EAU CLAIRE — Everybody knows Justin Vernon is good at making music.
Now the Eau Claire native and front man for the Grammy Award-winning band Bon Iver is testing his talent at rocking the vote.
The Eaux Claire Festival, the music festival founded by Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner, has announced a new voting initiative called For Wisconsin.
The collaboration with 88Nine Radio Milwaukee plans to conduct a series of online and in-person events around Wisconsin to encourage people to vote in the Nov. 3 election.
For Wisconsin pledged to share songs, images, conversations and surprises as part of the effort.
The project even dangled the opportunity for participants to earn a chance to visit with Vernon.
“We chose that word ‘visit’ on purpose. As in shoot the breeze. Swap stories,” a For Wisconsin news release states. “This won’t be a one-way conversation. This isn’t about dropping in and telling you how to think. Or assuming we know what you think. Rather it’s about how to keep our neighbors in the conversation. How to visit together even if we can’t get together.”
The first in a series of A Visit With Vernon contests will take place in Eau Claire County. The idea is that the public is invited to nominate someone who’s on the fence about voting and explain why organizers should select that person to chat with Vernon.
The most compelling submission will be selected, with both the nominee and the person who nominated them being brought to a secret meeting with Vernon, who might play a tune or sing a song but mostly wants to just talk thoughtfully about voting, according to the news release.
Instructions are available on the Eaux Claires website (eauxclaires.com) and social media platforms.
“I try not to judge people,” Vernon said in the release. “The temperature of our society has us divided. We all want different things, so that makes sense in one way, but in another, I feel we are unduly divided. We all need to listen more. And the best way we can communicate with each other on this largest scale is vote. The campaign I am participating in, For Wisconsin, is a nonpartisan drive for voting and a plea to listen. That means all of us listening to all of us.”
The Eaux Claires festival, which debuted in 2015 and ran through 2018 before taking 2019 off, featured music in such genres as rock, rap, folk and soul-R&B as well as visual and literary art. The festival was going to move from Foster Farms in the town of Union to downtown Eau Claire this year but was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For Wisconsin also will include a series of interviews by Tarik Moody of 88Nine Radio with influential Wisconsinites discussing the importance of voting, early voting and related topics.
The first conversation, which launched this week, is with the Chippewa Falls-based Wisconsin Farmers Union’s Bill Hogseth, who shares his take about how to bridge political divisions.
“There is an urgent need to learn how to talk to each other again across the political divide — to see each other not as political opponents but as neighbors, co-workers, friends and family who are all in this together,” Hogseth said. “One way to rediscover the lost art of listening is to start by doing it and have courage to listen with kindness and curiosity to someone who might not agree with us on every single thing.”
In a video released to launch the project, renowned local author Michael Perry’s voice offers folks this reminder: “Free speech and freedom begin and end with voting. If you don’t mark your ballot, someone else will define your Wisconsin and your future.”