Eaux Claires: A New Kind of Music Festival

Music festivals have become a summer staple, and there are dozens happening across the country from May to August. This year though, there’s a newcomer to the festival scene called Eaux Claires. Organized and curated by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver fame and The National’s Aaron Dessner, this event is one that indie music fans won’t want to miss. SHEI got the opportunity to talk with Eaux Claires’ creative director, Michael Brown, about the production process and the motivation behind the festival’s creation, which features artists such as Sylvan Esso, Spoon, Sufjan Stevens, and Bon Iver. The festival takes place July 17-18 in Vernon’s hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. First announced at the end of last year with the lineup following in February, Eaux Claires started to quickly come into being before our eyes. “The festival in general has always been a dream of Justin’s,” Brown said. “It’s been an emphasis of his to build up the community that he came from. That’s part of the reason that he’s still living in the Eau Claire area.” Vernon and Dessner are close friends, so when Crash Line Productions started working with Dessner, it wasn’t long before Vernon got involved too. Together they co-curated the festival’s lineup, reaching out to artists from a wide range of genres. “What’s so unique and great about this festival is that it is artist curated and artist driven,” Brown said. “[In] other music festivals, the lineup is usually created based off of what’s currently available or what bands are on tour. With [Eaux Claires] being curated by Justin, it represents exactly what he wants to see in terms of diversity of music.”

justin and aaron

Meanwhile, Brown’s work as creative director involves shaping the overall aesthetic of the festival and managing the various creative initiatives. He got involved after working as the production designer for both Bon Iver and The National, and he’s also working on set design and creating art installations for the festival. “We’re really try to push the boundaries in terms of audience interactions in a performance environment, and as part of that we’re definitely curating certain art elements to play up that fact,” Brown said. “Specifically, we’re trying to create these small stages within the overall festival that are performance environments that you would never see or normally experience. It’s going to be pretty special to see everyone work together and see these surprise collaborations inside of the performance spaces.” These spaces promote a sense of community and collaboration that is central to the overall message of the festival, which connects back to the setting of the festival in the town of Eau Claire. “The idea behind the name [of the festival] being a play on the French pluralization of the city name is that we’re creating a village within this city,” Brown said. “Specifically a village that’s trying to emphasize the creative community that’s come out of here.”

It’s clear that this festival has something new to offer, not just in terms of the wide variety of musical content spanning multiple genres, but also through the way in which the music will be presented and experienced by the audience and everyone involved. “The goal of this festival is that it becomes an event that the entire community and everybody coming embraces regardless of what artists are being presented this year,” says Brown. “It’s about the entire curation of this community that we’re creating.” This sense of community, collaboration, and innovation is what truly turns Eaux Claires into an experience you won’t find anywhere else.

Photos courtesy of eauxclaires.com