God or Astroman?
By far the weirdest aspect of last weekend’s inaugural Eaux Claires Music & Art Festival in Eau Claire, Wis., was the white dome tent with the confession booth inside, where concertgoers were urged to unburden their sins. The man behind the curtain, it turned out, was none other than Minneapolis rapper Astronautalis, who had been building up to the, um, gig with faux ads via social media with such lines as “Y.O.L.F.” (“You Only Live Forever”) and an actual confession phone line to leave your sins on voice mail (1-715-575-3286). In person, the Florida-reared Astronautalis (Andy Bothwell) dressed in a clerical cassock, wore gold-capped teeth, donned a Southern accent and yet never broke from character, giving personalized advice and messages of support to the booth’s visitors with nary a hint of irony. Next stop: Sonshine Fest?
Bon, hugs & harmony
The most newsworthy aspect of last weekend’s Eaux Claires fest — besides the fact that the event itself was a clear success, bringing 22,000 happy hipsters to west central Wisconsin — was the return of ringleader Justin Vernon’s main vehicle, Bon Iver, which had not played a live gig in more than three years. Vernon sparked a confused and worried (over)reaction before the fest with a widely circulated interview that said he had “no plans” for future shows or a new album. He made it pretty clear Bon Iver is indeed moving ahead, though, as he debuted two strong new songs along with a slightly remade lineup of the band, which already sounded ready to take on a tour. “It’s good to be inspired by things,” he said as the fest and his set wrapped up. “We’ll see what happens next.”
He’s No. 2
When a manager takes over a baseball team, more than likely he brings along coaches with whom he’s worked and trusts. Similar things happen in the arts. Joseph Haj is assembling his new team at the Guthrie Theater and has chosen a colleague from PlayMakers Repertory Company in North Carolina to be the theater’s new associate artistic director. Jeff Meanza will start Aug. 1 and replace John Miller Stephany, who had served under Joe Dowling. “He and I share an understanding of what passes as art and an idea of how to get there,” said Haj in a statement. Meanza will help plan the 2016-17 Guthrie season and do whatever else Haj needs done. Meanza started at PlayMakers in 2007 as director of education and outreach. Miller Stephany leaves at the end of this month but will return to direct “To Kill a Mockingbird” to open the season next fall.
A double Cuban punch
Sometimes, long after events are booked, the stars somehow align. How else can you explain the serendipitous one-two punch of Nachito Herrera, Minnesota’s great Cuban-American pianist, and Raul Malo, a Grammy-winning son of Cuban immigrants, and his band the Mavericks playing on the same night in the Twin Cities after the Cuban Embassy had just opened in Washington, D.C.? Herrera turned down an invitation to perform at the D.C. event because he felt an obligation to the Dakota and his new out-of-town musicians, the Universals. At one point at the Dakota, the very emotional pianist played an instrumental that segued into “God Bless America.” Said Malo at the zoo: “I never thought I’d see the day when our government was normalizing relations with Cuba. I’m sick and tired of my Canadian friends rubbing it in.” He then summoned deep-welled emotion for what he called an old Cuban ballad, “Siboney.”
Tangled up in Bob
It may seem a little odd that Larry Campbell didn’t dig up any Bob Dylan chestnuts during his Saturday night performance at the Cedar Cultural Center on the West Bank, Dylan’s old stamping grounds. After all, the journeyman guitarist backed up the Minnesota native from 1997-2004, a chapter of Dylan’s never-ending tour that many consider among his most musically rewarding. Campbell, who was performing with his wife, Teresa Williams, triggered applause when he mentioned that he spent several years on the road with Dylan. “In many ways, that deserves some applause,” Campbell said. “But we’ll talk about that another time.” The enigmatic comment led into a story about how the guitarist spent downtime on the tour, trapping himself in the back of the bus, “trying to avoid re-tox” by playing hours of guitar tunes, including the Celtic instrumental “Blind Mary,” which he then performed for the enthusiastic Cedar crowd. Needless to say, Dylan did not join him.