Oh Eaux Claires!

I spent some magical time in Eau Claire, Wisconsin this past weekend. I wasn't aware that I needed a weekend in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, magical or otherwise. But ho-lee-shit. As it turns out I needed a magical weekend in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. 

Eaux Claires is the music festival Bon Iver built. In its third year, the Justin Vernon created/curated event is unlike any I've experienced. The musical portion, as you'd expect given the event's pedigree, was eclectic, cohesive, and stellar throughout. You want Chance the Rapper? Yup, he's a friend of the fam. How about five tenor saxophones playing a surprisingly moving 45-minute drone note in the woods? They got that too. 

Although the music was fantastic, the part that's stuck with me the most is the forest. Step away from the stages and you'll find a mulchy network of trails leading to all kinds of art installations and random whatnot. Some of the ideas fit in the woods perfectly: wooden sculptures, feather poetry, a box of crickets with a mic and a big-ass speaker. Other ideas didn't fit, also perfectly: a full Sconnie living room, for example, playing an old packer game on the hi-fi. Or a Mom's booth, staffed by Mom's who were there to offer sunscreen and life advice and games of Connect 4.

A little precious? Yes! Sometimes, though, a little preciousness works wonders.

5 Reasons to give Francis and the Lights a try

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It's hard for me to know where to begin with Francis Farewell Starlight and his musical project Francis and the Lights.

Many of my favorite songs right now are his. Several of my favorite musical artists hold him in the highest regard (Justin Vernon, Chance the Rapper, Ye, etc.). I can hear his highly layered synth-y harmonic influence all over indie pop, rap, and R&B right now. 

And yet. There are times I just want to watch him dance.

Good lord, the guy can dance. Not like how dancers dance. He dances like little kids dance. He dances like your dog dances when she sees you heading to the back door with a tennis ball. He dances like it doesn't matter at all, while at the same time being the most important thing in the world. 

Musically, he's worked as a vocalist and/or producer with some of the biggest names in music (the above mentioned trio, Frank Ocean, etc.). But he's only released a handful of EPs and full-length albums over the past decade or so, but he's evolved his sound significantly along the way.

He's best known for last year's song Friends which also features Bon Iver. (Kanye claimed it as his favorite song of 2016.) Friends is off Francis' most recent album Farewell, Starlight! and showcases the floating harmonic sheen of his most recent work. There's definitely technology at work, but you (or at least I) can feel the humanity behind it all. An example would be a line in the song that hits me for reasons I can't even explain: "I heard you bought some land in Mexico/And I said "Way to go, man!"

And the video. It's a humdinger of simplicity. 

Anyway, here are 5 Reasons to give Francis and the Lights a try:

Looking for more? Try the Farewell, Starlight! album for a nice synth-based float. Go with It'll Be Better for some more traditional, but still damn sweet, songcraft.  

Hey ho rock and roll! J Roddy Walston!

Last Friday found me bouncing through a variety of airports, making my way home from a Craft Brewers Conference. The departure from Philadelphia was early. It was raining. And I was wrapping up a week where the ale flowed fast – America's finest beers officially sanctioned and entirely free. 

It’s mornings like that where no one would blame you for listening to an Ambient Chill mix. Just close your eyes and zone out to the sound of gently cascading synth pads buttered over the shimmery cooing of angels. But no. Not me. Not last Friday. And not this Friday either. Maybe never again.

Because last week I saw J Roddy Walston And The Business play live. And holy shit.

For the record, I love music. All kinds of music. Hip hop, classic country, EDM, reggae, pop, whatever ya got. I go through crazy phases, weeks or even months at a time, where I'll obsess over, say, Pretty Lights' second album. Eventually though, life always seems to lead me back to the front of a small stage, looking up at four men with amps and hair and disorderly intent.

All music has the potential to steal your heart. But the right rock and roll band? On the right night? They'll do more than steal your heart. They'll rip it from your chest and hold it out in front of you so you can watch it. Beating and glistening and alive.

That was J Roddy Walston And The Business last week. They're a phenomenal live band – proof of how powerful live music can be. I strongly suggest you catch them the next time they roll through your town. They'll remind you of stuff you maybe forgot: That pianos are better than keyboards. That drums aren't necessarily machines. And that neither are we. 

Here's a little taste, toned down a bit since they're playing inside a van. 

And here's their most recent album called Essential Tremors


Hazy & Unfiltered

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The lake is looking a little different than it did in June and July and August. 

It was somewhere in there, July I believe, that I came across perhaps the best description of summer that I ever read: "Hazy and Unfiltered." Now, I was reading the label of my beer bottle at the time: a fine wheat with a wedge of homegrown lemon crammed down the neck.

"Hazy and unfiltered," of course, was describing the cloudy nature of the Bavarian-style wheat beer inside. But I'll be damned if it didn't nail the essence of summer too. Especially right then: Boat adrift. Sun and skin. Music shimmery and alive.

The boat (and the sun and the skin) have all been put into storage for the winter. But the music? I held on to that. Give this mix a try if the weather's got you down these days. It's a mellow mix of a thing. It might make you happy. It might make you sleepy. It's the dank nug of playlists.