Of the top ten words people associate with Bon Iver, “fitness” is not one of them. Justin Vernon exists as a cuddly-but-melancholic beard creature too preoccupied with creating a fragile world of sounds and feelings to engage in anything so prosaic as exercising his physical husk. And yet, as it turns out, Vernon not only takes a trainer on the road with him, but he participated — along with his entire band — in a workout DVD from said trainer titled ROGCITY Fitness With Jeff Rogers: On The Road To A Healthy Mind, Body, And Spirit. This actually makes a certain kind of sense. After all, Bon Iver is a major figurehead of that widely ridiculed class of nice (a.k.a. “twee”) young bohemians that will engage in sincere activities like expressing emotions, talking about their “process,” and maybe even working on their quads. Not everyone fits into skinny jeans naturally, okay? Bon Iver was in New York City for their series of shows at Radio City Music Hall, and so too was the band’s fitness guru Jeff Rogers, who was kind enough to hold two installments of his signature workout event “Pack the Park” in downtown Manhattan’s Hudson Square for free. Curious as to whether working out the Bon Iver way would suck any less than the regular way (and whether it would give me strong crying muscles), I slapped on a sports bra and went.
I arrived to find that the park was indeed packed with friendly, tattoo-free Bon Iver fans eager for a taste of the serenity-based workout, or maybe just a hug from Jeff Rogers. He’s a solid, Chris Traeger-mass of good muscle tone and positivity, with a cute midwestern accent and baby blues a person could drown in. If I wasn’t in a happy relationship, I cannot say that I would have been able to look Rogers directly in the eyes.
We started off gently with some squats and arm raises, and I quickly realized “boot camp” was a misnomer. I don’t know much about the military, but I’m pretty sure actual boot camp does not involve performing low impact warm-up exercises to the Arcade Fire while a chiseled indie dreamboat affirms repeatedly that you’re “killin’ it.” As we moved on to more challenging activities like jumping jacks and planking (which is not just a meme), Rogers reminded us that we should go at our own pace and drink the provided water if we felt we needed to. He didn’t need to tell me twice. I’m pretty sure this workout was supposed to be chill, but my beer-and-brunch-bloated corpus was huffing and puffing by the fifth jumping jack. “Who’s all going to that Bon Iver concert tonight?” Rogers asked at one point, pronouncing it the American way, and I could find no extra air to tell him that I would instead be taking in Thee Oh Sees and Ty Segall.
That said, it was the first exercise class I’ve ever been to that didn’t make me want to just give up and go straight to Chipotle. Whether due to its beginner-friendly nature or Rogers’ encouraging smile, I made it all the way to the end, and was able to perform everything but the complicated mountain climbers we were supposed to do in between jogging in place. Maybe next time. After the class, I asked Rogers if exercise made Justin Vernon any happier, because he seems like he’s sad a lot. “I think it’s definitely helped him and made him happier and healthier as a whole,” he said. I asked if he’s noticed that most hipster guys treat their bodies like garbage cans. “That’s how the whole country has become,” he said. But, to get a little personal, how do the ladies on the indie scene react to those strange bumps on his arms called “muscles?” “I’m usually covered, I like to wear hoodies,” he said bashfully. “I don’t know, I think it helps to have a good physical frame so people can see that … I’m not, like, super big and bulky, but I like to be healthy and mobile, and for me it’s all moderation.” No need to hide your light under a bushel, Jeff Rogers!
I stuck out my hand to shake goodbye, and received both a hug and a high five in return. It’s too bad that his class normally takes place in Wisconsin, as going there multiple times a week might help me meet my fitness goals of 1.) not getting super fat, and 2.) not being totally decrepit. “You killed it today, you should do it every day,” he said, handing me a copy of his DVD. I promised to try. Back in Brooklyn, I got off the L train with a pile of steamed vegetables on the brain, only to really notice Bon Iver’s Bushmills ad in the subway for the first time. It’s hard to see under all that flannel, but I’m pretty sure all Bon Iver tickets now come with complimentary admission to the gun show.