Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon left the Sylvee stage following their fundraising performance Saturday saying “On, Wisconsin” in a hinting tone, like what he actually wanted to say was “you better get out and vote, Wisconsin.”
The show encouraged the audience to vote in the upcoming state election and heavily promoted hitting the polls early. It was a rally to promote early voting, but it also celebrated Wisconsin and the people and values it has grown so far — in this case Vernon and a couple bandmates — as well as the night’s opener Milwaukee-based musician Chris Rosenau, and mainly the person everyone gathered for: Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
Bon Iver launched and grew their career in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. To honor their home state, the band’s setlist returned to the snow-covered, Wisconsin backwoods cabin where they recorded For Emma, Forever Ago, their debut studio album. Most tunes played in the brief set appear on this tracklist, including the rarely performed “Creature Fear,” along with fan favorites “Flume,” “Re: Stacks” and the album’s title song.
Vernon performed a couple songs solo, bringing out the synths for tracks off their latest release, 22, A Million, his staccato voice the same tone of a wintery wind as it’s been for his decade-long career.
Since releasing their first album, Bon Iver has impacted the international music scene — Vernon co-founded a locally grown, world-renowned music festival in Eau Claire, his hometown, and has released three albums and numerous collaborations with other artists. It makes sense, then, that they collaborated with Baldwin, who after a Wisconsin-launched government career now impacts the country.
Each band members’ roots lie in Wisconsin or bordering states, and their Midwestern-nice values were clear in the support Vernon gave Baldwin.
“[Leaders] will fight for all people,” Vernon said when introducing the night’s honoree. “Human lives are not commodities and we certainly can’t have human lives be a partisan issue, and we can’t have leaders that differentiate between different people.”
Baldwin spoke on equally advocating for human lives through her support of accessible health care coverage, specifically for people with pre-existing conditions. She contrasted herself from running opponent Republican Leah Vukmir, who has voted along with “big, powerful interests” to repeal coverage of pre-existing conditions.
“I believe in a world and a country and a state where everyone has access to high quality, affordable health care,” Baldwin said over cheers from the crowd. “What I say to you is that you didn’t send me to Washington D.C. to take people’s health care away. And I will be unafraid to stand up to those powerful interests and fight for Wisconsin.”
"Bon Iver, Rosenau and Baldwin made each Wisconsinite know they have the power to decide the state’s fate by simply bringing a photo ID to the polls and 'using their voice.'"
It was a night filled with Wisconsin pride, a perfect show to christen the recently opened Sylvee, an indication of Madison’s ever-expanding arts scene. Bon Iver showcased their music’s evolution, Rosenau serenaded us with rustic, dreamy guitar strums that brought us to a stargazing patch in the woods, Baldwin promised to work for the state. They made each Wisconsinite know they have the power to decide the state’s fate by simply bringing a photo ID to the polls and “using their voice.”
“Music is beautiful, but if you don’t have freedom you don’t have anything,” Vernon said. “We have to speak up.”
Sammy Gibbons is Editor-in-Chief of the Daily Cardinal. To read more of her work, click here.