Bon Iver: Music that is the soundtrack of treasured memories

By Stephanie Sharon, Guest Blogger

Ever since For Emma, Forever Ago was released in 2008, Bon Iver has been one of those bands… you know what I’m referring to.  One of those bands that prompts someone to come up to you and ask, “Have you listened to this band!?” and I nod and say, “Of course,” because I know they are trending, but just haven’t had the chance to listen to them yet, and I don’t want to be the un-cool librarian (hold the stereotypical librarian jokes please, I really do have a cool job). So yes, Bon Iver was one of those bands, that is, until their self-titled album was released in June of last year, and thanks to a road trip I was able to finally hear the greatness of this band everyone has been raving about. Letting my road rage subside, and giving in to lead singer and guitarist Justin Vernon’s voice, I was sent into an instant state of contentment.

After I returned from my trip, I remembered how calming and beautiful the music was, and I thought it would be perfect for a playlist I always put together for my Mom’s chemo treatments.

Photo by Stephanie Sharon

The treatments could be up to four hours long, and thanks to the effects of Benadryl she was only half awake and in need of good relaxing music. She had been on chemo for over three years straight and with treatments every three weeks, that equals a lot of iPod playlists. So you can only image how grateful I was to current artists who put out quality music.

After her long fought 22 year battle with breast cancer ended up taking her life in July, I will never forget–among our many wonderful memories–the music we shared and bonded over. I owe such a debt of gratitude to those artists, and one day I would personally like to thank each and every one of them (without being arrested).

On September 16, 2012, Bon Iver returned to Philadelphia to perform at the Mann Center for the Performing Arts, and it was definitely a concert I did not wanted to miss. Thanks to one of the best friends a girl could have, I was able to see the show from a box seat.

Photo by Derek Brad

The opening act, Anais Mitchell, started the show on a high note. It is so refreshing hearing an opening act you would actually want to listen to again after the show, and she definitely had my attention with songs like “Wilderland” and “Coming Down.” One of my favorite aspects of her performance was the slow addition of members from the Bon Iver band to help play with her throughout the set. The extra musicians added a unique spin to her classic folk sound.

Photo by Stephanie Sharon

Now to the main event.After three glasses of wine, a quick trip backstage (be jealous), and a nice walk around the venue, I got to see Bon Iver finally take the stage. At first I was surprised with how many musicians were on the stage (nine !), then realized they really need every member, from the trumpet player to the saxophonist, to get their unique sound. I blame my initial musical ignorance of this fact on the wine.

They opened with “Woods,” and I quickly grew emotional with every following song. When the opening notes for “Holecene” were played, I kind of lost it. Tears streaming down my face, I couldn’t help but think about how my mother must have felt when listening to this same song while getting poison pumped through her veins. Did our emotions match? Did she feel the same tranquil humbling wave pass over her that I also feel when I listen to the lyric, “… and at once I knew I was not magnificent?” I’ll never know but I can hope it gave her the same peace it gives me.

After what felt like the shortest 70 minutes in the history of time, Bon Iver left the stage, but shortly returned for their encore of “The Wolves (Act I & II),” where Justin asked the audience to sing along, and closing with “For Emma.”

Photo by Derek Brad

This was by far one of my favorite concerts this year, and after seeing over 30 mostly amazing shows this year, that is quite a feat for this band and their chill music. My only complaint (and it is minimal) is that they didn’t play longer to finish off the few remaining songs on their albums that didn’t make it into the setlist.

Overall, bravo, Bon Iver. One day I hope I get the chance to say thanks.

Photo by Stephanie Sharon

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