Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner’s third Eaux Claires sees a boldly tight lineup of artists. Here’s some of the most idiosyncratic shows going on this weekend in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.


5. Spank Rock

Though it feels like the buzz surrounding Spank Rock died down years ago, Naeem Juwan has been anything but complacent. He’s hung out with Boys Noize, Le1f, and Santigold. He toured with Mark Ronson. Last year, he jumped onboard The Avalanches reboot, and has been touring his raps with them since Wildflower.

Despite all this, Juwan’s shows as Spank Rock have been all but absent since 2014’s The Upside. A relative outsider to Eaux Claires, there’s no reason to think he’d join the bill without something up his sleeve. He’s also got to stand up to the likes of Danny Brown and Chance, so the stakes are high. He’ll be incorporating electronic, grime, and a party rap vibe that’s absent elsewhere on the Eaux Claires map.


spank rock

4. Mouse on Mars

Who’d have thought a 25 year-old German electronic project would make it to something like Eaux Claires? There haven’t been any Mouse sets on this side of the pond in years. Furthermore, there have been no studio albums since 2012, seeing the duo (and sometimes trio) play mostly to clubs and parties back home. Having them on the bill is a major nod to Eaux Claires’ curatorial skill both in terms of genre and place of origin. Seeing Wilco any number of times is cool, but seeing Mouse on Mars even once is a treat anywhere in the world. One peep at 2005’s Live 04 is proof that the show will be killer.


mouse on mars

3. Bon Iver Presents John Prine & The American Songbook

Such is the title of the biggest head-scratcher on this year’s lineup. It seems to present more questions than excitement. Will Prine be there? Will the band play all Prine? Will they play any Bon Iver?

One thing is for sure, John Prine’s songs will be performed, and John Prine will be present. A child of the Midwest himself, this performance won’t be restrained to one artist or another. However, it will only be a ninety minute set, so it’s possible that many elements of Justin Vernon’s catalogue will be jettisoned. Still, the question of “The American Songbook” remains. Perhaps they’ll run through some Dylan tunes while they’re up near Minneapolis. Anything seems possible. Whatever happens, the set will be riddled with collaborators from the weekend, so there’s a lot of reasons to be excited. Vernon can get away with just about anything, and this won’t be an exception.


john prine

2. Danny Brown

In a totally unironic and difficult-to-make-fun-of sense, Eaux Claires is a festival that radiates positivity. Complete with fresh poetry and speeches before performances, the weekend inspires its attendees to feel pride for their region and ability to gather. So where exactly does Danny Brown fit into all that? Last year’s Atrocity Exhibition is a record rife with overindulgence, self-destruction, drug abuse, and violence. Granted it’s a fictional tale of Old Danny Brown’s life in the spotlight, none of these features are to be found elsewhere at the festival.

But then again, who cares? Though the lineup was meticulously put together, that doesn’t mean everyone on the list needs to fall into a certain category. In a way, Danny Brown’s inclusion denies notions of exclusivity on the compact lineup. The festival will take good artists as long as they can get them. Further still is the fact that Brown’s last three albums are the best trio of rap records this side of Kendrick. I can’t wait to follow the downward spiral.


danny brown

1. Feist

Leslie Feist isn’t American, let alone Midwestern. Nor has she collaborated too closely with Dessner or Vernon. However, she has her own region to represent, and it’s still a northern one. Since For Emma, Forever Ago, Vernon has attempted to capture the feeling of winter (damn him if he continues to put out records at the dawn of summer). Surrounding Eaux Claires is a distinct image of the transition from the cold to the warm. In Wisconsin, we’ll be celebrating nature’s ability to bring everyone together in its embrace.

Feist, through her massive network of collaborators and friends, doesn’t let the weather stop her. From Broken Social Scene to formerly sharing an apartment with Peaches, she’s all over the map. Her work is in line with Eaux Claires’ mission this year to scale back the lineup and focus on collaboration. It’s in her blood. That said, her songs aren’t preoccupied with temperature. They’re about the feeling of being together. They’re about love. Take a listen to her recent ‘Any Party’, and you’ll know what she’s willing to do for companionship.

There aren’t any dates in the area for the Pleasure tour, so we can tell that her interest in connecting and collaborating goes beyond words. She’s coming down to meet us. While she’s performing her songs of devotion and human connection, it won’t be hard to look about the crowd and find a direct manifestation of what she’s singing about. It’ll be in the crowd as well as in the air.


feist