Justin Vernon is one of the most dynamic artists of the 21st Century. Each Bon Iver album seems to set the tone for alternative music’s future over the next couple of years that follow it. However, Vernon’s genius has influenced not just the alternative scene. Kanye West even declared in 2013, “Justin Vernon, is my favourite living artist – I love Justin the way Kanye loves Kanye” — praise from the egomaniac Kanye doesn’t get any higher than that.
For Emma, Forever Ago saw Vernon deal with his quarter-life crisis and relocated to his father’s cabin in the Wisconsin woods by himself, returning with a seminal LP that came as a result from the darkest period of his life. The record was initially released independently, and soon word began to spread about this unknown artist who had created this dedicated work of art. Over the next couple of the years, mainstream labels focused their attention towards reviving folk-rock, but, nothing else quite captured the brilliance of For Emma, Forever Ago.
Instead of replicating that sound on the sophomore album, Vernon made Bon Iver a band and produced an expansive follow-up that saw the group take flight on a new musical direction. This evolution has been something that Bon Iver has done with every single release since and the musical landscape has followed them around as Vernon guides his band into uncharted territory each album. However, folk music started this beautiful musical journey in the first place, and a similarly folkie number, the track ‘Fugitive’ by Indigo Girls, remains his favourite track of all time.
“It’s been kind of unfettered, unchanging for about 10 years now, it’s ‘Fugitive’ by the Indigo Girls,” Vernon recalled to Pitchfork in 2008. “It’s absolutely without question my favourite song of all time. When I first heard it I was in seventh-grade or sixth-grade and my mom and my sister brought me to an Indigo Girls concert and I was like ‘Ah, whatever, I’ll go see the show’ and it honestly…it just changed my life. I’ve realised over the years what kind of rep the Indigo Girls get, and I guess I’m not going to get in the business of trying to change that for people.
“But this specific record is super brilliant and the guitar solo is unreal and the drumming– the studio drumming that’s on the record– and it’s some of my most favourite lyrics. I’ve actually got some of the lyrics tattooed on my body, that’s how important the song is to me. I’ve got so much nostalgia attached to it, but when I throw it in and listen to it, it’s still got so much shit it in.”
Vernon’s emotional attachment towards the song is impossible to disconnect from for the singer. Even Indigo Girls wouldn’t claim that ‘Fugitive’ is the undisputed best song in the world — the precious memories that Vernon carries along with it makes it more special to him than any other piece of music.
The songwriter has gone one step further and even has an Indigo Girls tattoo on his chest. In 2019, he managed to make his teenage dreams a reality when they supported Bon Iver at the Kettlehouse Amphitheatre in Missoula. In the announcement video, Vernon said that “they are my number one all-time favourite band, the Indigo Girls”. The love-in was unsurprisingly reciprocal with Emily Saliers from the group, writing: “Justin Vernon is one of our favourite artists of all time, and getting to play with Bon Iver makes us incredibly happy.”
When Vernon attended that concert in seventh grade, his life-changed and he suddenly knew that he wanted to be a musician like his new-idols, the Indigo Girls. If you told him that over 20-years later he would get the opportunity to play on the same bill as them, he’d think he was dreaming.