Summer music festivals5/6/2015
We are gearing up for my favorite portion of the year, boys and girls: Festival time! As the weather gets warmer, people start looking for more and more outdoor activities, and when people start heading outside in droves, bands follow. No matter what kind of music you are into, no matter where you live, there will be plenty of chances for you to get out and see something that fits your musical bill this year. And for most of us, our summer calendars will be covered in marked dates we are looking forward to.
Festivals are great because they give music lovers the chance to jump into their favorite music with both feet. Tons of bands, multiple stages and several days worth of entertainment are waiting to be had. Many festivals provide spaces for camping, as well as audio/visual components, food, drinks, guest speakers, panels and plenty more to see and do besides just the live music.
What follows is just a brief outline of some of the more notable things to look out for this summer. But make no mistake: it is far from exhaustive. From events like the Iowa State Fair and the Pops series, to multi-day, multi-venue events in towns like Ames, Council Bluffs and the Quad Cities, there will be no shortage of great festivals throughout the state that we just couldn’t cover in one issue. But check out these suggestions, and stay tuned for updates over the coming months. Now go find some music!
America’s River Festival
When: June 12-13
Years of Operation: 11
Nestled on the shores of the Mississippi in the revitalized Port of Dubuque, the America’s River Festival sees between 15,000 and 20,000 people pass through its gates over the course of two days. Developed with a distinct country music twinge, America’s River Fest is no one-trick pony, having previously brought in acts like Kevin Costner, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts and REO Speedwagon in an all-ages, family-friendly atmosphere. The festival grounds feature a large main stage for the headlining acts, a smaller stage to profile some local talent and plenty of room for everyone to get their fill of both. In addition, the festival’s location allows visitors to get a glimpse of the museums, casinos and attractions that have made Dubuque one of the nicest destinations on Iowa’s eastern border.
2015 Lineup: Cody Hicks Band, Old Dominion, Sam Hunt, Dan + Shay, Matt McPherson Band, Dubuque Main Street Jazz Band, Grand Funk Railroad, America, Tommy James & the Shondells
Where: Lone Tree
When: July 16-18
Years of Operation: 12
Started in 2003 by funk/reggae act Euforquestra, Camp Euforia has been Iowa’s go-to spot for jam, funk, Americana and raggae ever since. Located in tiny Lone Tree, the festival began as a “fan appreciation party” and has grown to include additional features like yoga sessions, camping and fresh-brewed coffee in the morining. Due to space limitations, Camp Euforia never gets as big as some of the other festivals on this list, and attendance this year is expected to be capped at around 1,500. This year, the event has expanded to three days of music and fun, and features a 22-band lineup that features both local and nationally touring acts.
2015 Lineup: Euforquestra, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, The Wood Brothers, Jeff Austin Band, Split Lip Rayfield, The Big Wu, Jennifer Hartswick, The Heard, Soap, Public Property, The Maytags, Mr Baber’s Neighbors, The Dawn, New Sound Underground, Fire Sale, The Candymakers, Chris Gelbuda, James Biehn Band, Winterland, The Low Down, Doctor Murdock, The Grosso Family Band
Where: Western Gateway Park, Des Moines
When: July 10-11
Years of Operation: 8
The single largest event to hit downtown Des Moines, and the Des Moines Music Coalition’s flagship event, 80/35 has become a destination festival for music fans from all over the state. Traditionally held over Fourth of July weekend, the DMMC pushed things back a week this year and have celebrated the date change by booking their biggest headliners yet.
A unique feature among Iowa festivals is the fact that the paid admission is only required to visually access the main stage of the event; everything else festival-related is completely free, and you are welcome to grab a curb outside the mainstage and listen to the acts while you people watch.
Each year the festival boasts two free stages of entirely local and regional talent. While the main stage features mostly national touring acts with some early-bird local talent opening each day additionally, last year marked the debut of the Generation Z Stage, featuring some of the state’s great under-21 talent. 80/35 also features local vendors, workshops, pre- and post-festival parties, as well as events and activities for children.
2015 Lineup (partial): Weezer, Wilco, Jenny Lewis, Run the Jewels, St. Lucia, Lettuce, Talib Kweli, Could Nothings, Hot Buttered Rum, Head for the Hills, Empires, Jon Wayne & The Pain, Natural Child, Fly Golden Eagle, Rome Fortune, Jaden Carlson Band, Amasa Hines, The Kickback, Kind Country, Canby, Boh Doran
Guthrie’s River Ruckus
Where: Guthrie Center
When: July 23-25
Years of Operation: 7
One of the biggest country music festivals in the state, Guthrie’s River Ruckus has been bringing in top-tier musical acts since 2009. Past headliners read like a who’s who of past and current country music greats including Eric Church, Hank Williams Jr. and Rodney Atkins. Situated on the Guthrie County Fairgrounds, the event draws nearly 20,000 fans a year for three days of camping, loud music and good partying. The short drive from Des Moines, coupled with more than over 500 camping spots available on the fairgrounds, ensures that bands never play to an empty lot, regardless of spot on the bill. Festival campers are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and their own fire pits to keep the party going into the wee hours.
2015 Lineup: Lee Brice, Chris Cagle, Josh Abbott Band, Stoney LaRue, Chris Young, Jarrod Niemann, Josh Thompson, Granger Smith, Casey Muessigmann, Zach Stone
Where: Western Gateway Park, Des Moines
When: August 7-8
Years of Operation: 13
One of the state’s longest running music festivals is also one of its least heralded. 515 Alive event organizers have grown the festival from a one-day, one-stage event behind Vaudeville Mews into a multi-stage, three-day audio/visual extravaganza in Western Gateway Park. 515 Alive stands as a testament to what hard work, boundless passion and a few quick minds can really do, when you put them all together.
Featuring some of the nation’s biggest names in electronic, dance and club music, 515 Alive is also the most visually daring, creatively programmed festivals you’ll encounter, as the festival has included live art installments, light shows, a headphone-laden “silent rave” and some of the most fun you can have under a glowstick.
2015 Lineup (partial): Eoto, The Floozies, Snails, Manic Focus, G Jones, Filibusta, Bommer, Nostalgia, Vibe Street, Pleasure, Kong Speaks, Linear Symmetry, Climax, Sodown, Mike Gervais, Always Different, Apollo, DJ Rack City and, like, 60 more. Seriously, this thing is huge.
Iowa State Fair
Where: Iowa State Fairgrounds, Des Moines
When: Aug 13-23
Years of Operation: 138
While not technically a music festival, it would be silly to have a list like this and not include the granddaddy of them all. The Iowa State Fair has moved around several times since its 1854 inception in Fairfield but has called Des Moines home since 1879. Spanning 10 days in the Iowa heat, the Iowa State Fair provides free musical entertainment every day on one of four stages, as well as nationally touring acts performing on a Grandstand that’s on the National Register of Historic Places.
2015 Lineup: (Grandstand) Casting Crowns, Justin Moore, Def Leppard, Reba, Carrie Underwood, Yes, Toto, Alabama, The Fray, Meghan Trainor, Dee Snider, Dokken, Warrant, Firehouse; (Free Stages) 38 Special, Autograph, Big Smo, Bonne Finken, Brandy Clark, Clare Dunn, Country Gold, Dale Jones, Dan + Shay, Gabbie Rae, Get the Led Out, Greg Frisbee, Hairball, Haley & Michaels, Head East, Here Come the Mummies, Home Free, Jamie Lynn Spears, Kentucky Headhunters, Lita Ford, Matt Maher, Naked Eyes, Nathan Osmond, Old Dominion, Raelynn, Redhead Express, Restless Heart, Ron Diamond, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, The Blue Band, The Nadas, Village People, Vocal Trash
Hinterland Music Festival
Where: Water Works Park, Des Moines
When: July 31-Aug. 1
Years of Operation: 1
Music returns to Water Works Park as the new kid on the block, the Hinterland Music Festival, makes its debut this summer. The brainchild of Wooly’s and First Fleet Concerts owner Sam Summers, Hinterland is a two-day festival geared toward Americana, roots and acoustic acts. After making the initial lineup announcement last month, response was overwhelmingly positive, with VIP tickets selling out in seconds. Since then, Summers has expanded the cap on total attendance and added camping passes to meet the enormous demand. Time will tell how the event will evolve over the coming years, with the only sure bet being that Hinterland will continue to grow and change. CV
2015 Lineup: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, Old Crow Medicine Show, Future Islands, Brandi Carlile, TV on the Radio, Yonder Mountain String Band, The Envy Corps, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, Lucius, Justin Townes Earle, Joe Pug, Madisen Ward & The Mama Bear
Love it or hate it, “bro country” is the flavor of the day in the world of country music these days. The formulaic mix of hip hop, rock and pop songs written about hot young women, copious amounts of alleged alcohol consumption and, most importantly, pickup trucks has the new age of country music fans screaming with delight to the likes of Florida Georgia Line, Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean.
On the other side of the stage are the purists, shaking their collective heads in disdain and longing for the days of Haggard, Jones and Jennings and their honky tonk stylings. But those are days gone by. Even perennial “tonk” flag waver Dwight Yoakam has leaned away from the genre in recent years in search of a more modern sound.
So, does a middle ground even exist? Rascal Flatts frontman Gary LeVox, for one, thinks it does.
“Country music is always evolving,” he said in a phone interview. “Whatever you want, country music has it. If you want rapping, it’s there. If you want Merle, it’s there, but right now it just looks out of place compared to a Florida Georgia Line.
“We’re somewhere in the middle of that, I think, being influenced by Stevie Wonder, Ronnie Milsap, Keith Whitley and others. Rascal Flatts is sort of crockpot of all of it. We aren’t worried about being this or that. We make Rascal Flatts music.”
LeVox and bandmates Jay DeMarcus (bass) and Joe Don Rooney (guitar) will serve their brand of country music to the Iowa masses on May 24 when they headline the final night of the Tree Town Festival in Forest City. The four-day country music extravaganza begins on May 21 and boasts a lineup of artists such as Blake Shelton, Dierks Bentley, Lee Brice, Eli Young Band, Thomas Rhett and many more. Last year’s inaugural festival was a huge success when tens of thousands of fans descended on the small city of 4,000. Organizers upped the ante this year by expanding the festival’s number of days and bringing in additional bands.
For LeVox, whose band has sold more than 22 million albums, scored 15 No. 1 singles and has been the most-awarded country group of the past decade, the goal is to continue to keep Rascal Flatts as a mainstay in the evolution of country music, whatever that may be, holding ground in the middle while acknowledging the past. Whatever the label, it’s music — and the members of Rascal Flatts, are fans, too. Period.
“Whether its getting to play the Super Bowl or a Vegas residency or being a part of the Motley Crue tribute album, we still can’t believe all of the things that we’ve gotten to do because of country music,” he said. “I’m looking forward to making more. Iowa will be fun. I love your state.” CV
Tree Town Music Festival
Where: Forrest City
When: May 21-24
Years of Operation: 2