Bon Iver Plays a High-School Auditorium

Music Features Bon Iver
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Bon Iver Plays a High-School Auditorium

EAU CLAIRE, WIS. - When a man returns to his hometown to retreat to the woods and write a wistful, deeply introspective collection of songs, he’s at least aware of his roots.

And when that collection of songs propels him to international fame and he still insists on remaining in his quiet, Wisconsin locale, well…you know he hasn’t forgotten where he came from.

So it’s maybe not surprising that Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon performed a fundraiser concert with his former high school’s jazz band Sunday night.

The concert was billed as “A Decade With Duke,” as in Ellington, and the Memorial High School Jazz Ensemble started the evening by grooving through various classic pieces. After an intermission, the sold-out crowd of 1,464 got what it wanted. Midway through the introduction to Bon Iver’s  “Lump Sum,” Vernon appeared on stage to grab a microphone.

Vernon, who shed his trademark flannel for a classy, white suit, stayed out of the spotlight as much as possible, standing on the side of the stage bobbing his head to the arrangements of his originals that he created for the kids. Bon Iver guitarist Mike Noyce, another Memorial alumnus, also made a guest appearance to play harmonica.

In the spirit of the evening, Vernon knocked out pieces by Ellington and sang Frank Sinatra’s version of “The Lady is a Tramp,” bouncing back and forth between his smooth crooning and low drawl. He also joined the band for additional Bon Iver material—providing new luster to the song, the band performed “For Emma,” replacing slide guitar with the horn section.

Vernon capped the night with a solo version of Mahalia Jackson’s “Satisfied Mind” after making fun of the common mispronunciation of Bon Iver. “I’m sure you all want to hear a Bone-Eye-Vare song,” he said, “but I’m going to play a song I think is much more appropriate.”

The show’s proceeds went to help the band travel to the “Essentially Ellington” competition in May at the Lincoln Center in New York—Memorial High’s jazz band has been competing there since 1999, when Vernon was a senior in the band.

Interviewed a few days before the show, band director Bruce Hering said Vernon was nothing but gracious throughout the whole process. “He’s still the same humble, fun-loving, creative guy I knew when he was here 10 years ago,” Hering said. “He’s a little fuzzier than he was back then, but inBON IVER PLAYS A HIGH SCHOOL GYM terms of his personality he’s still being true to himself.”

Remaining Bon Iver dates:
May3 - New York, NY @ Radio City Music Hall
11 - Dennis, Mass. @ Cape Cinema
12 - Dennis, Mass. @ Cape Cinema
15United Kingdom @ All Tomorrow's Parties 
18 - Brighton, United Kingdom @ Brighton Festival w/ The Acorn
19 - Dusseldorf, Germany @ Zakk
20 - Hamburg, Germany - Uebel & Gefaehrlich
23 - Quincy, Wash. @ Sasquatch! Music Festival

June6 - Birmingham, Ala. @ Workplay
7 - Atlanta, Ga. @ Variety Playhouse