When Kanye West picks up three consecutive Grammys for "All of the Lights"— just one of the songs off My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy on which Vernon contributed vocals—the Bon Iver crew meet each win with a fist pump and bursts of applause.
And by the time we're within moments of that first category, Vernon is fidgeting in his seat at stage left, his knees jumping like pistons. They win. Vernon embraces Edwards at his side before rushing with Brian Joseph, his sound engineer, to the podium to accept their first Grammy. Both thank "nominees and non-nominees," and Vernon lets loose with a "Jagjaguwar!" salute to his label as the two head backstage.
When they re-emerge side-stage moments later, on the heels of an already hardware-heavy Foo Fighters party, it's hugs all around. Gil, a mite taller and broader than his son, has tears in his eyes. Justine is squealing as she throws her arms around everyone in the group: "This is so fun! This is so fun! This is so fun!" Amid the handful of well-wishers and fans asking for photos, a small Japanese woman plants her feet square with Justin's. "My name is Lisa Kyoko," she says handing him a business card. "I voted for you. Please stay in touch!" He thanks her, breathlessly, as though the encounter has only compounded the shock.
"It's a trip," he says quietly, then, "it's cool." It's not until we walk through the front doors of the Staples Center a few minutes later that it seems to register. "We just won a Grammy, Joe," he says to the guy he deemed his "copilot" while accepting the award. Joseph nods, smiles, and pats his back in return.
The family is separated inside the Staples Center, Justin and Kathleen to the "Diamond" section reserved for artists in the first few rows, the rest to VIP seating, where Gil later says they had trouble hearing announcements over loudmouths seated in luxury boxes nearby. When Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" beats out "Holocene" for Song of the Year, you can see Vernon up on his feet applauding. At 7:27 p.m., during a commercial break, Raitt crouches down in the aisle to pay Vernon and Edwards a visit just before Tony Bennett strides out with Carrie Underwood on his arm. During the course of the evening, Drake will also stop by to say hello, but Raitt's visit leaves an indelible impression it seems. "She kissed me on the lips!" he shouts later on in the night, making sure to apologize to Edwards immediately afterward.
And at 7:34 p.m., Vernon accepts the Grammy for Best New Artist, inserting a soft-throated "sorry" between thank-yous and tributes. Upon returning to his seat, he returns a "holy shit" text with an ecstatic "hahahahahahaha."
We're waiting outside the Staples Center with family and label friends as Justin and Nate re-emerge post-press conference. More hugs abound. Darius Van Arman, one of Jagjaguwar's three label heads, is there with his mother, Farideh. With a slender cigarette holder in her hand, she approaches Justine to say she must have a photo with Justin. And when she does, Darius will have him sign it. And when he does, she will frame it and hang it on her wall. As we walk back to the parking garage, Justin sings small, falsetto snippets of "Rolling in the Deep."
"Fuckin' Adele, man," he says. "Killing it." And after a long talk about which after-party to hit, we find ourselves driving back to the hotel instead for a makeshift, family-friendly gathering. "I saw [retired NBA player] Robert Horry tonight," Gil says from behind the wheel as we ease back into traffic. "Did you see those Lakers banners up in the rafters?"
"I took a piss in the Lakers' locker room," Justin responds coolly.
We've taken over the tiny hotel bar and restaurant to have our first meal since breakfast. Justin's receiving congratulatory e-mails from Bill Hader and Superchunk's Mac McCaughan on the East Coast as the Grammys telecast is in full swing now on the West, while Twitter is alight with "Who is Bonny Bear?" cracks. As we inch closer and closer to the West Coast airing of the Best New Artist win, Van Arman asks the bartender if she might turn up the volume. "That was my favorite part of the night," says Justin, referring to the Band Perry and Blake Shelton's tribute to Glen Campbell. "That woman can sing her ass off."
Gil and Justine stand up to slow dance as Bennett and Underwood sink their teeth into "It Had to Be You." And as Justin's name is called again, this time on the television up in the corner, he grows nervous. "This is going to be super awkward," he says as he watches himself take the stage. "Damn, I'm balding." Everyone laughs, no one louder than Vernon himself.
The next day we sit outside Urth for lunch. Edwards is working on a Globe and Mail crossword. Vernon looks ten years younger than he did a day before. "I feel like I know now," he says, his face golden in the afternoon sun. "I realized last night, I'm not the only different one in here. Everyone is different from each other. Nobody has any idea how different we all are. Clearly people saw the name Bon Iver on the screen last night and will never hear the music. Some people saw the name and made an opinion without having heard the music."
His hands are still and he seems calm, as if all that's anchoring him to the ground is the denim jacket on his back. "You can't calculate all that shit, so it weirdly puts it in perspective for you: All you really can do is play guitar and write a song."