The air was rich and lush in the humid afternoon. Crisp foliage and structures provided moderately sized spaces of shade for those in line. The heat from the late spring made sweat drops nearly quiver and anticipation was palpably electric.
Bon Iver was to take Deer Lake Park.
Line ups were eager and humble souls felt grandiose when paired or grouped. Every spirit had a glisten and shine when illuminated, but still glowed in the shade. Kindred beings all shared a youthful anticipation for an act much their senior.
As the gates opened, the field became flooded by feet, fastened by footwear (though some was removed for the feel of fresh grass). Hearts skipped and sped as even the less fit people brought extra energy and hustle.
This was the magic of Bon Iver: the ability to move people to act this way. They were not just friends, or even welcoming strangers; these people were a community in themselves with at least one thing to share.
At 7:00, the Staves took the stage. The sun had begun its descent and nestled itself in the branches of surrounding foliage. Stray beams cascaded and rested on the shoulders of eager beings. The air became richer and cooler just as the crowd was warming itself up.
The Staves were a genuinely surprising opening act. Impeccable harmonies and subtle, soft sounds created a vibe reminiscent of Mountain Man. Though it was not exuberant enough to bring energy to the crowd, the down-to-earth charm and small town appeal made everyone embrace them with affection. The music itself was, at times, very moving. Occasionally eloquent and always familiar, it was very hard to dislike the three women that had taken the stage. After their 45 minute set, most fans took note of the name in order to revisit the act.
By now, the sun was almost completely concealed. Lone clouds looked to group together to pass the impending cool air. For the large group below, the only warmth needed was radiating off of each other.
Justin Vernon is by no means an extravagant man. It is likely that large group of people all dressed and dolled for the occasion intimidated him and his modest ways. The shared connection, however, transcended any differing in style or way of life; every way a resident of Eau Claire, Wisconsin differed from someone from Vancouver was irrelevant.
When Justin took the stage with his band composed of friends and close companions, the crowd welcomed him with heavy screams and applause. One could see he was a now a veteran of such scenarios as the ease of such accepting such a welcoming was almost excessive, but it by no means reflected who he was. When he struck the opening notes of Perth, a modest, common musician stood in front of us with a sound so large it filled a field.
Every note radiated and expanded; yet, every being came together, closer.
Hearts felt heavy in chests and dreary beings were brought to life. Time went from standing still to passing in an instant.
The set didn’t bring too many surprises due to his limited catalogue, but enlarged versions of Brackett, Wi. and Blood Bank were unexpected highlights. Though somewhat predictable, Justin and company added enough extra flair and depth to make each track more invigorating and powerful. For such a quiet individual, Justin, through each and every song, found a way to be grand and engrossing.
What was almost perplexing was the perpetual enthralment; whether it was the loud, lush sounds of the revised Blood Bank or just Justin himself performing re:Stacks, not a single distraction could defer an eye. The crowd was nothing less than captured.
Following an audience supported Skinny Love, the band decided to finish with the final three tracks of their latest album. The transition from Calgary, to Lisbon, OH. and finally Beth/Rest was seamless and expertly executed; as a result, the whole experience felt almost as if it were on an album while maintaining the organic feel of a live show. It was almost surreal how the band maintained such a genuine, live environment while performing at the level they did.
The encore was peculiar, in a way. Starting with a Bjork cover, the band brought a new vibe to the stage, yet it still felt familiar. It was one of those times where the cover was a perfect synthesis of identities; one part was Bjork, the other was distinctly Bon Iver. Moving on to a highlight of the show, Wolves (Acts I and II), Justin orchestrated the crowd in participation making the song a performance of 8000 as opposed to the few on stage. What resulted was the culmination of many into an entity and a bond between an improbably high number of people. What was somewhat disappointing was the decision to not close with such a moment. I’m not one to complain with a band playing more songs and extending the show, but that vibe and feeling was a perfect moment to end on. The conclusion of For Emma was still fitting in a way (with the show ending just as Justin’s project began), but it didn’t feel right.
The reality was that the show concluded in such a way that felt off. After For Emma, it seemed like the night lacked closure. A simple moving of Wolves to conclude the set would have been, in my humble opinion, a much better move. It should be noted, however, that there is no way that could possibly detract from the night that was. Such an incredible performance is deserving of higher praise than I am capable of communicating as it exceeded the show from last September. Bon Iver will continue to be a troubadour of an entity, touring extensively (and perhaps sporadically in the future) until the moment feels right to return to the studio. When they do choose to record again, the deep, rich story and lore behind the once solo project of a heartbroken man will continue to grow and develop beyond what we know as Bon Iver.