Eaux Claires reviewers praise fest’s personality, intimacy, quality [updated]

Tom Giffey, photos by Luong Huynh

Now that we’ve all exited under the undulating rainbow of yarn for the final time, salved our sunburned skin, and caught up on our sleep, we take a moment to see what others have written about the inaugural Eaux Claires festival, which brought 22,000 people from far and wide to commune together and enjoy the flourishing fruits of musical and artistic creativity.

Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Set on lush green bluffs above a scenic bend in the Chippewa River, Eaux Claires felt like a turned corner,” wrote Chris Riemenschneider in the Star Tribune. “Not only has the Upper Midwest finally landed a hip rock fest that can contend on a national level, it landed one that seemed uniquely Upper Midwestern.” The article’s headline summed it up well: “Eaux what a fest: Justin Vernon's hometown experiment pays off.”


Ryan Leas of Stereogum wrote that while big music festivals can blur together ...

“Every now and then, there’s something else, something like Eaux Claires – aggressively local and personal, the vision of a few individuals executed as clearly as possible rather than a business interest designed to be as big as possible.”

Like may reviewers, Leas praised both the eclectic, laid-back nature of the two-day event as well as “Bon Iver’s climactic festival-closing set,” which included some new tunes: Watch Bon Iver Debut Two New Songs At Eaux Claires Festival »


In a lengthy recap, Cecilia Johnson of Billboard noted the festival’s “genre-blurring excitement” and laid praise on numerous headliners, including The Indigo Girls and Sufjan Stevens, the latter of whom was notably verbose: “I never play festivals – I have such a fear of crowds – agoraphobia, social anxiety,” Stevens said.

“The last two days have been proving all my fears wrong. It’s been like a 48-hour episode of My Little Pony.”

Read more in Johnson’s articles about day one and day two of the festival.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Piet Levy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also offered a detailed recap of day one and day two. Among others, Levy heaped praise on Eau Claire native Phil Cook, a former Vernon bandmate:

“With spirited songs reminiscent of Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Band, and executed by a spry seven-piece band of his own … it turned out to be the ultimate feel-good set of the fest.”

Spin Magazine

Numerous reviews lavished praised upon Justin Vernon and Bon Iver, as in the Spin article headlined “Bon Iver Keeps It In the Family At Triumphant Eaux Claires Set,” which noted the overarching theme of collaboration at the festival in general and during Bon Iver’s performance in particular (although, as writer Harley Brown noted, some attendees held out hope for a Kanye West cameo, too).

noisey - Music by VICE

Writing for Vice’s music blog, Noisey, Andrew Winistorfer said the festival almost transcended the idea of a music festival (although, as his headline noted, it was “Hot as Hell”). He praised the quality of the musicians featured – noting that it was a coup to book the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Corbin (aka Spooky Black) – as well as the idiosyncratic localness of the whole affair:

“Through sheer force of will, Vernon has taken Eau Claire, Wisconsin, from maybe the fifth most important city in Wisconsin 10 years ago to its most culturally relevant. Thanks to his fame, there’s a nationally talked about Eau Claire music scene. … Eau Claire might still seem unpronounceable to people from out-of-state, but now it’s the site of a major music festival that drew more than 20,000 people to a city that only has a population of 65,000.”

City Pages

Meanwhile, City Pages gushed that:

“Eaux Claires proved itself to be one America’s truly special music festivals.”

In his day one review, Alex Rice wrote that instead of corporate “homogeneity,” the fest grounds “were instead defined by creative director Michael Brown’s colorful light decorations, interactive art installations like Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s Forever Love, and the natural beauty of Foster Farms, surrounded by the Chippewa River and two lakes.”

The Current

Blogging for another Twin Cities media outlet, The Current, Andrea Swensson noted that mud, heat, and high prices often lead musical fans to question whether attending festivals is worth the trouble. However, she wrote:

“At the Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival this weekend, I couldn’t believe just how many times I found myself shaking my head in disbelief, goosebumps rising on my sweat-soaked arms and mouth literally hanging open in awe as one soul-shaking moment after another unfolded on the ground’s multiple stages.”

Swensson’s passionate summation of the festival is followed by a spectacular photo gallery, so be sure to keep scrolling.

Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

Finally, close to home, Nate Jackson’s review in the Leader-Telegram marveled at Bon Iver’s evolution from playing hometown coffee shop gigs to filling a massive field at a festival he created.

“I feel very humbled to be anywhere with all the musicians who’ve played and all these amazing people who have come to the fest this weekend,”

... he quoted Vernon as telling the audience. “Eaux Claires, that's a thing. That’s an actual thing right now.”

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