Every artist has an origin story. Whether they choose to talk about it is up to them. But beyond every voice, there’s a reason, a place, a point of conception that would change their life and launch their career.
Bruce Springsteen is known as the Boss of Jersey. Prince is so important in Minnesota, you can tour his house. The relationship between an artist and their city is a product of how often they talk about it, how willing they are to be open and proud of where they’re from.
Before coming to school here, I rarely heard of any famous Wisconsin musicians. Of course, I quickly learned that Mark Ruffalo is a native, as is Willem Dafoe and Colin Kaepernick. But, lo and behold, you can find a proud native of Eau Claire, Wis., in 39-year-old indie folk artist, songwriter and producer, Justin Vernon, more commonly known as Bon Iver.
Sorting through his music library, the hint of midwestern roots shines through faintly on tracks like “Minnesota, WI” and “Wisconsin.” Vernon grew up in touch with his hometown, he appreciated the scenery and felt a calling to create there.
In 2006, Vernon cooped up into his father’s cabin during the winter. He struggled with purpose and soon began writing his first record “For Emma, Forever Ago.” Vernon ended up leaning into his writing as a form of therapy, if he wasn’t killing his own food outside, he was making sense of his feelings on paper. It might be right in that cabin that we can see Justin Vernon’s real journey begin.
Whether or not Vernon feels in debt to the state of Wisconsin is up for debate. But, one thing is for sure, he serves as a staple for artists that pledge part of their career to bettering where it all started. Not to suggest that Eau Claire, WI, needs a ton of bettering but Vernon has highlighted one area where Wisconsin could improve: voting.
In August 2019, Vernon shared that he planned to tour Wisconsin before the 2020 election and raise money for the Democratic nominee. Now, over a year later and less than two weeks out from said election, reality looks a bit different.
While COVID-19 has halted his plans to play live, Vernon has found other ways to actively encourage Wisconsin voters to vote blue. Vernon has a song on his last album “i,i” titled “Sh’diah,” which stands for shittiest day in american history, which according to Vernon, is the day after Trump got elected.
Bon Iver joins a long list of entertainers that are urging their fans to vote. What makes Vernon unique is that this seems personal. He taps into an area he knows, a group of people he grew up with and wants the best for.
Alongside Aaron Dessner from “The National,” Vernon created the Eaux Claires Festival. Five years since its conception, the festival has launched For Wisconsin, a new voting initiative across the state. In partnership with 88Nine and Radio Milwaukee, For Wisconsin will offer in-person and online events to encourage registration and get people excited about voting.
Vernon has also hosted a contest titled “A Visit with Vernon,” which allows two people at random to talk to Vernon in secret about their own experiences with voting. People are invited to nominate possible candidates that might be hesitant to vote.
Vernon has also tapped into his other passion of music to get people excited. Dessner, Vernon and Anais Mitchell (“Hadestown) have released a song titled “Latterdays,” which has an important message. For Wisconsin also has backing from other artists who dedicate performances and urge people to get out and vote.
Just recently, Taylor Swift shared Vernon’s new song and applauded him for his work on For Wisconsin. The two previously worked together on Swift’s “folklore.” Swift is another artist who recently became overtly political and educates her 140.7 million Instagram followers on why a blue vote is important, how to register and what is at stake this election.
When I got to campus three years ago, I remember being asked if I wanted a voter-ID card through the university, which in turn would result in me registering to vote in Wisconsin instead of my home state of New Jersey. Even 18-year old me felt a calling to vote here. It felt a lot more important to use whatever weight my vote had in a state that might need it more.
Vernon has shown me that I made the right call, and that in states like Wisconsin, where things could go either way, every vote, every registration matters that much more. Vernon’s passion for his home state and the future of the entire country just makes you want to stream Bon Iver that much more and that’s exactly what I’ll be doing.
To learn more about For Wisconsin, click here.
To check your voter registration in the state of Wisconsin, click here.