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The Next Big Fest?

Vernon-headed music and arts festival seeks approval to use Country Jam grounds

Eric Christenson

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.
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

News broke a couple weeks ago about a new music and arts festival on the Country Jam grounds – primarily organized by Justin Vernon – which could see its time in the sun next summer.

Named the Eaux Claires Music and Arts Festival, the two-day festival plans to bring a mixture of music, visual art, sound installation, light installation, dance, film, and even culinary art to the grounds one week before Country Jam on July 18-19 (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. 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.

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.

But it’s not quite there 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 plans to hold around 25,000 attendees each day. The application was approved by the Union planning commission in early October and the Union Town Board was to consider it Oct. 14. (This issue went to press before results were available.) Finally, it goes before 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 (which Volcano Choir played at in September).

Per the permit application, Eaux Claires would have two-and-a-half atages: a smaller stage will be directly across from the main stage (the two will alternate acts) and a third late-night tent venue, closer to the river, will keep the party rolling until 2am each night at a decreased 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 application states a distinct aspect to 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 to be a huge undertaking that could bring big names in indie music, art, and culture to the Chippewa Valley for a long, long time.

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