I can’t imagine a better place for a music festival than the upper Midwest.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s wide open spaces and rolling green pastures are a welcome relief from the cramped city parks and perfectly manicured polo fields.
The rural Wisconsin city is also reminiscent of my own hometown, which is actually about 560 miles away near Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Luckily, I have Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner to thank for my two-day Midwestern musical escape along the Chippewa River to Eaux Claires, an indie music rock festival situated in Eau Claire.
The festival boasts some of the most popular names in indie rock – Bon Iver, Beach House, Jenny Lewis, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, James Blake and Phosphorescent – and many emerging artists ranging from Little Scream to Tuskha to Alpha Consumer.
It also includes legends like Bruce Hornsby, Mavis Staples and the Melvins to round out the festival’s impressive lineup. Hornsby is scheduled to play his 1986 hit album, “The Way It Is,” album today in its entirety.
Thirty years later, Hornsby’s album is a necessity in any ‘80s classic rock library and brings back fond memories of growing up as part of the MTV generation.
Hornsby also will join several other artists for a “Day of the Dead” tribute Saturday featuring Vernon, Lewis, Lucius, Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Moses Sumney and others. The tribute is part of Dessner and his brother Bryce Dessner’s five-disc Grateful Dead covers album that was released in May.
The Dessner brothers spent four years building an impressive collection of covers and reinterpretations of The Dead’s classic songs, including “Touch of Grey,” “Morning Dew,” “Sugaree,” “Shakedown Street” and 55 others. The album also is raising money for the AIDS/HIV organization Red Hot.
While some people are “returning to the river” for their second Eaux Claires, I’m just getting started. I’m curious to experience the special musical kinship festival goers created during last year’s inaugural event.
Let the river take me there. I can’t wait to see where it goes.