July 21, 2015

Eaux my goodness, Eaux Claires


The inaugural Eaux Claires Music Festival in Wisconsin this past weekend was one of my favorite music festivals I have ever been to. I went because of the absolutely ridiculous lineup, hand-curated by Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (The National), and was floored by the community spirit, constant collaboration of musicians I love, and air of joy that permeated the festival.

Entering under a rainbow of gossamer delight by “Minneapolis yarnbomber” HOTTEA:

The first set of the festival for me was the freewheeling warmth and elasticity of Hiss Golden Messenger, whose redolent album Lateness of Dancers (out on Merge Records) I’ve been listening to a lot all this spring and summer.

I was dancing too hard to get any good photo or video, but they were tremendously good live, all their songs taking on new color and sounding somehow even better than on the album– especially when they were joined by the No BS! Brass Band, who delightfully showed up on stage and in the crowd at all the most wonderful times during the festival.

It also made me so happy to see Justin Vernon standing sidestage for most of their set, singing along and thumping on his chest; that’s one of the best feelings to see something you’ve booked and worked to make happen finally set off rolling:


With an entirely new backing band from the folks that we hosted at my house and in the chapel, Chris Porterfield’s Field Report was the next on my schedule to see.

After traversing the lush green forest path between stage areas (happily), I arrived to hear a completely reworked version of “I Am Not Waiting Anymore,” a deep deep favorite of mine. Even re-envisioned as a faster, more rollicking alt-countrified tune, it still gets deep in my gut every time–the word structure, the evocation. The songs they played off Marigolden, the new record, were also incredible in the live setting. Chris writes songs that are so real and honest, in the lyrical content, in the potency of delivery. They’re unflinching, and I like that.


Okay, so — new to me, because I’ve been slow on the uptake lately: Sylvan Esso holy shit completely blew my hair back (not literally because it was ten thousand degrees + humid and my hair was a giant damp frizzball of drippy sweat, even moreso dancing under the tent for their set).

Amelia Meath of Mountain Man (and also one of the busier guest performers of the festival, singing also with Hiss Golden Messenger and Phil Cook) and Nick Sanborn of Megafaun make rich, haunting, shimmery confections of eminently danceable music together. AND AMELIA MOVES LIKE THIS, while wearing (not pictured) 4-inch platform shoes and singing like a complete badass:

I fell in love. I bought the full album immediately and am praying for enough hot summer lazy days left to listen to it on nonstop repeat.

(also check out the super cool Song Exploder podcast about the roots and guts and words of this song, which made me like them even more)

Friday night’s set from The National was what I was looking forward to the most from this weekend. I hadn’t seen them since that atom bomb of a performance at Red Rocks in 2013, and was feeling just about recovered enough to let them rip it all back open.

They delivered a set that was even more tightly furious and darkly melodic than I’d seen in a while from them. Matt seemed especially electrified, as he paced and screamed (and they performed both “Abel” and “Mr. November”?!), and then leapt into a crowd that I feared might actually consume him during “Terrible Love” (I confess to a hearty clasping of his arm when the eddy of the sweaty crowd shoved him into my orbit).

Also, because of the massive group of friends assembled as co-performers on the bill of the weekend, the set contained some pretty incredible guests.


(even though Matt had to publicly chastise him for wearing shorts; this is a classy band, man!)

Sufjan came out for several songs; here singing “Afraid of Everyone” with Matt:

AND, as a kicker, there was a closing singalong to “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” with both Sufjan Stevens and Justin Vernon.

After severe weather sirens going off at 2:30am in the UW-Eau Claire dorms that this California girl had zero idea how to deal with (google!), after surviving and not being washed away, Saturday morning crested crisp and full of the promise of another whole day of wonderful performances. The sound of Phil Cook wafting through the air made me stop my foraging for food and book it across the field immediately to begin dancing with a troupe of barely-clad college dudes (“vodka for breakfast, guys, amirite??” – my friend Michelle) for a wildly fun set that left me looking up all the music I could find from this talented gent. He also played with Hiss Golden Messenger, and is also in Megafaun. It’s all a big circle of goodness, and I definitely intend to troll around in his catalog.

The performance of this song at the festival was a beast:

After having the honor of LNZNDRF (“Lanzendorf”) playing at my college in the spring with a special chapel rehearsal that I am working to bring you a glimpse of, I was really excited to see this experimental band play again. With core members Ben Lanz (The National, Sufjan Stevens, Beirut) and the Devendorf brothers (Scott and Bryan, from The National), they were joined this weekend by Josh Kaufman (a musician who plays with Yellowbirds and Josh Ritter) and trumpeter Kyle Resnick of The National.

Together they created this otherworldy miasma of sounds that played off each other to build and dissipate under the little tent space where they played their surprise show. Watching their intuitive knowledge of each other as musicians is a joy, as they weave each performance together freshly – with no traditional setlist of songs, just a scaffolding of new sound creations, insistent and expansive.


PHOX premiered a spirited and imaginative short film at the fest, ostensibly about their mad dash to get to the festival in time in a zigzag across Wisconsin, punctuated by genies and dastardly lumberjacks, but really maybe about Monica’s quest to find her voice and learning to not look inside a bottle (ahem). After a midnight screening on the lawn Friday, they repeated the showing immediately before their Saturday late afternoon set.

Perhaps augmented by the film but also just by the fact that this band is fucking magical (and I’ve crowed it since the first time I heard their dulcet earworm creations), they received one of the warmest and loudest home-state welcomes from the crowd of any band I saw all weekend. I was hoping they’d play “No Lion,” the cover from the chapel session we recorded, but instead and even better, the culmination of their spirited set was a new a capella creation that was jawdropping. My heart swells for these kids. Everything about them just keeps getting better.

Two other memorable punctuations of the weekend included a crowd singalong with Vermont songwriter Sam Amidon conducting us enthusiastically in traditional melodies (listen) complete with sheet music, and Field Report’s Chris Porterfield joining in as he walked by:

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…and a whimsical “Forever Love” matinee show with original compositions by Bryce and Aaron Dessner on a special woodland stage with elaborate set. This festival was crafted to be punctuated by little moments of delight and surprise. It made it feel so much fresher and more intimate, more honest (?) than a lot of other large festivals I’ve gone to. Even though it had 22,000 attendees, it felt closer in spirit to something like the Doe Bay Fest / Timber Music Fests of the Pacific Northwest that I’ve had the joy of being a part of. I think that’s really saying something about Justin and Aaron’s design for this happening.

I had some strong ruminations during Bon Iver’s closing set (pictured here with The Staves on backing vocals and S. Carey as one of two (!!) drummers):

As introduction, there was an exceedingly genuine, heart-swelling speech given before Bon Iver’s set by festival narrator Michael Perry (a music writer from Eau Claire, and man who Justin later said was one of the most important friendships of his life). He said:

“If you hold yourselves still and silent now, you can feel that river, runnin’ behind you, running through the night, running through all time.

It’s good to have music near a river. There’s this idea of baptism, of absolution, no matter what you believe.

Better yet, it’s good to have music at a place where two rivers come together–a confluence. For what are we but a confluence? A confluence that lives and breathes, a confluence of dream and song, a confluence of 22,000 beating hearts.

And so here we are, cradled by a river in a sanctuary of song: craving consecration, exaltation. On bended knee, seeking benediction.”

With that, Justin launched seamlessly into the first live performance of his song “Heavenly Father,” and closing vespers, so to speak, began. And it felt like benediction indeed.

I kept thinking all weekend that I was glad to be in a crowd where there were blatant hearts on actual sleeves everywhere. I saw so many Justin Vernon words permanently inscribed in flesh. More than just a gathering of the converted, a festival of the fanboys and fangirls, I was surprised that I was pretty deeply moved at (for instance) the lanky, athletic-looking dude standing behind me in the breakfast line with “and i told you to be patient and i told you to be fine and i told you to be balanced and i told you to be kind” in a block of text over his heart. We’ve heard that line a thousand times so as for it to become rote, but it wasn’t rote when it was written — it was true and that is truth, and it struck me as such. I found myself remembering the deep beauty in wholehearted loving, in full-faced believing.

As we sang along to the same words I sang back in 2009 in an afternoon set under San Francisco cypress trees, I thought about what might have been lost, what’s changed and what hasn’t. This weekend was one of fragmenting for me back into little pieces, so that I could examine and regrow some of the connective tissues and remember why it is we see and participate in live music, why we believe. In between the two new songs that Justin closed the Bon Iver set with, he tried to put into words what the festival and the weekend meant to him, as he visibly batted at tears in his eyes with a flick of his fingers. “I think what we give each other and what we can believe in each other, I think that’s how we can become …greater.” I love him for still shoving his heart out there, for still standing there bald-facedly being true and unflinching, believing in himself and music and us, all around him.

The first thing I loved about Justin Vernon the first time I heard him and saw him live was a purity, and this festival seemed to capture that pure spirit–that urgent reaching for a real connection. I can think of very few better things to strive for in this life and in the songs we sing and the music we embrace.

To quote my wonderful friend and accomplice at the fest, Michelle, I am going to be hungeauxver for weeks, I think. And I couldn’t be more deeply happy.

The Chippewa river, running through all time, and cradling all 22,000 of us.

June 24, 2013

Field Report house concert recording (October 8, 2012)

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Back in October, those Wisconsin-grown purveyors of carefully-crafted songs Field Report came through Colorado to record a chapel session and play a Fuel/Friends house show. I’ve been listening to an audience recording of that house show often because it gives such a marvelous, vibrant reflection of the intimacy that makes house concerts special — how raw and affectingly all their voices ring out together in the room, the banter with the folks who are there, the improvisation in the instrumentation.

Field Report returns to Colorado Springs tomorrow (Tuesday night) to play a FREE SHOW at the new rad Ivywild School project, where I will be booking music. Come on down to the Principal’s Office bar, have a Colorado-crafted spirit, and enjoy music like this.

Mike Clark opens, music at 8pm.

October 8, 2012

Route 18
I Am Not Waiting Anymore –> In The Year Of The Get You Alone
Taking Alcatraz
Chico The American
Circle Drive
Fergus Falls


Also, this is another reason to like Field Report: BECAUSE THEY LIKE PUPPIES. Resistance is futile.

January 7, 2013

Fuel/Friends Chapel Session #20: Field Report

I’ve spent the last three days wrestling my blankets in a haze of fever dreams, hours passing in what feels like minutes and vice-versa. The soundtrack to much of my (stupid stupid mean) flu has fittingly been the impressionistic complexity of Field Report in these recordings from Shove Chapel earlier in the fall.

Even before I roadtested this music to my own actual fever dreams, that’s long been one of the best descriptors I could come up with for how Chris Porterfield’s rich songs wrestle over failings and threads of stories long forgotten. In the same way that time out of mind through fevers makes all sorts of strange threads of memory surface, these songs draw you into stories as if you’ve already heard them. Listening for the first time feels like remembering. Porterfield is a master at using odd metaphors that require you to just sort of accept them before they make sense.

I’ve been so deeply entranced by Field Report, and tangled up in their debut record ever since it first surfaced in my life in the icy springtime. The purity and urgency made it one of my favorites of 2012, and I think that all three album songs in this session outshine the renditions on the record. This band is a jaw-dropping talent, and it’s evident from these recordings that touring has only strengthened their songs. Go see them in 2013.


Taking Alcatraz
This is ostensibly a story about the American Indian occupation of Alcatraz in 1969, but it is also a song about staking your battles and pushing back against fears. “If I die here, well — at least I made a choice.”

Circle Drive
This song feels exactly like a string of long, late-night hospital visits, the sterile and dehumanizing blur between the living and the dying. I prefer the slow weariness in this version to the album version. Nick’s sweet piano cadence kills me here, as does the simple way that Chris states, “I am still your man. Some days we do the best we can.” He also leaves out the line, “we’re doing fine” in this rendition, which is good because I wouldn’t believe him anyways.

Borrowed Tune (Neil Young)

Whoa whoa. The caged energy of this video is mesmerizing, and Chris does absolute justice to the thin-voiced strained urgency of Neil Young’s ripoff of the Rolling Stones. One of my favorite covers we’ve recorded in the church.

Fergus Falls
You wake up suddenly in the middle of this quietly sad story, a song that doesn’t have the courtesy to fill us in on any of the important details that came before. Someone is reminding me about the time ten years ago when their wings iced up in the fall, and the whole thing feels like a dream. This version is slower and warmer, and feels like swimming towards the surface.

I feel like this whole record is about swimming towards the surface.


[audio production by the wonderful guys at Blank Tape Records, video by the always-terrific Kevin Ihle]

December 31, 2012

Fuel/Friends favorites of 2012

Another year of music has come and gone, dense with wonder and goodness. I can’t possibly articulate the qualitatively-best albums of the year, but I can mentally categorize into my favorites (something that has been a hot discussion topic this week with my musical friends). These are my favorite albums that were released in 2012 — tallied in a scientific manner of how long it took me to take the record off repeat. When I love something, I tend to love music furiously and unrelentingly, listening to it on repeat for weeks and months until I get sick of it. I’m not sick of any of these wonderful records yet, and in fact they keep getting better the more I listen.

Here are my favorite ten albums of 2012, in alphabetical order by artist. Take a listen: there are some wonderful things here you might have missed.


Like a fire that consumes all before it…
Adam Arcuragi (Thirty Tigers)

Ohhhh, this record. This is a strong, rootsy, growly record that is also stunningly beautiful. Philadelphia “death gospel” musician Adam Arcuragi sings from the very base of his guts, with his head back and his heart forward. Singing along with him and his Lupine Chorale Society (from lupo, the latin word for wolf) during their chapel session, with my head back and heart forward as well, was a highlight of the year for me in terms of the soul elevation, something that this music has in loads. This was definitely one for much-needed replenishment this year.

Oh, I See – Adam Arcuragi

Break It Yourself
Andrew Bird (Mom+Pop Records)

Andrew Bird has made a spry, elegant record, full of darting violin, freewheeling gypsy stomping, lugubrious plucking, and his famous whistling in true virtuoso style. It is also a complicated record: best listened to as a whole, complete with the interspersed short musical interlude songs that pepper through the larger orchestral numbers. It feels like a journey. Songs like “Lazy Projector” soundtracked long hot summer nights for me, and into the winter this record has continued to be one I reach for often.

Lusitania (feat. St Vincent) – Andrew Bird

Bahamas (Brushfire Records)

Afie Jurvanen cut his musical touring teeth with Feist and the Broken Social Scene kids, and is now on his second record of his own songs. This record is brimming with charm and a sort of playfulness that draws on old Sun-Studios session sounds, lots of golden space and reverb in the room, and so hard not to move your hips back and forth. Afie’s voice is so warm and honeyed (he’s on the super-shortlist for Chapel Sessions in 2013) that this record is completely irresistible.

Lost In The Light – Bahamas

I Predict A Graceful Expulsion
Cold Specks (Arts & Crafts)

This feels like a hard-fought record, wrought by a voice who deserves to be around for a very long time. Al Spx’s voice is transfixing, and resonates with this timeless gospel weight that seems to know more than her 24 years should allow. Her video for “Holland” is one of the most perfect things to happen in a long time, visually weaving together the decay and the growth, the chaos and the intention. There is immense power in this record. When she sings: “I am, I am / I am, I am a goddamned believer,” it’s as if she is trying to convince herself, maybe. Sometimes it is hard to be a believer, goddamit. She gets it.

Blank Maps – Cold Specks

Damien Jurado (Secretly Canadian)

There is a ghostly swing to this record, the twelfth (depending on how you count) from the insanely talented and insanely prolific Seattle songwriter Damien Jurado. It’s haunting and flawless all at once, with the echo of rain on the roof and children singing in chorus – it is as unsettling and it is perfectly incisive. Another Jurado collaboration with Richard Swift, this record is so full of goodness (“I want you and the skyline / these are my demands.” ??? COME ON) that it is almost too powerful some days.

Museum of Flight – Damien Jurado

Field Report
Field Report (Partisan Records)

One summer night at 3am, I found myself sitting up with Field Report around my kitchen table, talking about songwriting and art and intentionality (and reading this Annie Dillard essay aloud – thanks, Jonathan). The more I heard Chris Porterfield talk about his songs, giving even small insights into them, the more I decided that this record resonates with the way my brain sees stories unfold in the world. It’s breathtaking. This album feels, to me, like an insistent wrestling with fever dreams, the small failings that slice at us, and the things we wanted and meant to do, but somehow got lost along the way. The words unravel for me like rich poems, to roll over and over in my head, hearing new things each time. Field Report is an anagram of Chris Porterfield, a Wisconsin musician who was once in the band DeYarmond Edison with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and the Megafaun guys, and he has now crafted a record of his own. These songs took him years to wrestle out, and I am so glad he kept fighting.

(Watch for the chapel session in a week or so!)

Fergus Falls – Field Report

The Idler Wheel is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do
Fiona Apple (Clean Slate / Epic)

Man, this record. The piece of writing I worked out about it earlier this month says exactly what I want to say:

What I hear when I listen to this record is a ragged bravery, a loose-knuckled grip on any sort of stability, and a gorgeous musical honesty. It’s a complicated, outstanding record. Fiona wheels and rages and turns her scalpel alternately fiercely in on herself and outward on a lover (who she calls out by name, more than once). It feels much more raw and bloody than previous records, as she continues to push forward with letting classical prettiness go. I think that notion alone deserves a slow clap, in a society that tends to prefer our ladyfolk a bit more decorous and docile.

Werewolf – Fiona Apple

Isaac Pierce EP
Isaac Pierce / Ten Speed Music (self-released)

This humble, perfect record landed softly on my ears on Easter morning, as the world was waking up. Isaac Pierce crafts songs out of Seattle that meander and drift, thoughtfully probing before landing perfectly where they need to be. He is a songwriter who taps into the exact same navigation my brain steers by, and this EP is deeply satisfying. “We get to be alive / sleep on your porch tonight / with certain distant songs playing, remind me to thank you for bringing us out here just in time…” All bruises heal.

Isaac is playing a house show for me THIS Wednesday, on January 2, with The Changing Colors (chapel session alums from early on) and Mike Clark (whose “Smooth Sailin’” track started and titled my Summer 2012 mix). You really, really should come.

Warm Bruise – Isaac Pierce

Lonesome Dreams
Lord Huron (IAMSOUND)

This is a slowly-building, warmly calescent record that totally took me by surprise by how much and how quickly I adored it. I think this record is what a roadtrip might sound like across the West Texas desert if I brought Fleet Foxes along in the bed of my pickup truck, and added some warm Afro-Caribbean polyrhythms.

Time To Run – Lord Huron

Sharon Van Etten (Jagjaguwar)

This is an album of heft and grief, but also of a hovering loveliness. You don’t often get those two together because the one usually crushes the other. Sharon balances both. This record strips and excoriates me, which sounds terrible but is the exact opposite: the type of brave catharsis that is so exquisitely and purely crafted that it makes all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Her songs wrestle with the desire to love as new as she can, despite her scars, and often start quiet and thoughtfully but crescendo into a hurricane. This is a tremendous, tremendous album.

All I Can – Sharon Van Etten


Most Important Song of 2012:
“Same Love,” Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Because of this:

New Artist I Am Most Excited About in 2013: Night Beds

Because of a voice like this:

In the old tunnels off Gold Camp Road in Western Colorado Springs, Winston Yellen of Night Beds (debut record out February 5 on Dead Oceans) covered 1950s chanteuse Jo Stafford last night, illuminated by the car headlights.

The first Fuel/Friends Tunnel Session, and a pretty damn good way to end 2012.

September 28, 2012

huge addition to next Monday’s house concert: Field Report

I just almost fell out of my chair when Field Report confirmed to play at my house show next Monday, October 8, with Seattle’s magnificent Hey Marseilles. They’re in town with a day off so WHY NOT. I love both bands so much that my ears might disintegrate into bliss right now, and you should come disintegrate with me.

I first wrote about Field Report after a friend of mine from their record label shot me an advance last March as a personal recommendation, with serious urgency for the understated burn throughout this record. Those days were the season of schizophrenic springtime icestorms, and this is a record of sleet and woodsmoke and fever dreams.

Chris Porterfield was in a Wisconsin band called DeYarmond Edison, along with Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and what would become Megafaun. The Field Report record was made in Bon Iver’s Eau Claire studio, and has a similarly gripping effect to the first Bon Iver record, for me. It settles on me and clings to me, probing “unmapped chambers of hearts.”

This rich and thoughtful record is terrific all the way through (reminding me somehow of the gritty landscape of a Cormac McCarthy novel) but “Fergus Falls,” in particular, is the song I have listened to probably 200+ times, often in the car with the windows up and the volume dial as high as it can go because: THAT CRESCENDO. I had myriad ideas about what the song was about — there’s something distinctively dreamlike about the lyrics, except the kind of dream where you get wrapped in the sheets and try to run but your legs are lead. I recently read a piece in Rolling Stone that described how it was inspired by a pregnant woman he saw at a Milwaukee music festival who was with a guy who “looked like an asshole,” and that she seemed trapped. The song-pieces all fell into place, and lines like “And no one saw my banners, my bruises, my flares, my flags” made quiet sense.

Fergus Falls – Field Report

You can stream the whole Field Report record here, and go buy it right now (it just came out a few weeks ago on Partisan Records – the home of other great artists like Deer Tick, Dolorean, and Middle Brother).

April 3, 2012

this is the one like ten years ago that i told you about / when my wings iced up in the fall

Field Report has put together a gorgeous, slow-building record of sleet and woodsmoke and fever dreams. Appearing from seemingly nowhere, this record is needling and soothing me over and over these days of schizophrenic springtime ice storms.

“And no one saw my banners, my bruises, my flares, my flags.” BLAMM.

Fergus Falls – Field Report

Field Report is a surname anagram (I love clever things) of Chris Porterfield, who used to play in DeYarmond Edison (the other members of which were Justin Vernon/Bon Iver and Megafaun), and you’ll hear those musical tentacles woven over this beautiful record. Porterfield has strung together his own collection of songs carefully-crafted over the past few years, and I have the whole thing on repeat lately. It’s understated, and keeps yielding up new quiet colors on multiple listens.

The full Field Report debut was recorded at Justin Vernon’s studio in Wisconsin, and is out this July. For now, listen to these over and over, please.

I Am Not Waiting Anymore – Field Report

Field Report is currently on tour with Megafaun, and in my hometown Bay tonight.

04/03/12 – San Francisco, CA @ Cafe Du Nord
04/04/12 – Santa Cruz, CA @ The Crepe Place
04/05/12 – Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg Theater
04/06/12 – Tempe, AZ @ The Sail Inn
04/08/12 – Santa Fe, NM @ Sol Santa Fe
04/10/12 – Austin, TX @ Mohawk
04/12/12 – Birmingham, AL @ Bottletree
04/14/12 – Saxapahaw, NC @ Haw River Ballroom

And: this is new. The band gives a Wisconsin phone number on the website, where folks can text them. TTYL.

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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