Students Work 'Field to Festival' at Bon Iver's Eaux Claires 2018
Over the course of a week in the Wisconsin woods, students Will Yeo and Matine Kazemi found themselves wrapping cords, monitoring light shows, sitting in on artist relations meetings, and a host of other jobs as part of an opportunity to work at the Eaux Claires concert festival. Now in its fourth year, the festival is the brainchild of Grammy-winning indie songwriter Justin Vernon (of Bon Iver), himself a native of the Wisconsin city that gives the festival its name.
A Festival with an Independent Spirit
In an era booming with summer festivals, Eaux Claires sets itself apart by being artist-centric; most of the performers arrive early and work on collaborative sets that they’ll debut during the two-day festival. With multiple stages, many of which are small and set in the woods, the concerts skew toward the one-of-a-kind, with acts such as the National, Noname, Francis and the Lights, and many more. The shows are wholly unique for festival-goers, and allow artists to bring themselves fully into their performances. "It’s taught me a lot about what it means to have an open heart and open mind,” says Devin Drobka B.M. ’09, drummer for the band Field Report, one of the bands in the lineup.
"I learned about different career paths that I would have never even thought about before this experience."
—Matine Kazemi, a fifth semester student majoring in music business/management
Pulling off a major festival with such an independent vibe, however, contains no small amount of behind-the-scenes challenges. “Most festivals are pretty cut and dried. This one is much different,” says festival producer Ricky Ginsburg, who also produces for major festivals Bonnaroo and Outside Lands. “Things are from the artists’ perspectives, which really isn’t great from a logistical standpoint. You can't do much in advance. I see this as a contact sport.” On the production side, Jason Anderson, production director, makes sure the staging, lighting, audio, and video all run smoothly, even when things like unexpected rainstorms threaten to halt progress. Production work, he says, should be invisible: "I know I've done a good job when the radios are silent."
A Whizbang Tour of the Festival Industry
Unlike a traditional music festival job or internship experience, the Eaux Claires gig didn't relegate Kazemi and Yeo to one duty. They got the chance to work "from field to festival," as was the mantra for many of those working behind the scenes. Says Kazemi, “I was able to work in multiple aspects of festival production, including lighting design, stage management, front-of-house audio, and stage setup and take-down in between sets. I learned about how much goes into producing a festival and also learned about different career paths that I would have never even thought about before this experience.”
In the days leading up to the festival, the students were tapped to curate a Spotify playlist that teased the artists who would be performing at the festival—a job made even more special due to the fact that Eaux Claires hadn’t announced its artist lineup ahead of time. Whenever they posted a new song to the list, fans lit up the internet, dissecting and reposting the exclusive news.
The rest of the week found both of them all over the festival grounds, from shadowing Ginsburg's team and working production at the main stages to helping prepare for an off-site fashion show designed for all the artists. “Seeing how a festival is put together up close is really enlightening, not only for students planning on working in the festival business, but for those pursuing a career in any part of the music industry,” Yeo says. “We returned to Boston exhausted and covered in bug bites, but also with a renewed sense of why we decided to pursue a career in music.”
Listen to a playlist inspired by the kinds of artistic collaborations you'd hear at Eaux Claires: