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Gross Domestic Product: party for the people


House of Large Sizes headlines Gross Domestic Product on April 13.

House of Large Sizes headlines Gross Domestic Product on April 13.

The Des Moines Music Coalition’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Festival has come to mark the beginning of the music festival calendar in Des Moines. From now until November, there’s a different music festival in central Iowa seemingly every month, catering to musical tastes of all kinds.

Traditionally held at the Hotel Fort Des Moines, the DMMC has moved GDP this year into a pair of traditional music venues: Java Joe’s Fourth Street Theater and the Vaudeville Mews. It’s a scheduling decision the Coalition initiated last November, when it moved its fall festival, Little BIG Fest, from Hotel Fort Des Moines to the East Village. For DMMC administrator Chris Ford, the decision came down to wanting to foster the community.

“The goal (of the festivals) isn’t to compete with these venues, so we should be highlighting them instead,” he said. “Last year we decided that we wanted to try this, and I think we did want to try both Little BIG Fest and GDP at least once in this manner. We wanted to highlight these two areas (downtown), because they’re places where there are a lot of venues and a lot of music is happening. Obviously there are other places in town as well, but there are multiple venues on Fourth Street and multiple venues in the East Village.”

In addition to becoming a multi-venue experience, this year’s GDP is larger in scale as well. A call for band submissions brought in 70 applicants from all over the musical map. DJs, metal bands, blues and indie acts of all kinds submitted music, and the DMMC held a public listening event to narrow down the number of bands.

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“We put out an open call for people to just come listen and vote on the bands,” said Ford. “We had about 25 people show up and vote.”

For years the one consistent critique of the DMMC’s festivals has been the perceived lack of variety in the acts represented. It’s a criticism that Ford, for one, feels is unfounded, precisely because of the democratic nature of the selection process.

“We’re trying to represent different interests as much as possible,” he explained. “But the people who show up to vote are the people whose interests are represented. So we really want to encourage as many people as possible to come out and get involved.

“What we’re trying to do with this event is identify bands who are doing things to help promote and advance the scene. So people who have a strong Internet presence, bands who are out there touring and playing shows. We (also) want to represent as many cities as possible. Obviously it’s a Des Moines-centric thing, but we wanted to reach out and include some of these other areas. So there are bands from seven different cities playing.”

The final result of that process is one of the largest festivals the DMMC has put together. 19 bands — headlined by Cedar Falls alt-rock giants House of Large Sizes — perform on three stages on Fourth Street, with paid stages at the Fourth Street Theater and Vaudeville Mews, and a free stage nestled outside on the Vaudeville Mews patio stage.

“The free stage (was) a nice concept in my mind,” said Ford. “Those bands are still getting paid, but it’s music for the community. Anybody can come, the stage is all ages, you don’t have to have a dime in your pocket to come listen.”

And to Ford — and the DMMC — that’s what festivals like GDP are all about.

“Ultimately, the Music Coalition isn’t about music,” he said. “It’s about community.” CV

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