It's hard to believe that Justin Vernon's Bon Iver project originated a mere five years ago. What started as a solo flight has become more of a group effort with Vernon being joined by Sean Carey (drums, vocals, piano), Michael Noyce (vocals, baritone guitar, guitar), and Matthew McCaughan (bass, drums, vocals). That helped solve the problem of replicating the layered vocals for live shows — no long necessary was the audience participation that Vernon encouraged early on.
Within a few months of Bon Iver's July 2007 independent debut of For Emma, Forever Ago, the band had caught the favorable ear of Pitchfork and had landed on the CMJ Music Marathon stage, followed in short order by a deal with Jagjaguwar Records for an official release in the U.S. in early 2008 with 4AD handling Europe come May.
Critics from near and far fell over each other in their attempts to boast about the record. Mojo, Metacritic, Uncut, The Village Voice, Stereogum, Rolling Stone, and others all shouted Bon Iver's praises from their respective rooftops. Film and television placements — the likes of House, The United States of Tara, One Tree Hill, Chuck, Grey's Anatomy, and others — helped push things along,
With the live band fleshed out even further with Rob Moose (violin and guitar) and Mike Lewis (bass), as well as a horn section including Reginald Pace, Colin Stetson, and C.J. Camerieri, Bon Iver hit festivals like Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Coachella, Sasquatch, Glastonbury, South by Southwest, and more.
In 2009, in the midst of all the hullabaloo, Bon Iver issued the Blood Bank EP which is comprised of four tunes that counter For Emma's wintry goodness with a sort of pulsing warmth. Then, as if they needed more street cred, Bon Iver collaborated with St. Vincent on “Roslyn” for the New Moon soundtrack in 2009. On top of that, to gain some truly mainstream recognition, they teamed with Kanye West on a couple of cuts in 2010 — “Lost in the World” and “Monster” from West's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.
By 2011, it was time for a new release and so was born Bon Iver, Bon Iver via the GOOD Music label. Each song of the cycle represents a place and a coinciding vibe, from “Perth” to “Calgary.” Vernon built the basic tracks and then allowed top-tier session players to fill them out as they would. The result debuted at number two on the Billboard album charts and earned Bon Iver four Grammy Award nominations — Best New Artist, Best Alternative Music Album for Bon Iver, and both Song of the Year and Record of the Year for "Holocene." The group took home trophies in the first two categories topping stellar acts like Radiohead, My Morning Jacket, and Death Cab for Cutie.
As 2012 wears on, Bon Iver has a bunch of tour dates in both Europe and the United States. From early July until mid-August, they will be overseas. Among the cities, Bon Iver plays Hamburg, Cologne, Paris, Luxembourg, Lisbon, Barcelona, and Lyon. Stuttgart hosts Bon Iver to close July, with Vienna, Helsinki, Gothenburg, and Oslo standing as the only dates slated for August.
The U.S. leg kicks off on September with Bon Iver in Providence. Boston, Columbia, Philadelphia, and Cooperstown get Bon Iver over the following five days.
Then comes a four-night stand at Radio City Music Hall as Bon Iver takes New York City by storm September 19-22. After about a month off, it's back to Europe for Vernon and the gang for performances in Lisbon, Madrid, Milan, Zurich, Antwerp, Copenhagen, Berlin, Amsterdam, London, Manchester, Glasgow, and Dublin, where they wrap up on November 12.
The Palacio Vista Alegre in Madrid, Spain, may be a long way from the cabin in Medford, Wisconsin, where Justin Vernon first visioned Bon Iver, but it's along a natural trajectory for someone so phenomenally talented.