It’s not that I wasn’t excited for this past weekend, more that I was in a bit of a tizzy having just found out I would be going 48 hours prior to packing up my car and making the drive into no man’s land (aka Wisconsin). That being said, the beautiful hour and a half drive into Eau Claire had a very calming effect on my mood. Although I still wasn’t completely sold on the idea of a festival without a line-up (no, I’m not kidding), I found myself being more and more cautiously optimistic with every mile I put on my little orange car.
When I arrived in Eau Claire, I met up with some friends at their hotel so we could snag the shuttle to the festival grounds. With about a half hour before the first 12:50 shuttle was scheduled to pick us and a whole slew of other people up, we decided to go grab a beer and do the wait properly (with a beer in hand of course). We had our beer, chatted a bit more, compulsively refreshed the app on our phones hoping for a line-up update or anything and then realized it was 1. So we waited, drank some more, refreshed the app, waited some more, drank one more, refreshed the app another hundred times, and finally we were on the shuttle at 1:30. Okay, I was annoyed at that point but, during the obnoxious wait, the schedule had been released and although 90% of the line-up wasn’t for me (and the likelihood of Kanye showing up was fading fast– Kanye has worked with the festival head honcho Justin Vernon before), there were three bands I was super stoked for. Also, drinking a PBR on a big yellow school bus definitely helped bring my optimism levels back up.
When we got to the grounds we started to wander around to get the lay of the land. Crappy line-up or not, there’s no denying the beauty of the grounds. With wooded areas on three side of the grounds and a river on the fourth, it was pretty breathtaking to just stand in the middle of the lush grass and take it all in. My friends and I wandered through the wooded areas and were greeted with various small stages, art installation that would surely be destroyed by the drunken idiots in a few hours, and just nature in general. I’m not the outdoorsy type and I hate the fact that I’ve been sitting on my couch itching at bites for the past couple of hours but, again, no denying the beauty and power in experiencing something like a music festival in a place as beautiful as that.
The music on Friday definitely didn’t tickle my fancy. The only thing keeping me going with a set that was just called “Friends”. Now, I’m not naive, I know the chance of Kanye ever playing a little festival in Eau Claire, Wisconsin is slim to none but I also knew that, with the line-up that had been released, there had to be some sort of surprise at some point. There just wasn’t a wow factor and I feel like every festival has a wow factor. I waited impatiently for this “Friends” set to start. Although I was starving and could definitely use some food to keep my energy up, the look of the enormous lines of the 7 (yes, SEVEN) food vendors was intimidating and frustrating. The set started and it was the predictable guys. Francis & the Lights, Justin Vernon, and their friends that we had already seen a dozen times earlier in the day, it was so underwhelming I just wanted to cry. Again, I knew Kanye was probably out of the equation but Chance the Rapper could have been a great option or someone else– anyone else– ANYONE OTHER THAN THE SIX PEOPLE WE HAD ALREADY BEEN WATCHING ALL DAY. But I digress, I left not too long after that and made the trek back to the Twin Cities. The highlight of Friday was the Taco Bell that I got when I got home.
I woke up Saturday telling myself over and over again that it would be a good day. I listened to nothing but ska music on my way into Wisconsin hoping that would get me more in the mood for a festival. The fact that Ho99o9 was playing late Saturday night was almost enough to keep me happy but I knew we were a long ways away from their 12:30 set. After a couple of drinks, my friends and I hopped on the shuttle (that was actually on-time) and made our way down to the grounds. As soon as I got off the shuttle, I could feel the mood at the festival had changed. People were annoyed and pissed and rightfully so. Some people spent a pretty penny on tickets and they were given the same couple of dudes on different stages playing essentially the same music just in different formations. Hell, I didn’t pay for a ticket but I was still beyond pissed.
Although Twitter was ablaze with complaints about the lack of food and bathrooms, nothing had changed and majority of our Saturday was spent drinking over priced mixed drink to try and keep us happy. Pussy Riot was one of the few acts that actually had me in love with everything at a single moment. They absolutely killed it but I knew they would. Same with Noname and Ho99o9. They were great! But, again, I knew they would be. Everything else seemed to fall flat on Saturday much like it had with Friday. The most disappointing thing was the final set on the main stage. Yet again it was just Justin Vernon on a stage bringing up his friends. It was nothing new and we actually heard a Francis & The Lights song that we had heard Friday afternoon. It was honestly laughable at that point. Thankfully, half way through the closing set a notification was sent through the app saying that the first 500 people to a certain vendor would get a free Ho99o9 jacket. I said nothing, jumped up from the grass patch my friends and I were sitting in, and bolted for the vendor. Getting a free Ho99o9 jacket may have been the highlight of my whole damn weekend (well, that and being able to see them play live).
Our Saturday night ended with an hour long wait for the shuttle to take my friends and I back to the hotel and then me crashing on my friend’s couch in the area.
This weekend was a clusterfuck. I knew it would be but I thought it would be a good kind of clusterfuck. There was no big name at this festival, there were only seven food vendors for thousands of people to eat at, and the bathroom situation is something that I can’t discuss without puking right here and now. For such a beautiful setting and, honestly, a beautiful event that brings so many different people together, the ball was dropped this year. I would like to say that I would give Eaux Claires a second chance but I honestly don’t know.
I have never been so damn disappointed in a show or festival in my life.