Well, another year of 80/35 is in the books. After taking last year off to experience the cluster that was Eaux Claires festival in Wisconsin, it was nice to go back to the beautiful 80/35 held in my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. Although I may crack jokes constantly about being completely corn fed and growing up in a sleepy town that I just couldn’t wait to leave, there’s something special about Des Moines and it’s always nice to get back to my roots.
Naturally, it was one of the hottest and sunniest weekends of the wear thus far but that didn’t stop thousands of people from flocking to the downtown area surrounding the gorgeous Western Gateway Park in the heart of it all. From local food trucks to local performing arts groups, 80/35 has always done a great job of not only bringing a stellar outdoor festival to Des Moines but also giving the local talent a chance to shine. Sure, there were a million things I wish the festival would have done as far as “keeping it local” goes (like maybe having some of the amazing local breweries provide the beer instead of outsourcing to brands like Lagunitas and Coors) but, again, they do what they can and keep a balance of local and big time. I could go one for paragraphs about how amazing this festival is. From all of the free stages offered to fans to the way that water is free and easily accessible, there seriously so many great things to write about this festival but I feel like I said it all before in the past so let’s just jump into the music side of things.
The line-up wasn’t exactly what I wanted. Sure, headliners Portugal, the Man and Elle King were great but there weren’t many names on the bill that I just had to see. I was super excited to see Noname and Yungblud but Noname had to drop off just a couple of weeks ago due to health and Yungblud announced just hours before his set that his bus had broken down and he wouldn’t make it (or he saw Des Moines on his list and was like, “Eh.”). Regardless, these setbacks weren’t really setbacks and the festival organizers did a great job of hiding the stress that two stars dropping off causes. Noname was replaced by Minneapolis’ own Dessa and local Des Moines group The Maytags took Yungblud’s spot with just a couple of hours notice. Again, this festival is so well run and organized… I cannot praise the organizers enough.
Murder By Death has a threatening name but they are far from threatening their alt-country, punk infused music rang through the grounds Friday afternoon and were clearly turning heads. I’ve been a fan of these guys for years now and have seen them here and there at club shows but the way they commanded a festival crowd surprised me while making me extremely happy at the same time. Their sound definitely stood out from the rest of the line-up but I think that just worked in their benefit.
Second to last to performing on the main Hy-Vee stage on Saturday was the almighty Misterwives. I honestly don’t even know where to start with this group. I saw them once at First Avenue and honestly wasn’t very impressed but clearly I was in a bad mood that day. That absolutely stole this festival with a sense of ease that knocked me off my feet. Although the temperatures were creeping into the mid-90’s with a signature Iowa humidity that I don’t miss at all, vocalist Mandy Lee didn’t miss a beat. Her energy was infectious and that mixed with their up-beat pop sound was exactly what the audience needed to get through the late afternoon slump.
Of course it was an absolute treat to catch one of my favorite acts out there- Open Mike Eagle. Another stand out performer as far as uniqueness goes, Open Mike’s one-of-a-kind blend of rap, hip-hop and spoken word may have been a bit too “out there” for some of the audience but it was perfect for some and he had the crowd moving and grooving to his beats. Open Mike Eagle is one of those acts that I will never get sick of seeing live. Every show is different but he always brings a very positive energy to the stage and Saturday’s performance was no different.
Closing out Saturday night and the festival was Alaska’s Portugal. The Man. I finally crossed these guys off of my bucketlist just a couple of months ago so to be able to catch them again was a treat. They are a very inspirational band and do a lot for different communities and causes across the world so it was no surprise when they had one of the members of the local Meskwaki Native American tribe open up the show with a blessing and dance complete with a beautifully elaborate traditional outfit. After the dance (which I think was a blessing for the land we were using but it was all a bit of a blur with the adrenaline that came with taking photos from the photo pit– yeah, that was a rush), Portugal. The Man took the stage and whisked the audience off to an almost psychedelic indie-rock planet that was full of beauty and energy. I never thought of them as a “festival band” but the way they closed 80/35 out was absolutely perfect and I would love to catch them at an outdoor festival again soon!
With over 40 acts performing, it would take me days to write an article walking you through everyone and honestly, you wouldn’t read it. There were definitely more highlights like finally seeing The Envy Corps again after haven’t seen them since high school and being able to catch the legendary Isiserettes (an amazing local drum line complete with dancers that is just a sight that needs to be seen, not just described) but, like so many other festivals, my words would never do it all justice.
I feel just about as fried as the fried food from the foodtrucks but it’s honestly a beautiful feeling. Sure, I’m probably never moving back to Des Moines, Iowa and I may give in to Minnesota peer pressure and refer to it as “Dead Moines” but I will give my hometown this– Des Moines, you are a beautiful town. Your people are hospitable, trusting, and just down right amazing and your downtown seems to become more and more beautiful each time I visit. Sure, I’m never moving back but the 80/35 Festival is one visit I always look forward to. You keep on doing what you’re doing and I’ll keep coming back.