A few month ago, a curious concert was announced, even by Los Angeles standards. In a city where private Hollywood Hills fetes, secret midnight shows and quiet backyard BBQ gigs happen regularly, this one was different: an early Sunday morning performance, to begin just before dawn, at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, by Bon Iver, aka Justin Vernon, the lauded Wisconsin songwriter whose debut full length, For Emma, Forever Ago, was one of the most beautiful records of last year.
The event, which is sold out, takes place this Sunday morning, and the more we learn about it, the more excited we are. “The show is set to begin right before the first rays of light appear,” explains Hollywood Forever's Jay Boileau. “He'll perform as the night moves into morning, play through twilight, bringing everybody in the cemetery from darkness to light.”
Boileau explains that Bon Iver, who played a memorable show at the Troubadour earlier in the year (and is gigging tonight at the Wiltern — anyone got an extra ticket?), was finishing what amounts to a two-year tour, and wanted to do something special. Justin Vernon contacted Hollywood Forever through Brian Smith, a booker at the Troudadour, and the gig was hatched.
Smith, in fact, has been working with Hollywood Forever for the past half year, bringing shows into the Masonic Lodge inside the cemetery. “A year ago we restored the Masonic Lodge,” explains Boileau, “which was built in 1927. The Masons used to use the second floor for meetings, and there's one room, the Eastern Star Room, that's got this giant fireplace with hardwood floors. We restored the room, cleaned the ceiling, installed a sound system, got the lighting in good shape, and have been making it available for the public for private events.” So far this year, St. Vincent, Iron & Wine, the Swell Season, and Will Sheff of Okkervil River have played there. Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions play the cemetery on Tuesday, September 29. As well, the Lodge has hosted a comedy night, which so far has featured Sarah Silverman and Patton Oswalt.
“We consider ourselves a cultural center for L.A.,” says Boileau, “and view the cemetery an oasis in the middle of Hollywood, a place for living as well as the dead.” To that end, he says that these sorts of events will continue. He says there will be at least two more music performances this fall (though he declines to elaborate). In January, the Cemetery will present William Shakespeare's Twelfth Night (last year they hosted a performance of Anton Chekhov's Three Sisters). We've heard a rumor of a certain Canadian crooner performing on the little island in the middle of Hollywood Forever's pond — he'd float out to the island on a little boat, then perform — but that hasn't been confirmed.
Sunday morning's Bon Iver show actually begins Saturday night; the gates will open at midnight to ease the traffic and allow people to get situated. Over the next five hours, Vernon and the cemetery have created a program that includes film, projections, and music selected especially for the evening by Vernon. All of it will lead up to the Bon Iver show, which will begin at 5:20 a.m.