Category Archives: art

A love letter to Eaux Claires

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I’m proud to say that last weekend I finally popped my music festival cherry at Eaux Claires. Seriously!? How is it that I’m 27 and never been to one? My friend M heard (all the way from California, mind you) about an under-the-radar festival Justin Vernon from Bon Iver was putting on. I was familiar enough with the headliners Bon Iver and The National so I checked out the rest of the music line-up. Not surprising to me I hardly knew anyone but I decided to go anyways. Open heart, open mind people! Here is a write-up I just submitted to the curators. (Mom and Dad — you may not want to read the third to last paragraph).

A Love Letter to Eaux Claires

For someone with no real music knowledge or festival experience, Eaux Claires was the perfect introduction into what I always imagined that experience should be like – a space for intimate, authentic, and clear moments to emerge. A place where the sensations and emotions those moments provoke lasts well after the last chords are strung and the sunburns fade.

I couldn’t have imagined the magnitude of how much my feet would hurt or my back would ache or the fact that no matter how Instagram worthy you think you look all you are is a hot, sweaty, hair plastered to your face mess. I can’t count the number of times I audibly groaned wondering how many more times I would have to make the trek up and down the steep tree-lined dirt path up to the Dells stage. Yet all that uncomfortableness was totally worth it because in a sea of 22,000 beating hearts, it hit me. We were all here for one reason. Music. The driving force behind unity and belonging. That which evokes feeling through action and which begs for action through feeling. The one thing that proves we don’t just exist, but that we truly live.

Although I couldn’t sing along to a majority of the songs and half-wondered why I was there given I knew very little about the Eaux Claires music line-up, my lack of musical knowledge allowed me to experience the festival in a unique way. What my mind, body and senses were in tune to extended beyond singing the lyrics of a song or how well I could hear the bass on stage. I think it’s what made my experience unforgettable.

With no preconceived notions I let myself be saturated with a diverse mix of music genres. I listened to those sounds with an open heart and mind and I became mindful of how the music affected me as well as how it affected others. I noticed facial expressions, the way people around me moved their bodies, how a guy stole longing glances at a girl he liked, the enigmatic energy between a group of friends as they belted out the words to their favorite song, and the sense of comradery and admiration between collaborating artists.

I mentally cataloged these moments and the emotions they triggered. And every time I sat down – next to the riverbanks or under a tree – I was inspired to write it all down. Just a few short phrases or words here and there about time, people, and spaces. As I sit here reflecting on and writing about my experience these are the words and the moments I carry with me.

The one that most vividly stands out is listening to Colin Stetson play his saxophone. Standing there, I was moved watching my friend as he closed his eyes and held his hand over his heart, feeling it beat in unison with the fluid and powerful vibrations those gravelly sounds held. It was as if the music came through you, automatic and unforgiving and in full force. If anyone standing there listening to Colin play didn’t feel the emotion and the imagery and the awakening of their soul as me and my friend did, then they must be dead.

Then there was Francis and the Lights. To find a word or phrase that fully encapsulates what seeing his set was like is difficult. The way Francis sang with his entire body, bouncing and spinning around the stage, you could see just how completely in the moment he was. His devotion and love of music transcended through him. I wish I had moves like his!

To say I became obsessed with Elliott Moss after seeing him live is an understatement. I’ve been jamming to their music non-stop since and I blame that entirely on the emotional whirlpool his song Slip put me through. Almost from the beginning I felt a sense of anguish and personal pain. It reminded me of giving up on someone – or something – which I imagine all of us can think back to a time in our lives where we shared similar sentiments. Standing there, swaying to the beat, I noticed the entire audience was transfixed and quiet during this particular song. Mesmerizing and haunting, I was left with goose bumps in the midst of a 90-degree humid day.

In my humble opinion, though, Spoon brought down the house. Drinking beers and vibing out, I watched in amusement as three girls in front of me went crazy for a song I have no idea what the name of is. Bodies rolling, they yelled “I love this song!” The pure rush of musical elation was seeping through every pore of their bodies. It was infectious. And like them, I surrendered my body to the music; I danced my god damn heart out.

At one point, a friend and I found solace in the shade to listen to Haley Bonar’s set. It was a simple and sweet thing to be lying there under a tree, staring into the branches. The sun peaked through rustling leaves and I was mesmerized by their beauty. It was here I understand how music might make us feel love. I certainly had all the feels.

I will say what intrigued me most, and which I certainly didn’t expect from a music festival, was the blending of music with other interactive art forms. Like Phox’s documentary film premiere or the geodome where I sat on the ground with headphones over my ears and watched as artists sang behind a translucent screen. Intimate and visually appealing, it made my experience one of a kind.

The final performance will forever be burned in my memory not just because Bon Iver’s song Skinny Love turned into a giant sing-along but because of the debut of two new songs, which a special someone and I made love to by the light installations lining the path to the St. Coix village. I like to believe the curators of Eaux Claires and the pastor with gold teeth would approve. We were active participants in our experience. And what greater compliment is there to a musician than to say your message inspired an expression of longing, connection, and love.

Talking about these moments with other Eaux Claires festival-goers has been fascinating. The entire musical line-up was fantastic, yet the moments that stick out to me and what sticks out to them varies widely. The one thing that unites all of us, though, is the fact we were having the best fucking time of our lives.

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Chicago off the beaten path

One of my favorite things about living in Madison is its proximity to the Windy City. I’ve been to Chicago several times and I’ve hit all the typical tourist attractions like the Art Institute, Navy Pier, the Magnificent Mile, and the Sears Tower (side note: I will never call it the Willis Tower, sorry).

Having already gone to these places (and loving them) I wanted to dig deeper and go further off the beaten track. My typical approach to travel is based on my passion for the people so whether it be near home or somewhere far away I want to be immersed in the community and pretend I’m a local for the day.

On Saturday I roamed the neighborhoods of Chicago and the Pilsen neighborhood quickly became my favorite. Largely Hispanic and predominantly Mexican, there’s a treasure waiting to be found around every corner. There were heaps of vintage shops, bold murals, and authentic Mexican food and deserts from the taquerias and panaderias that lined the street.

One of my first finds was the National Museum of Mexican Art, a lesser-known Chicago attraction. I really loved the exhibitions on display as they were so lively and colorful it reminded me of being back in Central America. In general, I think I prefer this kind of art over those that are more abstract, maybe because every way you look at it there’s some sort of story being told that you really don’t need to infer what the artist is trying to tell you. Plus, admission was free and you can’t beat that. Here are two of my favorites:

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Most striking, though, were the streets lined with bold, colorful murals – an art that seems to be disappearing in the States. I was particularly captivated by a house that sits on the intersection one block before you get to the museum. This piece was painted by Hector Duarte called Bulliver en el pais de las Maravillas – or Gulliver in Wonderland. It is supposed to represent the struggling Mexican immigrant.

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Although it was Hector’s house and art gallery I don’t think he minded the photo shoot my parents and I had outside his place.

As my friend Jesse says, “This one represents every 90s rap video.” He is so right.

As my friend Jesse says, “This one represents every 90s rap video.” He is so right.

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I wish street murals weren’t such a dying art breed because they speak to the history and characteristics of those living in the neighborhood. I don’t think it would be a stretch to say it could actually attract people and bring in business if it was included as part of the thriving arts gallery movement in Chicago. Take note, you Chicagoans!

No matter where I go I always buy a souvenir, usually something like a piece of art or a corny postcard to remember the place by. On this trip, my souvenir came from Irv’s Bike Shop – a mom and pop shop that’s been in the Pilsen neighborhood for more than 40 years. Given I only live 5 miles from work and Spring is just around the corner, I’ve resolved to start commuting to work via bike.

A few years ago I bought an adorable pink bike with a basket on the front (total 60s fan girl) but for longer commutes it just doesn’t cut the deal. So, I’ve been on the hunt for a used road bike in good condition (and one that doesn’t break the bank). Irv’s came highly recommended from an avid biker I work with and I have to say it’s the least pretentious bike shop I’ve ever been to.

Over the course of my time there people came in and out, some for tune ups others for bike shopping and still others just to chat with the store manager. Everyone was friendly and very helpful and stuck to showing me bikes that met my needs and price range. Something my Dad taught me growing up is that a warm smile and friendly banter can go a long ways, which seems to always work in my favor. The store manager gave me $25 off my bike and threw in a free cart so I could attach a basket on the back. I walked out of there with new digs and a helmet for $200.

On my first spin around the block I momentarily forgot how to ride a bike. Embarrassingly enough I ran into the store window. And then into the stairs down the street. You know the old phrase, “It’s like riding a bike. Once you learn you never forget?” Well, not for me! I need a little practice before I get on the road so Bobby and I took it out for a test spin today over lunch. Isn’t it gorgeous!?

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To round out my trip I just HAD to check out Bookman’s Corner. It’s a fire hazard waiting to happen, with books stacked from floor to ceiling. Half of them aren’t even on shelves and you have to be careful when you pull one book out because about four others come crashing down. The front of the book store can be hard to miss if you aren’t looking for it but the store has been selling used books “rare, medium and well done” since the early 1980s. It’s ridden with character and worth a trip just to listen to the owner banter with the customers. A writer and reader’s dream, it’s definitely a place you could easily spend all day in. You’ll find small treasures and unbeatable prices. Just make sure you take a Lorazepam before going in. Also, there is a massive sign in the front that says no photos. Obviously, rules are made to be broken.

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Filed under art, biking, Bookman's Corner, books, Chicago, Hector Duarte, Irv's Bike Shop, murals, museum, National Museum of Mexican Art, travel