×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Concert Review: Eaux Claires Festival’s No Advanced Lineup Concept Proves a Risky Affair

The artsy two-day gathering in Wisconsin is curated by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner.

The 2018 edition of the Eaux Claires festival, the four year-old, artsy two-day fest curated by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner (pictured), came with a unique, potentially exciting concept for anyone tired of the same played-out fest tropes: no lineup would be announced until festival-goers took to the field in Eau Claires, Wisconsin. In interviews and on social media, the organizers promised that the audience would not be disappointed. Coming on the heels of last year’s fest, which featured an extraordinarily diverse lineup with arena-sized acts including Chance the Rapper and Paul Simon, as well as cultier faves like Wilco and John Prine and a palpable inter-artist energy, it was quite the guarantee.

Sadly, it over-promised and under-delivered. Though Eaux Claires IV was full of one-off musical collaborations and unique sets, the lack of any true large-scale surprises on the lineup gave the whole gotcha element more of an air of “meh” than of “wow.” Further, those smaller acts who took risks (encouraged by the festival’s laid back vibe) sometimes did so at the expense of fans, many of whom wandered around through the tiny back-woods stages looking for something to grasp onto.

That said, there was one absolutely incredible highlight: The National’s broody, penultimate set, which was performed on a uniquely-designed platform in-the-round with three satellite side-stages hosting musicians jamming along on drums, guitar, percussion, and more. Though the stage was in use all weekend, The National was the only act who embraced the in-the-round setup for a truly immersive set, with singer Matt Berninger fully exploring the space and, sometimes, the audience.

High points included a slew of sit-ins from other performers — among them: breakout singer-songwriter Julien Baker, who delivered her song “Appointments”  from one of those side-stages while the National accompanied her from 20 yards away.

Other festival highlights included Chicago rapper Noname, whose jazzy band nodded to laid-back 90s backpack hip-hop as she channeled Lauryn Hill; a full-on political set from Pussy Riot, who unsurprisingly used their main stage slot to rally concertgoers to become more active; and the Vernon-Dessner side project Big Red Machine, which essentially was a stand-in for a proper Bon Iver set, and featured many of the fest’s other performers jamming along.

But — without any big-name drop-ins, including heavily-rumored artists like Patti Smith, Sufjan Stevens, and Arcade Fire — some of the decisions, especially scheduling-wise, made no sense and erred on the outer edge of pretentiousness. First-night mai -stage closers Mouse On Mars were beautifully cacophonous but impossible for the small crowd to connect to, while art-rock stalwarts Low and Dirty Projectors were relegated to a tiny mid-woods second stage, where they unleashed bash-heavy lullabies and a full acoustic set of new songs, respectively, to crowds far too large for the space (and, in the latter’s case, were drowned out by a surprise karaoke set from Francis and the Lights, who sang along to both his own “Friends” and Kanye West’s “Lift Yourself”).

Alternately, there were long lulls of nothing happening at all in the main field, suggesting that, perhaps, the organizers could not actually fill the time, leaving wandering fest-goers scratching their heads. Many smaller artists chose the fest to debut whole sets of new material — a bold move, but especially so with attendees who were discovering bands for the first time. As one concertgoer tweeted: “I love that every band has said, ‘this is our first time playing together.’ So happy I paid to watch you practice.”

Had there been fewer of those moments, such banter might have been seen as charming and given the whole experience an air of specialness. Certainly parts of the festival had that built in, including a totally-hidden DJ stage, an immersive, interactive percussion installation, and the setting itself — an idyllic and intimate field-and-forest patch of land alongside the Chippewa River. But with the lack of a proper headliner, Eaux Claires’ misses carried over to the feel of the festival as a whole — an experiment with enormous potential, but whose engineers, this time, had not found the right formula.

Concert Review: Eaux Claires Festival's No Advanced Lineup Concept Proves a Risky Affair

More Music

  • Danny Bennett, Tony Bennett, Sir Lucian

    Verve President Danny Bennett Steps Down as UMG Restructures Jazz and Classical Divisions

    Verve Label Group president/CEO Danny Bennett has stepped down, Universal Music Group announced Thursday. Oversight of Verve will be taken over by Dickon Stainer, president/CEO of Universal Classics and Jazz, who will add the labels to a stable that already includes heading up Deutsche Grammophon and the Decca Label Group. The restructuring was cited by the [...]

  • Exclusive All RoundMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Lennon Stella's Post-'Nashville' Pop Video Shows 'Bitch'-iness Cuts Across Genders

    What happens when a Canadian country girl goes pop? America is finding out this year via Lennon Stella, the 19-year-old former co-star of TV’s “Nashville,” who signed to Barry Weiss’ Records imprint (which has a deal via Columbia Records) in the winter of 2018, and who this month released a stellar new song, “Bitch (Takes [...]

  • Members of the public mourn at

    Guy Oseary’s New Zealand Fundraiser Nears $150,000, Continues Raising Money

    In the wake of the horrific shootings at New Zealand mosques last week that killed some 49 people, Maverick chief Guy Oseary launched a GoFundMe campaign to “support those affected by this tragedy at this very difficult time,” and began it with an $18,000 donation. Boosted by donations from many celebrities — including Amy Schumer, [...]

  • Justin Carter Dead: Country Singer Dies

    Country Singer Justin Carter Dies After Accidental Shooting on Music Video Set

    Texas country music upstart Justin Carter has died from a gunshot wound, in an accident that took place while a gun was being as a prop for a music video being filmed in his apartment, according to reports out of Houston. Carter, 35, died Saturday, the same week he had signed a management deal and [...]

  • Karen O

    Karen O & Danger Mouse Talk ‘Lux Prima,’ Perform at New York Times Event

    “We’re gonna do one more song…” Karen O said at her and Danger Mouse’s performance and chat in New York Wednesday night, “… and then comes the hard part, which is talking about music.” She was probably inadvertently paraphrasing the age-old adage that attempting to write about music is like “dancing about architecture,” but the [...]

  • Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend Roger Daltrey,

    Why Aren't the Who Playing Woodstock 50?

    Whither the Who? That’s a big question for anyone perusing the Woodstock 50 lineup and noticing that the biggest act from the original 1969 lineup that is still around and active is not on the bill. The timing might have even seemed fortuitous, since the band recently announced plans for a 29-city American tour this [...]

  • KCRW

    KCRW Moves Into New Headquarters as Star DJ Jason Bentley Mulls His Future

    Influential public radio station KCRW has finally left the basement and entered its new home: a sparkling, 34,000-square-foot, three-story $21.7 million glass structure on the campus of Santa Monica College. Part of a $115 million development of its Center for Media and Design, it’s a glittering, shiny and massive step up from its previous studio [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content