading by Kao Kalia Yang, from her new memoir, The Song Poet, about her father. … Exploring these experiences, Eaux Claires ceased being a festival. It became a retreat.”

Standing Apart

Erykah Badu Photo: Luong Huynh
Erykah Badu. Photo: Luong Huynh

Writers also noted the profusion of female musical talent at the festival. Abigail Becker of The Capital Times pointed to a lineup that included Saturday night headliner Erykah Badu, Jenny Lewis, Victoria Legrand of Beach House, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius, and The Staves, whose vocal harmonies seemed nearly ubiquitous.

One of the weekend’s few hiccups was the unusually late start of Badu’s performance. “Counting the time that her band jammed onstage to cover for her, Erykah Badu went on stage about 40 minutes late,” The Current’s Johnson wrote. “Even so, she gave one of the best performances of the whole festival, using immaculate control and a fair dose of attitude to spin songs such as ‘Out My Mind, Just In Time’ and ‘Tyrone’ into shiny funk/jazz/neo-soul webs.”

A great writeup from Paul Thompson for Pitchfork offers up a ton of commentary on Eau Claire in general, speaking of Eaux Claires as an extension of the people who live here and our general mentality ...

"On paper, it’s a fairly strange place to debut the follow-up to a Grammy-winning album some five years in the making, as Bon Iver did Friday night. But once you’ve spent a little time in Eau Claire, you understand; they’re happy to share what they’ve got with the world, but not until they’ve passed it amongst themselves first. These people love where they’re from, and they want you to love it, too. They make a pretty convincing case."

Blogging for Vinyl Me, Please, Eau Claire native Amileah Sutliff explained that there’s more than “rose-colored glasses” behind this community pride:

Local author Michael Perry nailed it when he welcomed Bon Iver to the stage Friday night, praising, “Thank you for blooming up as wonderful as we thought you would.” The fondness for this community is rooted in a culture of support for the people working to see ideas and art bloom in the place they were planted. Justin Vernon saw that and wanted to share it. At its core, the festival is a celebration of that culture and a movement to spread it beyond the lines of our city. Even if woodsy, falsetto-bellowing indie folk isn’t your cup of tea, most can agree that art of any genre requires trust and belief. A place (physical or otherwise) that promises the support to experiment is what fuels growth, risk, newness and, just maybe, awe. Among the 50+ acts of Eaux Claires, there was variation in nearly every way possible, but the freely-given belief in whatever each artist was doing remained a constant.

Finally, the City Pages’ Erik Thompson summed up the vibe of the festival perfectly in the lead of his Monday morning blog post:

“Justin Vernon has helped craft the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival into a sublime confluence of the musical influences and natural surroundings that have shaped the sound of Bon Iver.

From the artfully embellished grounds to the expertly curated bands that filled the stages, along with the benevolent spirit of collaboration that coursed through the entire weekend, Eaux Claires is Bon Iver’s ethos writ large, for the entire world to see and hear.” 

We’ll only add that we hope we’ll be hearing this for many summers to come.

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Saturday, Aug. 13th, 2016

Eaux Claires News: New Bon Iver Album Coming Sept. 30 (w/ Tour Dates)

Justin Vernon during Bon Iver's Friday night set at Eaux Claires 2016. Photo: Lee Butterworth
Justin Vernon during Bon Iver's Friday night set at Eaux Claires 2016. Photo: Lee Butterworth

Over rain-soaked grounds, Bon Iver closed out the first night of the 2016 Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival by playing their forthcoming brand new album 22, A Million front to back.

Releasing to the world on Sept. 30, this is the Eau Claire band’s first collection of songs in five years, and based on Friday night’s performance, the band is stronger than ever with an evolving sound and reassuring energy that makes this album’s imminent arrival that much sweeter.

Friday night’s press release from Jagjaguwar announcing the new album said that 22, A Million is "part love letter, part final resting place of two decades of searching for self-understanding like a religion. And the inner-resolution of maybe never finding that understanding."

Photo: Luong Huynh
Bon Iver on stage at Eaux Claires 2016. Photo: Luong Huynh

As the moonlight dipped behind clouds, Justin Vernon and his many-headed beast of a live band cycled through each number on the album, while the Eaux Claires mobile app chirped out a slew of truly bonkers song titles (like “21 M♢♢N WATER" and “____45____”) to those with the willpower to look away from the stage. The songs ranged from beautifully grandiose stadium pop to breezy country to 80s ballad-inspired rock jams to flat out noisey audio experimentation. A brilliantly spastic and intricate light show and billowing visuals accented every vibe of the performance, while a rotating crew of musicians hopped in and out (including a team of saxophones lovingly called the Sad Sax of Shit) to provide flourishes of sound at just the right moments.

Meanwhile, nationwide, fans were treated to YouTube links to two of the the new cuts – "22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version]" and ":10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ (Extended Version)” – so the world could get a little piece of what was transpiring on the festivals Lake Eaux Lune stage simultaneously. Here the songs below.

The booming, poetic introduction to the performance from author Michael Perry gave a short backstory of the album’s conception, put into words as only Perry can.

Michael Perry. Photo: Luong Huynh
Michael Perry. Photo: Luong Huynh

“Last winter when there were no blooms at all and the ground beneath your feet was cemetery-slab solid, I drove my old snowplow truck down here, through the frozen slush ruts. A couple of us tromped out to The Banks back there up on that little rise overlooking the ice-bound river. And we took some hand-split pine and we built a little fire. And boy oh boy, I thought, the metaphors just write themselves. On the way home that frozen day, I dropped in to visit my neighbor. Even before I knocked, I heard noises in there. He stuck his head out and I said, “How’s it going?” and he said “Well … you know … “ – and I did. I said “Well, see you later then.” There was a little struggle on it, I could see that. He had a look in his eye like he was caught in a fire of his own kindling, like he was trying to sort the smoke and the sparks. I remember thinking that what this boy needs to do is carry that fire, carry it down to the river, bank it up beside the water, feed it to the air. Just let it build and let it burn. Why wait any longer? 22, A Million.”

At the close of the album, the band exited and returned for an encore full of fresh twists on Bon Iver throwbacks – “Beach Baby” with the help of The Staves, a bubbling synthy take on “Minnesota, WI,” an extended version of “Creature Fear” that devolved into an impenetrable wall of guitar noise, and finally a collaborative and upbeat version of “Beth/Rest” alongside Bruce Hornsby.

Near the end of a set where Vernon mostly let his new music do the talking, he did have one very short sentiment to say: “I’m very humbled and thankful,” he said. “That’s the only thing.”

22, A Million is out Sept. 30 via Jagjaguwar. You can pre-order the album at In the meantime, if you’d like to dissect the finer details of these new songs, the album credits on are on the Bon Iver website (

22, A Million Tracklist

01. 22(OVER S∞∞N)
02. 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⊠ ⊠
03. 715 – CRΣΣKS
04. 33 “GOD”
05. 29 #Strafford APTS
06. 666 ʇ
07. 21 M♢♢N WATER
08. 8(circle)
09. ____45____
10. 00000 Million

Tour Dates

Bon Iver has also announced the first tour dates behind 22, A Million, including a two-day, not-for-profit music event at Berlin’s Funkhaus studios in collaboration with Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National; a concert at The Hollywood Bowl with Patti Smith and Hiss Golden Messenger; and headlining shows along the West Coast. Additional worldwide tour dates will be announced soon.

10/01 – Berlin, DE @ Funkhaus
10/02 – Berlin, DE @ Funkhaus
10/18 – Oakland, CA @ Fox Theater #
10/19 – Oakland, CA @ Fox Theater #
10/20 – Oakland, CA @ Fox Theater #
10/22 – Orange County, CA @ Beach Goth Festival
10/23 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Hollywood Bowl %
10/26 – San Diego, CA @ Copley Symphony Hall ^

# = w/ Francis & The Lights
% = w/ Patti Smith and Hiss Golden Messenger
^ = w/ Julianna Barwick

22 (OVER S∞∞N) [Bob Moose Extended Cab Version]

Bon Iver - 10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄ (Extended Version)

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Thursday, Aug. 11th, 2016

IT'S HAPPENING: Downtown Speakers Pumping Local Music

A lamppost-mounted speaker on S. Barstow, shown here takin' it to the streets.

Listen up, downtown Eau Claire visitors –  for real. What you now hear coming from those speakers along South Barstow Street isn’t smooth jazz Muzak anymore. It’s homegrown music – music written, performed, recorded, and curated by members of the Chippewa Valley’s robust and diverse musical community. On Thursday (10/11) – just in time for this weekend’s Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival, which will bring thousands of music lovers on a pilgrimage to the Valley – local tunes began emanating from our lamppost-mounted speakers.

The music comes courtesy of Downtown Eau Claire Inc., the South Barstow Business Improvement District, and Eau Claire musician Paul Brandt. Initially, you’ll hear that Eau Claire sound on weekends, but that may soon expand to more days of the week.

Major kudos go to Brandt for making the project happen: He volunteered to assemble the music, get the performers’ permission, and create the playlists that will hopefully delight your ears.

You can see the local music, but it's there.

“I felt it was important to highlight all of the quality music from the musicians who really make up the local music scene; the kind of people and bands that are playing regularly here on the weekends,” says Brandt, who works at the Eau Claire Music School and The Local Store and performs with numerous area bands. “The initial batch of songs was collected from these local artists representing a variety of genres. People can expect to hear music from veterans of the Eau Claire music scene like Sue Orfield and Jim Pullman as well as newer groups like Them Coulee Boys and Idle Empress.”

The downtown sound system was installed by Audio Architects when the street was rebuilt in 2013, and Audio Architects’ Andy Pierson helped with the project. The sound system was purchased by the South Barstow BID, an association of downtown business owners that uses its own funds to improve the neighborhood.

Want to get your tracks played on South Barstow? Contact Paul Brandt at

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Wednesday, Aug. 10th, 2016

Confluence Project Officially Clears $15M Hurdle

The state Building Commission just gave Confluence Project backers 15 million reasons to smile. The commission voted Wednesday to officially release $15 million for the Confluence performing arts center, which will be built in downtown Eau Claire. The money was included as what is called a non-state grant in the 2015-17 state budget, which was passed by the state Legislature last year, but the Building Commission had to formally take the step of authorizing the spending.

The $45 million performing arts center will be shared by UW-Eau Claire and the community, and is being funded from a variety of sources, including the state, city, county, and private donations. Donors have given more than $14 million so far, and fundraisers are aiming to reach $16 million by the time ground is broken on the project in October.

On Wednesday the commission also approved spending for two other UWEC-related projects. The commission gave authority to the Blugold Real Estate Foundation Inc. – on behalf of UWEC – to lease 154,000 square feet of the newly built Haymarket Landing building for student housing beginning this fall. The five-year lease will cost approximately $1.8 million annually. Haymarket Landing is a privately built, mixed-use building on South Barstow Street in downtown Eau Claire that will be adjacent to the Confluence performing arts center.

The commission also OK’d a $12.4 million project to revamp the Garfield Avenue corridor on campus. The state’s share of that project’s funding was included in the 2013-15 state budget. The project will begin next spring and is expected to be done by the fall of 2019. Included is underground utility work (such as new steam piping, sewer, water main, etc.) as well as above-ground work to transform the street into a pedestrian-friendly corridor with restrictions on most vehicles.

“Today, the Building Commission moved forward a number of important projects,” Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement. “The funds approved by the commission will be instrumental in strengthening the facilities at 13 UW campuses. I would like to thank the Building Commission members for taking action to improve facilities all across Wisconsin.”

UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt said that “this is a very good day for UW-Eau Claire and for our community.” In a media release, he added: “We have been working together with community partners for a long time on the Confluence Arts Center and Haymarket Landing, and it’s exciting to see them both coming to life and to know that our students and the residents of our region will soon be realizing the many benefits that will result. Similarly, the Garfield Avenue project, while including much-needed utilities upgrades and generating great savings in energy costs, also will create a wonderful new gathering space along the river that both our students and community members can enjoy.”

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Bon Iver Mural Appears in the Heart of Eau Claire

The State Theatre, at the corner of S. Farwell Street and Wiscosnin Street in downtown Eau Claire.
The State Theatre, at the corner of S. Farwell Street and Eau Claire Street in downtown Eau Claire.

Appearing this week on the side on The State Theatre, right on S. Farwell Street – running through the heart of downtown Eau Claire – you can see a large mural in progress. Eagled-eyed Bon Iver fans will probably recognize the artwork and symbols echoing images released by the band on social media over the last week (and in this teaser video).

What's more, a handful of related (number-based) murals have appeared in cities around the world, such as London, Brooklyn, and Minneapolis (see below), popping up on social media and picked up by music sites like Pitchfork and Stereogum – who believe this is proof of a new Bon Iver album to be announced on Friday night during Bon Iver's set of all-new music at the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival.

Check out our interview about Eaux Claires 2016 with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon.

So far, the mural in Eau Claire seems to be bigger and more complex than the others, but its imagery and themes relate directly to those around the world. Or more likely, the ones around the world are all linking back to this one here at home. Pay attention out there. It's a safe bet more murals are on the way around the globe – or may already be out there undiscovered.

As of Wednesday morning, the most detailed parts of the Eau Claire mural were still in progress.

Will Bon Iver announce a new album on Friday, the band's first new album since 2011's Grammy-winning Bon Iver, Bon Iver? Well, you can do the math on that one. We'll tell you what we can on Friday.

Check out the other Bon Iver murals 

Mural in Greenpoint, Brooklyn via Reddit
Mural in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (via Reddit)
Mural in Uptown Minneapolis (via Nicholas Dahl)
Mural in Uptown Minneapolis (via Nicholas Dahl)
Mural in London (via Karen Millar)
Mural in London (via Karen Millar)

Bon Iver teaser video

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Tuesday, Aug. 9th, 2016

GO NUTS: Best of the Chippewa Valley Reader Poll 2016!

Our big, giant, massive Best of the Chippewa Valley Reader Poll is now up and firing on all cylinders. It covers everything from local restaurants to local media to news issues to arts-n-entertainment and everything in between including fried chicken. And on top of all that, this is our 10th annual Reader Poll!

Again this year! This year's poll is available to you via our handy mobile site. Just load'er up on your smartypants digital devices and get clickin'.

And please, oh please remember!

You get to add your own responses that can, in turn, be voted on by everyone else. Also, just like years gone by, you don't need to complete the poll start to finish – you can just skip around, voting all willy-nilly in whatever order you want over the next few weeks. Voting ends in two weeks on Wednesday, August 24.

Now! Go vote Now!

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Up Against Tuition Freeze, UW System Seeks More From State

“I didn’t come to Eau Claire to preside over a downward spiral to mediocrity.” – Chancellor James Schmidt, UW-Eau Claire

A quarter of a billion dollar cut to the UW System in the last two-year state budget caused a ripple of reactions across university campuses and the state itself. At UW-Eau Claire alone, the cut came to $7.7 million, which led to the loss of 179 full-time equivalent jobs, nearly 200 fewer course sections, and a 14 percent increase in class sizes.

“Frankly, it’s happened across the country, but it’s worse here,” explained UWEC Chancellor James Schmidt of the decline in state support for higher education in Wisconsin.

“I didn’t come to Eau Claire to preside over a downward spiral to mediocrity,” the chancellor, who just began his fourth year at UWEC, said in a recent interview with Volume One. While UWEC still offers a quality education, Schmidt said, “the direction is wrong.”

In recent years, the university budget has been squeezed from both ends: Not only has state funding declined, but Gov. Scott Walker and the state Legislature have frozen tuition, preventing state universities from backfilling their budgets with dollars from students. While this may have kept some students from being priced out of higher education, it comes at a cost, Schmidt believes: “One of my mentors said access without quality is no bargain,” he said.

However, the 2017-19 state budget offers an opportunity to reverse this trend, and Schmidt and other UW System leaders have proposed what they call a modest, strategic budget increase: The UW System’s just-released budget proposal for 2017-19 includes a request for an extra $42.5 million from the state. The Board of Regents is expected to vote on the budget request on Aug. 18. The document will then go to the state Department of Administration, which will help Gov. Scott Walker shape the two-year state budget, which in turn will be sent to the state Legislature early next year.

Freeze Questioned

It the tuition freeze makes it into the 2017-19 state budget, as Gov. Scott Walker has indicated it will, it will mean UW System tuition will have been frozen for six straight years.

Schmidt says he understands why the freeze is popular. However, he argues it has serious drawbacks. Considering the university’s budget pinch has led to a decrease in the number of courses offered, Schmidt questioned the “savings” the tuition freeze has provided to students. “If that means they can’t get the courses they need, and they end up staying a fifth year, it is the epitome of penny wise, pound foolish,” he said.

And this has a ripple effect on the economy, Schmidt argued: Students take longer to get their degrees, and thus longer to enter the workforce, which means less income tax revenue for the state and less economic growth by employers. Schmidt says he has encouraged business leaders from the region to speak out about the impact a strong UW System has on their bottom lines.

“We’re everybody’s fourth priority,” Schmidt said of how the UW System ranks in the eyes of both Republican and Democratic politicians. Someone has to make it a No. 1 priority, and that could be the business community, Schmidt said.

While an extended tuition freeze seems inevitable, Schmidt notes that a 3 percent increase in tuition would cost a student about $1,000 over four years. He contends this is a good deal for students if they are able to graduate in four years instead of five or more.

Schmidt pointed that tuition and other sources of revenue account for 80 percent of UWEC’s budget, while only 20 percent of the budget comes directly from the state. By contrast, in the 1970s, only 41 percent of UWEC’s budget came from tuition and other sources and 59 percent was from the state. Because of this shift, the cut in state funding for UWEC made in the 2015-17 state budget was particularly significant: The $7.7 million reduction amounted to 26 percent of the state funding that UWEC has the ability to allocate. (While other funds, such as those for building projects, also come from the state, those simply pass through UWEC’s budget and can’t be shifted to other priorities.)

Seeking Reinvestment

A reading of the budgetary tea leaves suggests UW System leaders might have better luck advocating for a small boost in state funding. “Walker is still considering more money for (the) UW if system schools meet performance benchmarks,” The Associated Press reported Aug. 2, “but he hasn’t said what the schools would have to accomplish to win that money or how much funding would be available.”

Schmidt notes that UWEC is making progress toward meeting numerous benchmarks, such as increasing student retention (83 percent of first-year students come back) and four-year graduation rates (currently 34 percent, with a goal of 50 percent).

UW System President Ray Cross said system officials have created a new “strategic framework,” which includes goals such as getting more Wisconsinites through the “educational pipeline,” reducing the time it takes to get a degree, “strengthening research and creativity,” and giving each student experience with a Wisconsin business. The framework will be the basis for the system’s 2017-19 state budget request, Cross said in an Aug. 2 column.

“Our request will be modest, but continued budget cuts and frozen tuition cannot be sustained,” he said. “When adjusted for inflation, the revenue coming to the UW System today from the State of Wisconsin is the lowest in the System’s history. Neighboring states, by contrast, are investing in their public university systems.”

Other university leaders expressed similar sentiments. “It definitely means we do more with less,” UW-Stout Chancellor Bob Meyer told the Leader-Telegram recently. “We have stretched beyond the breaking point. We really have some recruitment challenges. We’re really being handcuffed.”

Lawmakers’ opinions about the likelihood of a continued tuition and budget freeze were divided along party lines. State Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, noted in a press release that, because of inflation, freezing tuition and leaving the budget unchanged would essentially mean a cut to the UW System.

“It’s inconceivable that Gov. Walker and the Republicans in the Legislature inherited one of the best university systems in the world and have done nothing but attack it,” said Wachs, the ranking Democrat on the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities. According to Wachs, “Only eight states invest less in their higher education system than Wisconsin.” While he acknowledged that tuition freezes help students in the short-term, Wachs said that the lack of added state support in the long term created an “unsustainable higher education system.”

Meanwhile, state Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, lauded the freeze’s extension. “The Republican tuition freeze has actually delivered significant savings for students and families,” he said. “It has meant a lower debt-load for both students and parents. The freeze must be extended to protect students and families from a spike in tuition at the hands of UW System officials who continually fail to deliver promised reforms and savings.”

UW System: A Shrinking Budget

$250 million
cut to UW System in the 2015-17 state budget

$7.7 million
cut to UW-Eau Claire in the 2015-17 state budget

faculty and staff full-time equivalent positions cut at UWEC

14 percent
increase in UWEC class sizes between spring 2015 and 2016

Source: UW-Eau Claire

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Monday, Aug. 8th, 2016

Return to the River: Justin Vernon Talks Eaux Claires

Justin Vernon during Bon Iver's closing set at Eau Claires 2015. Photo: Lee Butterworth
Justin Vernon during Bon Iver's closing set at Eaux Claires 2015. Photo: Lee Butterworth

Since he debuted the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival last summer, Justin Vernon has kept busy.

He’s helped shape the vision for a new hotel in Eau Claire called The Oxbow, collaborated on new tracks with big name musician pals like James Blake and Kanye West, and played four unforgettable nights at the Sydney Opera House with Bon Iver – all while planning and keeping the gears turning on Eaux Claires year two.

"We want other artists to see this festival as an opportunity to do something big. Not big, necessarily, but just special. We want to view it as a platform to think outside the box a little bit.” – Justin Vernon

The Sydney shows were especially magical – a collection of tunes with longtime friends and close collaborators going for big sounds, lighting up an ornately designed show, and firing on all cylinders. Maybe it felt like those four shows in that historic place were punctuating everything Bon Iver has become in the last decade, or maybe it was just a moment. For Vernon, it seems like moments like that are happening more and more all around him – moments where people are all in one place. Together. Taking it all in.

“The ripples from those shows won’t be leaving us any time soon,” Vernon said.

It’s easy to see that Vernon and his team of curators want to bring that vibe to their homegrown festival: Bring everyone together for an enormous shared experience surrounded by art, music, and community, and you just might procure something quite meaningful.

And now, on the brink of year two for Eaux Claires, the stage is set for some truly one-of-a-kind performances to resonate in our little Valley.

Photo: Lee Butterworth
Photo: Lee Butterworth

“We realized we created a really huge wave with year one – and I think we’re still on the way up on this trajectory,” Vernon said. “We filled (this year’s lineup) to the brim. It’s gonna be a really explosive year.”

When we finally caught up with Vernon to chat about this year’s festival, all his other responsibilities were behind him, and he was pretty much solely focused on rehearsing for the Bon Iver set on Friday night, where he said the band is playing a set of entirely new music. It’s a cool opportunity to debut these songs in his hometown among family, neighbors, and friends, instead of a crowd of strangers or faceless screen-names on the Internet.

“I know the music will do a good job, but I have no idea what it’s going to feel like,” he said. “But that’s what we want to do here. We want other artists to see this festival as an opportunity to do something big. Not big, necessarily, but just special. We want to view it as a platform to think outside the box a little bit.”

Photo: Luong Huynh
Photo: Luong Huynh

And that’s exactly what’s happening this year. It can’t possibly get any bigger than Day Of The Dead, where some of indie rock’s most elite players come together for a truly epic Grateful Dead tribute set. Phil Cook has big things planned for his Southland Revue, a celebration of the American songbook and its traditional roots with a star-studded lineup of guests and friends joining him. Artists from all over this Earth are taking to the Eaux Claires stages to debut new stuff, experiment, collaborate, play around, and try bigger things. That’s a pretty rare thing.

“We’re at a point of change. We’re changing chemically as a city right now; there’s no doubt about it. We’re gathering momentum, and where that momentum needs to be pointed is an increase in the amount of people allowed to make art in this city and platforms for those things to happen.”

“Every year is gonna be different,” Vernon said. “It’s not interesting if you just stay the same. It’s all about supplying artists with platforms to do amazing stuff.”

With an impressive and massive slate of visual and performance arts to match the vast rundown of groundbreaking musical performances, the experience of being there on the grounds, soaking it all in, is bigger than any one performance alone.

And it’s all happening here, right here. Right in our backyard. Right along our river. And the festival has already resonated in major ways. Eau Claire is a much different place than it was a year ago, and it’ll be a much different place next year, blossoming exponentially year after year.

Photo: Luong Huynh
Photo: Luong Huynh

“We’re at a point of change. We’re changing chemically as a city right now; there’s no doubt about it,” Vernon said. “We’re gathering momentum, and where that momentum needs to be pointed is an increase in the amount of people allowed to make art in this city and platforms for those things to happen.”

Vernon said it takes a little inspiration, a lot of friends, and a sharp willingness to think outside the box to make something like Eaux Claires possible. In the last ten years, he’s done and seen a lot on this crazy musical adventure of his. He’s had opportunities and experiences that a lot of locals could only dream of, and he said if he can bring even a slice of those experiences back to his beloved city through this festival, that could be a significant step in evolving the vibrant culture in Eau Claire into something beautiful, healthy, and one-of-a-kind.

“It’s like taking a little bit of what I’ve seen around the world that I didn’t get to see growing up here, and bringing it here, bringing that into what we have here, our culture,” Vernon said. “Culturally, this is a wonderful place to grow up, but there’s no way we can’t make it better. Art and music are really powerful ways to do that kind of stuff.”

The Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival runs August 12 and 13 at the festival grounds southwest of Eau Claire. For more information and last minute tickets, go to

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5 Wisconsinites Who Won Gold at the Summer Olympics

Alvin "The Father of Modern Hurdling" Kraenzlein
Alvin "The Father of Modern Hurdling" Kraenzlein

1. Alvin Kraenzlein

Kraenzlein, who grew up in Milwaukee and competed for UW-Madison, cleared some high hurdles – literally – on his way to four gold medals at the 1900 Games in Paris. He remains the only track-and-field athlete to have won four titles at one games (60-meter dash, 110-meter high hurdles, 200-meter low hurdles, long jump). He’s called “the father of the modern hurdling technique” because he stuck his leading leg straight out to clear hurdles, rather than slowing down and doing a two-legged hop.

2. Archie Hahn

Four years after Kraenzlein’s impressive medal haul, Dodgeville native Archie Hahn almost repeated the feat at the Games in St. Louis: Dubbed “the Milwaukee meteor” (he competed with the Milwaukee Athletic Club), Hahn won gold in the 60-, 100-, and 200-meter dashes. He later wrote a book titled simply How to Sprint

Metcalfe (center) with Jesse Owens and Frank Wykoff on the deck of the S. S. Manhattan as the team sailed for Germany in 1936. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Metcalfe (center) with Jesse Owens and Frank Wykoff on the deck of the S. S. Manhattan as the team sailed for Germany in 1936. Image: Wikimedia Commons

3. Ralph Metcalfe

Jesse Owens wasn’t the only African-American athlete at the 1936 Games in Berlin to disprove host Adolf Hitler’s racist theories. Metcalfe, a Marquette University alum, was a member of Owen’s gold medal-winning 4x100 meter relay team. Metcalfe also won both the 100- and 200-meter NCAA championships three years in a row, was ranked as the “world’s fastest human” in 1934 and ’35, and broke or matched world records at least a dozen times in his career. Oh, and he served four terms in Congress.

4. Ben and John Peterson

These brothers are natives of the Barron County community of Comstock and were top freestyle wrestlers in the 1970s. Younger brother Ben (a two-time NCAA champion at Iowa State) won a gold in Munich in 1972 and a silver in 1976 in Montreal, while John won a silver in ’72 and a gold in ’76. They are now both enshrined in the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

5. Paul and Morgan Hamm

This pair of brothers – born in Washburn and raised in Waukesha – also made Wisconsin proud. The twin gymnasts competed at the 2004 Athens Games, where Paul won the all-around gold (becoming the first American to do so in a century). Both earned silver medals as part of the U.S. team, while Paul nabbed another silver for his performance on the high bar.

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