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Who and what was Eaux Claires fo(u)r?

 
The avant-garde music festival may not be for everyone, 
but it remains a force of nature. 
 
By Joey Grihalva [Originally published by Wisconsin Gazette, July 15, 2018] 

 
TU Dance member at Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Sarah Ferraro] 
 
The question mark is critical. A lot of people were in their feelings last weekend 
at Eaux Claires IV. Confusion was palpable. Anxious, information-addled minds 
demanded answers.  
 
Who is playing this festival? 
 
Why is the schedule not listed in the field notes? 
 
Where are the hand washing stations? 
 
Why do I have to leave the festival to get to the media tent? 
 
What is “Pirates”? 
 
Where the F*CK is the Janette stage? 


Why the hell are police going undercover to bust people for smoking weed when 
musicians are smoking it onstage and when I get back to my local library the first 
thing I see is a book entitled ‘CannaBiz: Big Business Opportunities in the New 
Multibillion-Dollar Marijuana Industry’?!!!??! 
 
This world is so goddamn hypocritical. There is so much injustice, so much 
dehumanization, so little respect for the Earth, so many fake-ass people who will 
sell their soul for a dollar.  
 
The music industry, as far as I can tell, is a merciless machine that takes 
advantage of brilliant, fragile artists year after year after year. 
 
In 2015, Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver fame) and Aaron Dessner (of The National 
fame) joined forces to create a space where their musician friends, friends of 
friends, heroes and fans could come together for a yearly respite in the lush 
confines of Vernon’s hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin.   

 
Aerial shot of Eaux Claires 2015, courtesy of Volume One. 
 
Amid a slate of stale music festivals, Eaux Claires was a hit thanks to its diverse 
lineup, collaborative spirit, idyllic setting, communal vibe, and inclusion of art, 
film, literature and dance. Last year’s outing, which featured Chance the Rapper, 
Sylvan Esso, Paul Simon and Wilco, was a celebrated event. 
 
This year, Eaux Claires purposefully scaled back, booking less star power and 
instead focusing on collaboration and creation, anchored by a weeklong 
artist-in-residence program. Then the festival made the unprecedented move of 
keeping its lineup a secret.  


For this, Eaux Claires has been thrown to the wolves.  
 
If the festival had made its intentions more clear from the jump, I suspect the 
press (and certain vocal attendees) would have been less critical. Then again, the 
welcome note on the festival’s website pretty much says it all, though it is 
characteristically abstruse. 
 
Despite the negative coverage, not all who wandered at Foster Farms last 
weekend shared a sense of disappointment. Many were inspired. Others felt 
refreshed. Some even left transformed.  
 
Eaux Claires will have you believe that the festival is ultimately about you, but 
that really depends on who you are. 
 

 
“Winter Comes” installation at Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Sarah Ferraro] 
 
---- 
 
In its first three years, Eaux Claires featured a centrally located installation of the 
festival’s name in oversized, three-dimensional letters, which made for a popular 
photo and meeting spot. 


 
“The Big Eaux” at Eaux Claires 2015. [Photo by Joey Grihalva] 
 
In its place this year were the characters “⊏∧∣∣∨”. It took me a minute to realize 
that this was the word “EAUX” half in the ground, which is the perfect metaphor. 

 
“⊏∧∣∣∨” at Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Zoe Prinds-Flash] 


Eaux Claires IV was essentially split into two simultaneous festivals. In the open 
field the three biggest stages hosted (mostly) familiar acts that (mainly) played 
songs from their discography, occasionally with collaborators.  
 
This was the music you (may) know and love, the music you (might) have seen 
before and could (potentially) see elsewhere. This represents the half of the 
“⊏∧∣∣∨” installation that is visible above ground.  
 

 
Moses Sumney at Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Kelly Michael Anderson] 
 
The rest of the festival was rooted in Eau Claire. These performances were either 
a result of the artist-in-residence program, an improvisation, a cover, a remix, or 
some other unholy amalgamation of sound. (One outlier was hip-hop artist 
Astronautalis, who used his residency to throw a rave deep in the woods behind 
a closed door, with a DJ booth covered in hunting camouflage.) 
 
These unique performances mostly took place on the small stages in the woods 
and on the Music Box Outpost, though Mouse on Mars Dimensional PEOPLE and 
PEOPLE Mix Tape each respectively closed out the biggest stage.  
 
 
 
 


 
Mouse on Mars Dimensional PEOPLE at Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Graham Tolbert] 
 
The bulk of the artists in residence were friends of Vernon or Dessner. Plus, 
there were a good amount of unbilled festival alum hanging out and performing.  
IV also featured more writers, with select readings accompanied by music.   
 
This represents the half of the “⊏∧∣∣∨” installation that is theoretically in the 
ground. This is the stuff you can only see at Eaux Claires. 

 
Broder Mix Tape at Oxbeaux, Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Kristina Rolander] 


And so, if you are the kind of person who only wants to see music you know and 
love performed live, Eaux Claires is probably not for you.  
 
But if you are the kind of person who appreciates improvisation, collaboration 
and risk-taking, then this festival is definitely for you.  
 
The “⊏∧∣∣∨” installation metaphor could be extended to comment on the 
decipherability of the festival’s intentions. But I’m not here to judge those who 
don’t “get it.” That’s mean. However, I will say that if people had paid closer 
attention to the festival (and read my sh*t) they would not have been surprised.  
 
When I spoke with Eaux Claires creative director Michael Brown last summer he 
explained that, “The founding musicians are really just one high school 
generation that grew up together and branched out to different cities and 
different projects, but stayed close and still work on music.  
 
“The festival stems from a desire for all of them to come back together and work 
on something collaboratively,” Brown added. Hence, the consistent presence of 
Justin Vernon’s circle of friends.  
 

 
Justin Vernon and Francis Starlite at Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Sarah Ferraro] 
 


Brown also explicitly told me that their goal was to one day exist without a 
lineup announcement. At the time, it sounded like an idea that was still a few 
years from fruition. I didn’t think they would dive into the deep end so soon. But 
as I walked the festival grounds it dawned on me that they had been building up 
to it.  
 
At the second Eaux Claires, Bon Iver used its headlining set to debut a brand new 
album, as did Francis and the Lights. There was also an exclusive performance of 
the Dessner-helmed Grateful Dead tribute featuring a buttload of collaborators.  
 
Last year, there were seven “mixtape” sets, six slots “open for artist 
collaborations,” at least three exclusive performances, a handful of “Artists in 
Residence,” a few Wilco offshoots, and the first public performance of the 
Vernon-Dessner collaboration Big Red Machine, which headlined the first night 
of IV. 
 

 
Big Red Machine at Flambeaux, Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Sarah Ferraro] 
 
It’s important to note that IV did not go all-in on the “secret lineup” concept. 
This was not making-a-Kendrick-Lamar-album level of information lockdown. A 
few artists confirmed participation via social media, while the festival itself 
released cryptic clues. An extensive Reddit thread eventually figured out most, if 
not all, of the lineup.  


I never read the thread because I didn’t want to have expectations. I genuinely 
wanted to be surprised. I trusted the festival. But after a while I couldn’t avoid 
the chatter. Curiosity got the best of me and I became aware of the theories. 
  
I’ll admit to a small pang of disappointment when I finally got my hands on the 
lineup, only because there weren’t any “big name” surprises or Patti Smith or 
Sufjan Stevens. (Damn you internet!) This feeling quickly passed. I realized that 
those expectations were based on speculation and my understanding of a 
traditional music festival, which Eaux Claires is not.  
 
In order to enjoy Eaux Claires, you have to open your mind to new possibilities 
and new music. More than anything, it is this open-mindedness that connects 
the Eaux Claires community.  
 

 
Lights from Flambeaux during Big Red Machine, Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Zoe Prinds-Flash] 
 
As the festival’s welcome note reads, “It’s not about the bands, it’s about the 
collection of art and artists reacting with the collection of you. We’re less 
interested in telling you what it is than you making it what it becomes...The most 
important detail is you. You: willing to walk into a mix of art and sound and big 
and small and through the abstract science of the benevolent crowd, turn it into 
Eaux Claires.” 
 


There may not have been as many household names as previous lineups, but in 
my estimation, IV featured more female bandleaders, more artists of color, more 
openly queer artists, and more Native American performances than past 
installments. This may not matter to you. If so, Eaux Claires may not be for you. 
 

 
Iron Boy member at Eaux Claires IV Opening Ceremonies. [Photo by Kelly Michael Anderson] 
 
Despite missing more of the festival than I care to recall due to the volume of 
simultaneous sets and physical fatigue, my heart was full by the end of IV.  
 
The only truly disappointing thing about the lineup was that, for the first time, 
Mother Nature did not show up to remind us who’s boss. 
 
---- 
 
Imagine, if you will, being a (relatively) young writer. You get wind of a poet and 
essayist named Hanif Abdurraqib. You borrow his latest book (They Can’t Kill Us 
Until They Kill Us) from the library. You are mesmerized within the first few 
pages. This is what you have been striving for.  
 
Three weeks later your new literary hero is three feet away from you in a tiny 
house. Because of a wall next to the chair you are sitting in you can’t actually see 
his face unless you lean uncomfortably forward.  

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Instead, you sit back and watch his Air Jordan’s juggle an imaginary soccer ball as 
he reads from the same book that is in your backpack. It is a story about seeing 
Carly Rae Jepsen at Terminal 5 in New York City. It is one of your favorites. 
 
“Does anyone listen to Carly Rae Jepsen?” Abdurraqib asks. 
 
“Hell yeah,” you reply. 
 
“Cool,” he says. 
 
“‘Run Away With Me’...let’s go,” you add. 
 
“A banger,” he confirms, returning to the story. 
 
This happened to me within the first hour of IV. Then I walked out of that tiny 
house to the sight of hundreds of fellow festivalgoers holding hands, circling the 
Flambeaux stage, led by the O jibwe group Iron Boy as part of the Opening 
Ceremonies.  
 
Talk about a strong start. 
 

 
Eaux Claires IV Opening Ceremonies. [Photo by Kristina Rolander] 
 

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Of all the new stages at IV, the two most talked about were the in-the-round 
Flambeaux designed by Erlend Neumann (who created Dessner’s Long Pond 
recording studio in Hudson, New York) and the Music Box Outpost created by 
the New Orleans Airlift Collective, essentially a treehouse with playable parts.  
 

 
Julien Baker at the Music Box Outpost, Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Scotify] 
 
The venue I kept returning to was The Trees, created by Andy Ducett and Chris 
Kallmyer. This small, nondescript stage was augmented by speakers dispersed 
throughout the surrounding trees, creating an immersive sonic environment.  
It featured pop-up performances by the artists in residence.  
 
What made The Trees so successful was how, like Flambeaux, it was set up 
in-the-round. Without an elevated stage and towering gear, you could see right 
through it. As a result, you saw more faces instead of just the back of heads. 
Performers typically faced each other, so matter where you were you could also 
see an artist’s face. This forced connection created an especially intimate setting.  
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Julien Baker & Gordi at The Trees, Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Sarah Ferraro] 
 
During Gordi and Julien Baker’s set at The Trees, the Australian folktronica artist 
handed her microphone to an audience member. Gordi then looped this person’s 
voice into the song that she and Baker were creating. It may have been the most 
quintessentially Eaux Clairesian moment of the weekend. 
 
Opening The Trees stage was “Crumbs,” an improvised set by Milwaukee-based 
musicians Devin Drobka, Christopher Porterfield, and Caley Conway, who played 
together in Field Report later on the House of IV stage. 

 
Crumbs at The Trees, Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Kelly Michael Anderson] 

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A month before the festival, Caley Conway was invited to play with Field Report. 
Following a three-week crash course in their material, Conway partook in the 
artist-in-residence program and joined the Eaux Claires Women’s Choir.  
 
“The whole concept of what we were doing, which was improvising with each 
and responding to sound, I am pretty insecure about because I haven’t done a lot 
of playing in that style,” Conway tells me about the Crumbs performance at The 
Trees.  
 

 
Caley Conway performing with Crumbs at The Trees, Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Sarah Ferraro] 
 
“But I was in total awe and wonder of that stage. I was also really glad to have a 
chance to let music come out of me, possibly play a bunch of wrong notes, and 
just start being creative and get into a groove with those guys in particular, 
considering I had my first Field Report set with them later that day.” 
 
On the first day that Conway arrived at the residence, she, like all the residents, 
was offered a time slot in the woods and whatever equipment she might need. 
She declined, feeling it wasn’t her place since she was so new. But by the end of 
the weekend Conway tells me she felt comfortable enough to invite fellow artists 
to join her on a set.  
 

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“I was so inspired while watching these collaborative performances at the 
festival. I want to do it more. I’d love to have a leadership role in a project like 
that. Or just call up my friends more and create something that doesn’t matter,” 
says Conway. 
 

 
Caley Conway (left) singing with the Eaux Claires Women’s Choir at IV. [Photo by Zoe Prinds-Flash] 
 
Devin Drobka, another Field Report member (and arguably Milwaukee’s best 
drummer), was also an artist in residence who popped up all over the festival. 
Like Conway, it was Drobka’s first year as an artist. But as a founding member of 
the Unrehearsed MKE series and the improv rock project Argopelter, Drobka was 
more comfortable with the format.  
 
“I have self-doubt sometimes, so to find a community of people from all over the 
world that are also pursuing this and putting themselves at the front lines in the 
true sense of an avant-garde, it feels really good to know that there are people 
for it and you just have to keep doing it,” says Drobka. 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Devin Drobka performing at The Trees, Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Kelly Michael Anderson] 
 
Another stellar performance at the The Trees featured yet another Field Report 
member, bassist and experimental musician Barry Paul Clark. The day before his 
set at The Trees, Clark saw Leesa Cross-Smith reading in the tiny house. 
 
Just before Clark’s set, festival narrator and literary curator Michael Perry asked 
if Cross-Smith could join him. Clark was overjoyed. He provided a gorgeous 
soundscape for Cross-Smith’s reading. It was another very Eaux Clairesian 
moment.  

 
Leesa Cross-Smith and Barry Paul Clark at The Trees, EXC IV. [Photo by Kristina Rolander] 

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When I spoke with Clark later that day, he echoed a sentiment I’ve often heard 
from Eaux Claires artists and fans.  
 
“I’m really just trying to savor this and hold onto it for as long as I can. As far as 
being a freelance creator, you don’t know what it’s going to be like tomorrow or 
the next week or the next month, so you just try to hold onto what you have 
while you have it, and try not to sink when it’s over.” 
 
The Field Report crew weren’t the only artists gushing about the weekend.  
 
Los Angeles singer Phoebe Bridgers, one of the most anticipated artists at the 
festival (based on the speculation), finished her set by saying, “This was the 
coolest experience of my life.” 
 

 
Phoebe Bridgers at Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Kelly Michael Anderson] 
 
One of my favorite parts of Eaux Claires IV was seeing Hanif Abdurraqib go from 
the tiny house to The Trees to joining Julien Baker on the big stage. 
 
“It was really special, and something I’ll hold onto for a long while...A flood of 
gratitude for Julien and the space our wild ideas found to lock arms with each 
other,” Abdurraqib later wrote on social media. 
 

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If you are an artist who enjoys collaboration, no matter your level of notoriety, 
Eaux Claires may be for you.  
 

 
Hanif Abdurraqib at The Trees, Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Zoe Prinds-Flash] 
 
One way of thinking about Eaux Claires is similar to how I think about my 
writing, particularly my music writing.  
 
Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner don’t have to do this festival. It doesn’t make 
them any money. In fact, it actually loses them money. Similarly, I make a 
pittance from my writing. But money is not why I write. Nor is profit the impetus 
for Eaux Claires.  
 
I have no illusions that my writing is widely read. I don’t pretend to think that 
because someone picks up a copy of the Gazette and reads my article about 
[insert band name] that they will then go see them play.  
 
Our culture is too fragmented and on-demand. I suspect my writing is mainly 
read online by the subjects of the articles themselves, then maybe circulated to 
their friends and family through social media.  
 
 

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But as a freelancer, I only write about artists I believe in. My hope then is that by 
treating their stories with care and giving them a platform, however 
inconsequential amid a seemingly infinite deluge of media, that this might 
bolster their confidence, if but a fraction. This, I think, is part of the reason why 
Eaux Claires was created, or at least it is one of the most beautiful side effects.  
 
---- 
 
Melancholy may be the most common aesthetic similarity between the music of 
Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner. I’m talking about sad boy indie rock.  
 
Of course, this is not everyone’s cup of tea. As such, the first three Eaux Claires 
managed to include enough bright, “danceable” alternatives to satisfy a spectrum 
of taste.  
 
If there is one gripe about IV that I can sympathize with, it is the feeling that 
upbeat, “happy” music was in the minority. However, the more I consider my 
feelings on this past year, between the untimely deaths and geopolitics, the more 
I think that IV is the festival 2018 deserves.  
 

 
Julien Baker and Chastity Brown at Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Kelly Michael Anderson] 
 

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For as long as I live, I will never forget when Julien Baker rose like a goddamn 
phoenix on a satellite stage during The National’s set at Eaux Claires IV.  
 
There is Julien, queen of sad girl indie rock, one of two artists to share a feature 
credit on a Frightened Rabbit song, which is a sad boy indie rock band from 
Scotland, but not just any sad boy indie rock band, Frightened Rabbit is my 
favorite band, if favorite bands are determined by the number of times you’ve 
screamed a band’s lyrics back at them.  
 
There is Julien, one of the only people to have sung on record with Frightened 
Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchinson, who jumped off a bridge two months ago, 
who is gone forever.  
 
There is Julien, singing a song about isolation and despair, and I can’t stop 
thinking about Scott, I can’t stop thinking about when he was alive and in the 
flesh and I met him on his tour bus outside the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee and 
we talked, and somewhere in the conversation I brought up Eaux Claires and he 
said he would love to play the festival, and now I can’t stop thinking about how 
he will never play another festival ever again. 
 
There is Julien, getting to the final chorus and now I’m thinking maybe this is a 
song about hope. I have to believe that it is.  
 
There is Julien, singing the opening lines to the song that made me fall in love 
with my first sad boy indie rock band.  
 
“We’re half awake in a fake empire.”  
 
When The National finish their set, a set which inspires me to put my phone in 
my backpack so I won’t be tempted to take notes, pictures or videos, so I can be 
fully immersed in the moment, which feels like a small victory in and of itself, 
when this set is over and the smoke from the fireworks in my heart has cleared, I 
remember something that Nathaniel Heuer (of Milwaukee doom-folk band Hello 
Death) told me about not listening to music because it might bum you out. 
 
“I mean, being bummed out is part of the thing. If I was bummed out, I would 
listen to Leonard Cohen so I could feel more bummed out and try to deal with it. 
Try to think about why I was bummed out. You know, do what you should do 
emotionally.” 
 
---- 
 

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The second time my photographer and I reenter IV after visiting the media tent a 
security woman insists we empty our water bottles, even though we just 
grabbed them from a cooler in the media tent. This woman also insists on 
checking our bags despite the fact that we had walked by her on our way out.  
 
This makes me think about the film Almost Famous and how the young journalist 
is referred to as “the enemy” by some of the musicians he is assigned to cover. 
 
As the negative press rolled in earlier this week, I wondered if Eaux Claires 
intentionally tried to piss off the media by making our tent difficult to access.  
 
In an interview with a fan publication that was distributed on the grounds at IV, 
Michael Brown admits, “We want the festival to be smaller. We don’t want more 
people. We want less people.” Maybe pissing off the media is a way of 
accomplishing that.  
 
It’s more likely the negative press is the result of overblown expectations created 
by the secret lineup, cuts to amenities, and a dismissal of the collaborative spirit 
of the festival.  
 
A friend and fan of Eaux Claires told me this week that he was briefly bummed 
out when he learned the lineup, but not because of the artists who were or 
weren’t scheduled to play. He was sad because he could sense the impending 
backlash.  
 
I’ve managed to stay away from the online discussion of IV, but my friend tells 
me it has brought out some ugly, entitled attitudes about consumer capitalism 
and art.  
 
Part of me wants to say, “If one of the collaborations from IV leads to a project 
that is as timeless and as influential as For Emma, Forever Ago or Boxer, then all 
of the long lines and hurt butts will have been worth it.” 
 
But no, that feels like an old way of thinking. It should not just be about creating 
an artifact that can be bought and sold.  
 
After all, Eaux Claires has always been about those singular moments of magic, 
that funny math, those improvisations that last a lifetime, that which you can 
only hold in your heart.  
 
 
 

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Chance the Rapper surprise appearance at Eaux Claires 2016. [Photo by David Szymanski] 
 
I think back to formerly surly security guards gleefully dousing a sweaty, pulsing 
Sylvan Esso crowd at the first Eaux Claires, or Chance the Rapper’s surprise 
appearance at Deux, or the world premiere of Big Red Machine on the stage my 
girlfriend designed at Troix, or when Julien Baker rose like a goddamn phoenix 
across the field.  
 
Hopefully, IV starts a conversation about how we quantify live music in an era 
when hardly anyone pays for music. (Or at least hardly anyone pays for specific 
albums/songs.) Furthermore, how do we quantify the performance of new music 
or music that is being created in the moment? 
 
As Michael Brown wrote on Twitter, “20 years from now people at EXC3 will 
realize they saw Justin and Aaron creating new music together, in the moment, 
live in front of an audience. The bravery and guts to do that is inspiring. Eaux 
Claires is an incubator and now those projects are breathing life. 
 
“Look past the performance aspect of it all and realize you’re being invited to 
witness and experience a process that is complex and guarded for good reasons. 
It’s a dream come true for lovers of music. The ability to be there and share that 
moment.” 
 

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Big Red Machine at Eaux Claires 2017. [Photo by Scotify] 
 
The statement that Eaux Claires is trying to make with the secret lineup, I think, 
is that you shouldn’t judge a festival based on its lineup. It should be about the 
quality of the experience.  
 
If seeing unique collaborations and “unfinished” music doesn’t enhance the 
quality of your festival experience, then maybe Eaux Claires isn’t for you.  
 
It’s also important to remember that before they ditched the lineup 
announcement entirely, the names on the Eaux Claires lineup posters were all 
the same size. This is because the festival does not want to be hierarchical. Caley 
Conway can attest to her treatment as an equal by the staff and crew of IV. 
 
---- 
 
In Los Angeles, there is a comedy club that books over a dozen comics on a 
single showcase, all of whom perform short sets, many of whom workshop new 
material, and you do not know their names when you buy a ticket, but you trust 
that it will be worth your time and money. There is a similar space in New York 
City.  
 
Eaux Claires is trying to be like those comedy clubs. 

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More importantly, Eaux Claires is creating a community. Beyond the fact that 
most performers know Justin Vernon, there is another good reason why IV 
merch included the “Family Reunion” and “Thanksgiving in Summer” branding.  
 
As I’ve said before, our culture has become increasingly isolating and our 
entertainment options more and more on-demand. It is a noble cause that Eaux 
Claires seeks to inject a sense of intimacy and spontaneity into the festival 
experience.  
 
The response to IV reminds me of the response to Bon Iver’s live debut of 22, A 
Million at Deux, which I was assigned to write a track-by-track review of that 
would be published the next day. I stayed up in my tent thumbing my iPhone 
until three in the morning.  
 
In hindsight, this was a pretty silly assignment. How can you judge music you’ve 
only heard once with 20,000 people in a field? I wasn’t sure how to feel about the 
record at the time, but over the years it has become a personal favorite. 
Similarly, it may take Eaux Claires some time to rewrite and refine its formula.  
 
A few articles this week have predicted the downfall of Eaux Claires. Granted, 
the market is pretty oversaturated and a few major festivals have fallen; Way 
Home took a “pause” this year, while Sasquatch, FYF Fest and nearby Summer 
Set called it quits. If Eaux Claires does not return, it has already made a lasting 
impact on the area.  
 
When I spoke with Michael Brown last summer I mentioned the slick recap video 
they made for the first festival. He told me that when they watched this video 
they thought it too closely resembled what a music festival is supposed to look 
like. As such, they consider the first year to be a creative failure.  
 
This makes me think about something Julien Baker said at The Trees. 
 
“Failure is our most intense didactic tool for learning humility, at least that’s true 
of my life. It’s also a tool for reframing what you think of as failure into maybe 
not failure, and instead progress.” 
 
Eaux Claires does want to be an exceptional version of something you are 
familiar with. Eaux Claires wants to be something else. There may be a few 
logistical hiccups along the way, some creature comforts you’ve grown 
accustomed to may be eliminated, but the spirit of Eaux Claires expands 
exponentially.   
 

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Iron Boy member at Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Sarah Ferraro] 
 
Here it is worth mentioning that out of the Eaux Claires community and an 
experience at the Funkhaus in Berlin two years ago, the PEOPLE artist collective 
was born.  
 
Last year, there were “PEOPLE” t-shirts for sale at Eaux Claires, with no real 
explanation besides the “People Mixtape Vol. 1” and “People Mixtape Vol. 2” sets 
by Vernon, Dessner and friends. 
 
Earlier this year, a PEOPLE website was launched as a free, non-commercial 
platform to share new and unreleased music. These are demos, backstage 
recordings, and other types of recordings that might not otherwise reach the 
public. The website already includes a “Live from Eaux Claires IV” folder where 
you can hear fresh recordings from the residency and the festival. 
 
The PEOPLE website is also the place to buy tickets to the PEOPLE festival at the 
Funkhaus in Berlin August 18-19. It will be another week residency and two-day 
festival rooted in “new material, collaborations, unique arrangements and 
dissolving borders.”  
 
 
 

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Interestingly, the names of the 160 or so artists participating in the PEOPLE 
festival have been released, but when you sit down for a performance you will 
not know which combination of artists you are seeing until the lights come on. 
 
Now that the dust from IV has settled, there will be questions. 
 
Where does Eaux Claires go from here? 
 
Will Eaux Claires become Berlin in the woods?  
 
Will Vernon move the festival to his April Base studio?  
 
I’m starting to think that having the answers might be besides the point.  
 

 
TU Dance member at Eaux Claires IV. [Photo by Sarah Ferraro] 
 
 
“Where you are who you are.” - Big Red Machine 
 
EAUX CLAIRES IV. 
 
 
Joey Grihalva is a Milwaukee-based writer. 

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