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Bon Iver's 5 Steps To Headliner Status


A venerated songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon has steadily driven his intimate and confessional body of work from the self-imposed incarceration of his father's log cabin into hearts of festival-goers the world over.

It'd be a disservice to pigeonhole his affecting choral canon as simply 'indie-folk', yet the commonality to his widespread appeal is evident across his three cherished albums. Emphasis on absorbing melodies that seamlessly interweave with string arrangements, sparse acoustic guitar, and rich soundscapes has steered Vernon's journey from isolation to adoration.

Bon Iver now regularly sit at the summit of major music festivals, and 2019 is shaping up to be an important year for the Grammy Award-winning artist, with headline appearances at All Points East, NOS Alive, Bergenfest, and Best Kept Secret in and amongst numerous others.

That said, let's remind ourselves of which performances were intrinsic to Justin Vernon's progression towards the upper echelons of festival headliners:


1. A Take Away Show, 2008

 

This impromptu scenario is indicative of the warm and humanist nature embodied within Bon Iver's debut For Emma, Forever Ago. Imparting the sole tear-jerking harmonies of his debut's title track to a bewitched handful of onlookers within a confined hallway, Justin and his supporting cast then meander through the Montmartre streets. 

Blossoming from an earthy acapella performance into a choral affair complete with acoustic instrumentation, even the unsuspecting bystanders can't help but turn their attention to Vernon's dulcet tones.


2. Glastonbury, 2009

 

Critical and commercial success followed the release of Bon Iver's debut effort, and the spotlight was now firmly on Vernon. For one whose early cache of songs are so personal and fraught, they translated harmoniously on to loftier backdrops.

The Glastonbury faithful were privy to an empowered and sumptuous performance of 'The Wolves (Act I and II)', inspiring those in attendance at the Park Stage to chant "what might've been lost" whilst Vernon provided spine-tingling vocal harmonics throughout the crescendo. With a full band in tow, Bon Iver belonged in the open.

 


3. Austin City Limits, 2012

 

Aside from being sought out by Kanye West and James Blake to collaborate, Justin Vernon widened his sonic palette with the introduction of spacious orchestral and saxophone arrangements on second album Bon Iver, Bon Iver

Demonstrating a more expansive sound at Austin City Limits, Bon Iver lost little of their intimate stage presence despite the greater live ensemble. Consisting of luxurious string sections alongside additional guitarists and keys, Vernon morphed what was rooted firmly in folk into an altogether grandiose aesthetic. The vocoder, adding what is now considered his trademark layered vocal trait, was also introduced, suggesting that his foray into Kanye's world rubbed off.
 


4. Sydney Opera House, 2016

 

An ideal setting for the textured vocal harmonies to flourish was inside the palatial environs of Sydney Opera House. Bon Iver's third album 22, A Million was garnered with praise akin to his previous two efforts, and the album's material proved to be wholly captivating on even the most grandiose of stages, with harmony taking precedence once more.

Gorgeous harmonisation with The Staves behind Vernon, their collective voices were punctuated with intermittent saxophone and fermenting string arrangements, culminating in an awe-inspiring performance.


5. Primavera Sound, 2017

 

Earlier in the year, Vernon cancelled all protracted European shows for the ensuing summer due to personal reasons. Thankfully his effusive fanbase was treated to a solitary headline performance at the Barcelona behemoth, making the occasion much more poignant. 

Shifting dynamics between sublime solitary vocals and moments of glorious, swelling instrumentation kept the adoring audience in rapture, whether they were silently beholden to Vernon's melancholic performance or unreservedly screaming the profundity of lyrics they held dear.

Not a dry eye in sight and shared epiphanies all-around, Bon Iver were then cemented as a modern great.


Find which festivals Bon Iver are playing here

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