Last week I saw an ad for the 80/35 music festival in Des Moines. The lineup seemed pretty sweet, especially considering the price was only $60 for both days. If I would have bought tickets a few months ago, I could have gotten a ticket for $35 (!), which is a mind blowing deal when you look at comparable festivals. So I went ahead and checked for hotel availability in the area and found a Marriott that was like 3 blocks away from the festival. Cat’s brother agreed to come over and dog-sit, so we bought tickets and were set for our impromptu vacation.
After wrapping up our work Friday morning, we snuck out and hit the road by mid-Friday afternoon. If you follow Recycled Kitty at all, you know we try to eat as much vegan as possible. However if it is vacation, all restrictions are removed. Once we crossed over from Missouri, we started seeing the signs that truly indicate we’ve made it to Iowa: signs for Kum & Go and signs for Maid-Rite. For those who have never enjoyed the tasty loose meat goodness that is a Maid-Rite, let me tell you, it is
prolly the tastiest loose meat sammy you’ve ever had. Much better than that crappy Crumbly Burger in St. Joe! So we stopped for gas at the Kum & Go and went next door to the Maid-Rite/Amish gift shop and had our minds blown. Our minds were not just blown by the tasty loose meat sammy, but by the bizarre concept of this establishment. First, it was HUGE! It was half 50’s era diner, half Cracker Barrel style gift shop. The booths were made up of benches from Amish carriages. They had some fancy handmade picnic tables along with all sorts of artisan jellies and jams. So we filled up on loose
meat and hand made Amish items, posed with some cows for a photo, then back on the road.
The drive from KC to Des Moines is only about 3.5 hours, so the trip was easy and quick. I’m amazed that I haven’t made the trip more often given the size of Des Moines and the amount of freaks in the town.
We arrived at the Marriott, rode their scary elevators to the 12th floor, which apparently is an “upper” floor of the 30 floor building, and got our awesome room that we had reserved right by the elevators and ice machine. For some reason, Marriotts love to put us by the ice machine. The place was a crap hole. You can read Cat’s Yelp about our experience here.
That evening we dined at Django. This was meal #2 of our July 4th Weekend Meatfest. I had the Django Mixed Grill which featured multiple kinds of meat. The best by far were these delicious little crispy hunks of fried pork belly. There were only 3 of them, which would have been a perfect accompaniment to a more vegetarian centric main course, but instead I got steak and a sausage which ended up being a bit much. I also got to enjoy some of Cat’s duck, which I found a bit tough but tasty. The place was nice and I would consider going back when in the area. Cat’s Django Yelp.
If you are in Downtown Des Moines on a Saturday morning, you have to go to the farmer’s market. Because it is laid out in a linear fashion in the streets instead of a larger all-in-one market like the City Market in KC, it seems huge! It was bustling, even crowded when we arrived at 8:30. Farmers, artists, various culinary visionaries offering everything from gourmet crab rangoons to full breakfasts. It seemed that every place offering breakfast fare had a line going down the block. It was fun and well worth the experience. As with all farmer’s markets, the earlier you arrive, the better your experience would probably be.
We had a couple of hours before music started so we wandered around the beautiful Pappajohn Sculpture Park which was adjacent to the festival grounds. Featuring sculptures by Keith Haring, Jaume Plensa, and many others, it was a wonderful way to spend a beautiful Saturday morning. Highly recommended.
Time for some music. We made our way to Will Call to pick up our tickets, which we then traded for wrist bands. A quick note about this festival. It is much more of a civic festival for Des Moinesians then a typical music festival. That was the reason for the cheap prices. Two of the three stages were outside the main stage area, so they were completely free. It would have been very easy to just go to the free stages and hang outside the main gate for those bands you wanted to see. And it seemed as though that was exactly what a lot of people did.
Having downloaded the 80/35 app to my Android phone, I had mapped out our day and the acts I wanted to see. And like every music fest I have ever been to, we missed the first set of bands. Oh well. We finally made it to the main stage in time for Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band.
The three piece punk-billy blues outfit was fun until the fine Reverend started “explaining” how he plays guitar without the aid of any of “dem damn computers” or none of them “looping gizmos”, despite what them kids are sayin’ on the interwebs. While I’m sure it was all part of his normal schtick, it came off as him making a commentary on the main act of the day, Girl Talk. I am also a huge fan of many musical artists that make use of technology to supplement their talents and I found his bragging to seem more like an oldie who is afraid to touch his VCR. He then went on to play Yankee Doodle and Dixie (so timely!) simultaneously on the guitar, which was kinda fun, but mostly felt like a cheap stunt. We left soon after, mostly because of his “demonstration”, but apparently it left other festival goers thoroughly impressed, as we heard people talking about it later that evening.
We made a quick trip back to the room then back to the main stage to get ready for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros!
opportunity to hang out with our friend Aaron Embry for a little bit at the hotel before the show and were pumped by the time they took the stage. If you are unfamiliar with the band, it apparently is a concept group created by Alex Ebert who takes on the persona of a messianic figure named Edward Sharpe who “was sent down to Earth to kinda heal and save mankind…but he kept getting distracted by girls and falling in love.” They have a hippy/roots feel to them and the show was great. I will definitely go out of my way to see them whenever they are around.
As with any festival, we hope to run into interesting new acts that we were previously unaware of. One act that we ran into that really stands out was a hip-hop group from Chicago called BBU. Made up of three MCs and a DJ, the group had an old school feel and look. There were even break dancers in the crowd in front of us, which made the experience more fun. Cat also got a phrase stuck in her head for the rest of the day, perhaps longer…
We then ran back to the hotel. This was the number one reason this was the best festival in a long time. There was enough time between acts and the crowds were light enough that we could run back to our room and cool off in the air conditioning, grab a bite or a drink, then make it back in time for the next band. We did this all weekend, which also made up for the fact that we blew off working out after day 1.
By the time we got back to the Kum and Go Stage, we were treated to a little Bitch. Cat was familiar with her, as she is a Righteous Babe recording artist, and had seen her perform as an opener for Ani DiFranco in the past. She was your standard classically trained violinist feminist punk with a drum machine. She had such a good time, along with her “lesbian mafia” in the crowd that it was infectious. After the Pussy Manifesto, it was time for us to eat. We decided to check out the Americana, less than a block from the festival. I was afraid it would be too crowded, but we got right in. Service after that was lacking and the food wasn’t as good as I had hoped after seeing the menu. You can check out a more detailed review on Cat’s Yelp.
We caught just a bit of Galactic, but Cat and I have both seen them numerous times, so we opted to save our strength for the big Saturday headliner, Girl Talk. Now Girl Talk is single-handedly responsible for getting me in shape. His freely downloadable mash-up album All Day is a crazy pop and rap collage which I find great for running. He is a very talented DJ, or at least very talented at picking loops and samples. With any live show, there is an energy bubble that radiates from the band. The kids that are really into it get into this bubble, and those that would rather view from a far stay out. We positioned ourselves up close, well within the bubble. I proceeded to have a blast, sweating and dancing, being pushed and bumped and spilled upon. As soon as I stepped out of the bubble, I began to see Girl Talk as the cheese ball he really is. Without the energy of the crowd, the song selections seemed silly, not to mention his (and his 80’s loving desciples) jumping up and down. But all in all, I had a good time and was glad I had the opportunity to see Greg Gillis do his thing. Time to call it a night and get some rest for Suday. When we got back to our room, we were treated to a lovely fireworks display over the river which we could see from window.
Sunday morning, time for breakfast. Never go to a bar for brunch. Unless you are going to a sporting event and meeting friends, or you wake up there after a particularly drunken night, never go to a bar for brunch. These are words that I should live by, but for some reason on Sunday morning we did just that. We went to the Star Bar for a over-priced crappy breakfast that had the potential of ruining our day. Cat’s Yelp. Fortunately we were able to turn the day around by discovering Des Moines had a Trader Joes! So we picked up some food, went back and made some lunch to make up for the crappy breakfast we had, then back to the festival.
First act we caught on Sunday was Yelawolf. Having read up on him, I was expecting a Kid Rock southern rock/rap act, and wasn’t far off. Though I would say he is more of a hip-hop artist than a crossover act, he definitely has skills and I imagine I haven’t seen the last of him. (Side note: I just picked up the new Tech N9ne album 6s & 7s which features Yelawolf on the track Worldwide Choppers. Check out the crazy flow here, tis pretty amazing.)
The next act on the main stage was Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. I haven’t seen him in a few years, but had a blast. The Tiny Universe does a jazz/funk/jam thing and does it well. One of the highlights of the whole weekend was their cover of”Hang Me Up to Dry” by the Cold War Kids. Karl and his band are a perfect example of hard working musicians who travel and work every day in the music biz but enjoy a relative level of anonymity. For those unfamiliar with Karl, CPJS recently posted this interview, check it out.
I have been to various festivals where Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have played, I have seen them on some festival webcasts and heard them on the radio, but have never been a convert. I have nothing against them, but I just don’t understand the appeal. Many friends of mine are big fans and so Cat and I made sure we were in the crowd to give them another shot. When Grace performs, looks like a cross between Stevie Nicks and Tina Turner. Small in stature with blonde hair and a short dress, she dances with an abandon between verses that you can’t help but appreciate. But all in all, I get the feeling of a decent bluesy bar band. I really tried, but she just doesn’t do it for me. Maybe we were getting tired. We are pretty old.
It was time for fair food. Our one trip to the mobile food vendors of the weekend was upon us. We had carefully scoured the grounds earlier in the weekend, trying to decide which of the fried delicacies we would ingest. Our decision: Cat chose a foot-long corn dog and I went for a giant smoked turkey leg. I think we both started regretting our decisions after the first bite. We really started regretting our decision once we looked up the calorie content of those items. Ugh. One more trip to the hotel to recuperate before the Sunday headliner, Of Montreal.
Once again we positioned ourselves inside the energy bubble for the final act. Of Montreal is an alt-pop group from Athens, GA. The lead singer kinda sounds like Prince, and they have this modernized Bowie Glam thing kickin which was pretty fun. Their stage antics remind me of the Flaming Lips, complete with costumes, though they seemed to be more story(?) oriented. The unfortunate part was that if you weren’t in the first 20 feet of the stage, you had no idea what the story was or what the hell was going on. They had cameras, but the images that were put onto the big screen were posterized and solarized, making it groovy looking, but making it impossible to see what was actually taking place. Obviously lots of kids had a blast and the overall vibe was definitely a positive one. I think a more intimate indoor show would be a better venue. Being tired and old, we left midway through their set, concluding our 80/35 experience.
All in all, 80/35 was great. Small crowds, cheap tickets, a hotel room less than 3 blocks away all add up to make it a great experience. Looking back at the past 80/35 festivals, every year seems to feature a really strong lineup, so we will definitely be keeping an eye out for the lineups and ticket announcements next year. It was great way to spend the 4th, see some great musical acts and experience Des Moines, Iowa.