"We got 95 percent of the people we dreamed of getting," Vernon tells Billboard. "I've had a list in my head for years. Aaron was there to help me fill in the gaps, and everyone at Crash Line [Productions, producers of Eaux Claires and Boston Calling]. They were like, 'Every one of these people are your friends, come on man, let's make sure we sell some tickets here.'"
Inspired by Aaron and his twin Bryce's curation of Cincinnati's MusicNOW Festival, Vernon wanted to create an environment that gave artists the chance to be creative outside of the neverending album-tour-rinse-repeat cycle. Though he's hesitant to reveal some of the visual and performance elements, Wisconsin-based up-and-comers PHOX will precede their performance with a documentary they made about trying to make it as an indie band, without sacrificing their integrity, in the music industry.
"There's going to be a lot of alternate performances in different kinds of performance spaces, to give you an idea of the regular relationship between the stage and the audience, and really trying to alter that," Vernon says. "We're trying to be unique at a global scale, colliding art forms and music and collaborations between artists of all kinds together."
Ever the humble Midwesterner, Justin Vernon declines being "self-centered" twice during his conversation with Billboard. "I've always wanted to throw a big party with everything I would want at a place, and assumed other people want the same people there," he says of the festival. "It's self-centered, but at the same time we got the opportunity to do it, so here we are."
And of Bon Iver, which he maintains never broke up, he says, "It's my project, and I'm not selfish or self-centered, but it's my baby. I take care of it and I'm the curator of that band, project, whatever you want to call it." Though he doesn't know what's in store for Bon Iver, Vernon admits that the idea of the band reuniting for a hometown show has gotten him thinking about it again.
Eau Claire is Vernon's hometown and not far from his famed April Base studio, where the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has cut tracks with James Blake, the National, North Carolina folkies Megafaun and collaborators S. Carey and Volcano Choir. When Vernon hasn't been holed up there with Eaux Claires creative director Michael Brown (who's also designed sets for Grizzly Bear, the National, Bon Iver and Wilco) -- "he's my age, we're both 33, just living in this weird art house where we're working on fun, creative stuff" -- he's been learning new techniques, checking out new gear, and, you know, cutting tracks with Kanye West.
Still, working with Yeezy can't compare to Vernon's "wildest dream" of hosting a festival in his hometown. "It feels kind of unreal that it's going to happen here," he says.
Eaux Claires Music & Arts Festival Lineup:
Blind Boys of Alabama
Francis and the Lights
Hiss Golden Messenger
Indigo Girls performing Swamp Ophelia
No BS! Brass Band
Retribution Gospel Choir
The Lone Bellow
The Tallest Man On Earth