By HOPE RACINE
“Sorry we didn’t say hello earlier,” said Justin Vernon, the front man of the band Bon Iver. “We just got so carried away with playing and everything.”
The entirety of Merriweather Post Pavilion broke out in applause and yells, assuring him that he was certainly forgiven.
On Friday, Sept. 15, hordes of fans packed into the open-air Maryland venue to watch Justin Vernon and the rest of his Wisconsin-based band perform.
Never has such a large contingency of plaid been seen in one place since the 90’s. Concertgoers seemed locked in an unspoken battle to have the largest sweater, and several times throughout the night, the phrase “Oh thanks, I got it at a thrift store!” could be heard. The patrons were plagued by pressing questions, such as what songs the band would perform, and if the food vendors had a vegan option.
Opening act Anaïs Mitchell kicked off the night, serenading the audience with a clear, high tone that soothed the crowd and put everyone in the mood for what they were sure was going to be a relaxed, intimate show.
Yet, as soon as the lights came on and the guitar began, everyone realized that Bon Iver was not there to lull them to sleep. They were there to play music and play it loudly.
This was not the Justin Vernon who had hidden in the woods of Wisconsin for months at a time- this was the Grammy-Award Winner here to prove that he is more than a man with a beard and a guitar.
Old favorites were re-vamped and given faster beats and guitar solos. “Blood Bank” was ripped from its snowy day haze and performed to flashing red lights and distortion.
The set list was a mixture of songs off of the band’s newest self-titled album “Bon Iver,” and their debut 2008 album, “For Emma.” The highlights of the show were definitely the opening song “Perth”, the crowd favorite “Holocene” and the band’s most popular song, “Skinny Love.”
Despite the fact that all the previous songs had featured strong guitars and synthesizers, the majority of the band stepped back on “Skinny Love,” opting for just Vernon, his guitar, and the crowd. It was clear that this was the song the audience had been waiting for- across the venue, people closed their eyes and sang.
Even Vernon, though he undoubtedly plays the song every night on his tour, seemed to feel the raw emotion that comes with “Skinny Love.” Despite being surrounded by hundreds of people, it seemed as though he felt he was sitting by himself in a room, and each note seemed pulled from his heart in a combination of great pain and relief.
While Vernon may be able to reach thousands of people through music, he falls short when stripped of his guitar.
“We won’t be back for a while…we all need to go live in a cabin for a while, and let our body hair grow really long,” he said. There was an awkward pause before he reached up and scratched his head. “Please laugh at that,” he added in a mumble.
“They don’t need to be the most sociable guys in the world,” said Tim Shawney, a junior at Old Dominion University who traveled up to Maryland for the concert.
“All that matters is the music, in my opinion,” Shawney continued. “As long as they keep playing, I don’t care if I ever hear them speak.” This was his second Bon Iver concert this year.
“It was even better this time around,” Shawney admitted.
Luckily for Shawney, Vernon did very little talking throughout the night, focusing primarily on the music. At the end of the set, he bid the fans goodnight, and thanked them emphatically for their support. As the concert came to a close, the brass section began playing a bouncy version of “For Emma”, playing the audience out of the venue, and into the night.
In the song “Holocene,” Vernon states “and at once I knew I was not magnificent.”The hundreds of people who left the venue that night would most likely heartily disagree.