A Night at the Brewery with Bon IverSeptember 25, 2012 —
Last Monday evening, September 17, I boarded a packed yellow school bus full of 45 Cornell students eager to get to Cooperstown for the Bon Iver show and a little less eager to spend the three hour trip squished between two others in a seat meant to fit a trio of toddlers. At least the fall night’s drive was pretty, which helped pass the time on our cramped ride. Bleary eyed after what felt like the longest ride ever, I bumbled over to the very long will-call line, where I could hear the opener playing inside the Ommegang Brewery Cooperstown venue. In over the half an hour wait, the opener finished and all was pretty quiet, which left me to ponder the woodsy setting I would soon enter.
I finally got through the line and entered the venue, an outdoor stage that felt quite removed from the rest of the world. Besides the actual brewery itself, the stage essentially was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by thick trees. I pushed my way toward the front and didn’t have to wait long before the band took the stage and began the show. Standing just around three or four rows back from the barrier, I could see lead singer Justin Vernon clearly, at least during the moments he wasn’t obscured by the tall, tulip-shaped, glowing green lights that engulfed the circumference of the stage.
To be honest, I’d always been a casual listener of Bon Iver. I appreciated Vernon’s musicality and generally considered his voice to be pretty rad. But this show, unexpectedly, quickly sucked the air out of me. It’s not often that I lose my breath, and especially not after absolutely no physical activity whatsoever, but I stopped breathing for a good ten seconds early on in the show during the third jam, “Holocene.” Indeed, as Vernon sang “I can see for miles, miles, miles,” whether due to lack of sleep, built-up stress, or simply because I was moved by the symphony of sound, I had a bit of a personal moment, mouth agape and teary eyed, as two dudes wearing beanies and hipster glasses over-enthusiastically screamed the lyrics behind me.
It’s interesting to note that the first three songs of the concert were also the first three songs that appeared on Bon Iver’s newest, self-titled album. The fourth was “Creature Fear,” a favorite of mine from “For Emma, Forever Ago.” I pulled myself together for that one (and also pushed my way closer to the front), but still wished I was inhabiting a sphere of my own, alone with the sound. Some quips were funny though, such as when Vernon started playing the clanky piano intro to “Wash.” and the person beside me commented that he learned how to play like that in middle school band practice.
The concert then took a strange turn and became kind of hardcore as far as Bon Iver’s music goes. I think a few concert-goers actually started a small mosh-pit during “Blood Bank.” Even more bizarre was the final song “Beth/Rest,” a long, drawling, 80s-esque ballad that most around me seemed to really enjoy, or at least I assumed they did from the several “F*CK YEAH!”s they screamed at the stage. Maybe for them the Ommegang beer was kicking in at this point, because it was my least favorite song of the show.
Luckily, Bon Iver made a redemption and came on for not one but two encores, first playing fan favorites “Skinny Love” and “For Emma,” and then were cheered back onto stage to play a final “The Wolves (Act I and II).” I was able to shake off the weird feelings I’d gotten from that 80s vibe and thoroughly enjoyed the ending, getting a bit glassy eyed yet again as I sang along to “Skinny Love.” Even though I was anticipating the three hour ride back to campus on a bus that made my back feel much older and creaky than a 20-year-old’s back should, the concert was absolutely worth the travel time, especially for the wildly unexpected breathtaking musical moments.
Image taken from last.fm