For many people, Bon Iver came out of nowhere.
"How the hell did he win an award over Nicki Minaj and J. Cole without no one ever hearing about his raggedy ass?" someone tweeted after the band won the 2012 Grammy Award for best new artist. As Justin Vernon trotted up to the stage wearing a tweed suit that looked like it came from a public-school math teacher's closet, Bon Iver, his indie band, skyrocketed on Google search.
Thousands of people, mishearing the band's name (which comes from the French phrase bon hiver, meaning "good winter"), famously tweeted: "Who the fuck is Bonny Bear?" It was a good question. But Vernon, an experimental multi-instrumentalist with a surprising falsetto, hadn't come out of nowhere. He'd just come from Wisconsin.
In 2012, the musical landscape was flooded with whiny indie folk bands and Fleet Foxes copycats, but Bon Iver stood out. Their songs were stranger. Vernon sang with a distinct choirboy-esque whistle that could, seemingly in a moment, grow to a howl that sounded like it came from a man who'd been through a very, very bad breakup.
But the most remarkable thing about Vernon was his unflinching Midwesternness: His songs had references to rural Minnesota and Wisconsin towns with populations in the thousands; he made Bon Iver's first album while locked away in a rural cabin during winter; and his life and work more closely resembled Midwestern poets like Michael Perry and Louis Jenkins, men who made art about cows, than a Grammy winner.
He had no interest in building a career in Los Angeles or New York City. Instead, he created from April Base, a recording studio outside of his hometown of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. The creation of April Base mirrored that of Paisley Park, Prince's recording studio outside of Minneapolis. The two studios are only an hour and a half drive away from each other, depending on how icy the roads are.
In November of 2012, nine months after scoring big at the Grammys, Bon Iver suddenly announced that they would stop touring. The band wouldn't reappear on the international scene until four years later, with their cryptic and critically acclaimed album 22, A Million.
The story was that Vernon disappeared after 2012. But if you asked any music fan who lived between Eau Claire and Minneapolis, they'd tell you Vernon never stopped working. In fact, he's been making world-class cross-disciplinary art collaborations for years. You just have to travel into "flyover country" to see them.
Come Through, Bon Iver's collaboration with Saint Paul–based contemporary dance company TU Dance, is a perfect example of the work Vernon has been up to, and it's coming to Seattle for two nights.
The collaboration features new songs from Bon Iver and choreography from Uri Sands. Based on its performance videos, Come Through is a gorgeous, dizzying fusion of talents that closely mirrors the more experimental parts of 22, A Million. Seattle is lucky Vernon has decided to tour it.