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Courtesy D. L. Anderson
Back in early 2007 when Justin Vernon named his developing band Bon Iver, after misinterpreting the pronunciation of a French phrase meaning “good winter”, the frontman was experiencing anything but what the moniker suggests. Vernon was not only suffering from a bout of mononucleosis, but mourning the demise of his previous band and like many inspired musicians, the breakup of a relationship, sparking him to escape to for the winter to his father’s sequestered cabin in the woods of Wisconsin.
There in complete isolation, Vernon began to lay the groundwork for what would become Bon Iver; and upon returning to civilization, recruited a band to flesh out the sounds of his music and give body to Bon Iver’s live performance. With that, Vernon who looks every bit the lone woodsman, often dressed in flannel shirts and sporting the quintessential scruffy beard, took to the stage and began to give the kind of earth shattering performances that would ignite an avalanche of accolades from musicians and fans alike.
Little did Vernon know that his solo performances in the woods amidst Wisconsin’s harsh winter would land him an opportunity surrounded by very different scenery - playing for a crowd of tens of thousands in the sweltering desert sun at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. Fast forward five years and the unassuming singer and his band are riding a wave of success right up to the California coast for the festival next month. By now, Bon Iver is a Coachella veteran and will be returning to the stage to perform in one of the festival’s most coveted slots, the supporting act for the revered British rockers, Radiohead. This honor is only one of many that Bon Iver has received of late. Last month the indie folk sensation took home not one but two Grammy awards for Best Alternative Rock Album and Best New Artist.
Bon Iver is undoubtedly on their way up, winning over audiences with their unique sound. The paradox of Vernon’s sorrowful falsetto vocals and the starling intensity of the music is a combination rarely heard by audiences and rarely forgotten. It was on Bon Iver’s first album For Emma, Forever Ago that listeners were first struck by the heartache heard in Vernon’s bone chilling voice, the often inaudible but haunting sounds of despair often accompanied by his band’s floating harmonies. Layered with gentle instrumentation, Bon Iver’s first release was organic in every sense of the word, with a sound as natural as the scenery that it sprung from. However, Bon Iver’s self-titled sophomore effort, is nothing if not a more animated extension of their debut. Slightly more complex without being muddled, the second album struck a note of perfection that has not gone unnoticed, as evidence by their Grammy wins.
When Bon Iver takes the stage again at this year’s Coachella, the band will be performing with the added hype of their recent success. One only has to see his Grammy acceptance speech where he expressed embarrassed discomfort and then thanked voters for the “sweet hookup”, to know that even with a crowd of thousands, Bon Iver won’t be taking their mounting attention too seriously.
Bon Iver performs at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on Saturday April 14 & 21