Last year, in preparing to release his experimental new album 22, A Million, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon held a one-time-only festival/art performance in Berlin. He brought a number of his favorite musicians to hang out and collaborate, performing new music in the round. The festival just posted videos of many of the performances, including a wonderful “Folk Circle” session that features Vernon trading folk songs with Damien Rice, Sam Amidon, Erlend Øye, O, and Ragnar Kjartansson.
Norwegian composer (and half of Kings of Convenience, who released our favorite cover of 2009) Erlend Øye covers The Moore Brothers’ 2004 song “New For You,” followed by our buddy Sam Amidon leading the crowd in a singalong of Appalachian folk song “Johanna The Row-di.” A French singer who goes simply by O sings a traditional French song, Damien Rice breaks the covers theme by playing his own “The Professor & La Fille Danse,” and then we get to the piece de resistance. Vernon plays a song from the man he calls “my favorite songwriter,” John Prine.
Vernon has covered Prine before, leading off a 2010 tribute album with “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow).” He picks a different track here though, Prine’s 1978 song “That’s The Way That The World Goes.” Accompanied by Amidon on violin, it’s a tender, moving performance a far cry from the electronics of Bon Iver’s recent album. If Vernon ever wanted to make a low-stakes acoustic covers record ala Neil Young, it could truly be a thing of beauty.
Until then, watch his new Prine cover below. It starts 15 minutes in, but really the full video is worth watching. After Vernon comes Icelandic singer Ragnar Kjartansson covering a love song written by his grandfather and an all-hands-on-deck closing jam on a beautiful Italian song we can’t identify.
PS. Also from the event, watch Vernon collaborate with the Staves on a cover of Ray LaMontagne’s “Jolene”: