Nobody involved with the Des Moines Music Coalition (DMMC) or its flagship event, the 80/35 Music Festival, will deny that last year’s festival was a bit rocky.
Last year’s first announced headliner, Conor Oberst, was given a lukewarm reception from the masses via social media, then a series of issues delayed the announcement of a second headliner until the 11th hour, creating a relentlessly building wave of frustration among people waiting for the full announcement before purchasing tickets.
“What we were finding last year was agents telling us, ‘Oh, so-and-so should be free, make us an offer,’ so we’d send out an offer and hear that they weren’t available,” said 80/35 boss Amedeo Rossi. “That was sort of a repeating pattern last year.”
Eventually, Cake was signed on, and the end result was another successful event. This year, however, Rossi and the rest of the DMMC were bound and determined not to have a repeat of 2014’s booking issues.
“Whenever you’re doing an event and something doesn’t work out, you have greater attention on, ‘I’m doing it different next time,’ ” Rossi said. “(This year’s announcement) was definitely something we wanted to get out early. We definitely re-prioritized.”
Part of that re-prioritizing centered around two changes in the festival’s operation. One was readily apparent to festivalgoers, while the other was more behind the scenes. First, was the moving of the event off the Fourth of July weekend — the festival’s traditional home since its inception — to the following weekend. More subtly, Rossi said the booking budget for the festival was increased by $100,000. The combination of those two factors, along with some collaboration with Minneapolis’s Basilica Block Party, netted what is undoubtedly the strongest lineup in 80/35’s eight-year history. And it all starts at the top, with the headliners.
“We’ve been asking for Wilco and Weezer since the beginning,” Rossi said of the two acts capping off this year’s festival. “We knew that Wilco was going to be recording this year, and they were only planning on doing a couple of runs through the country. Because of our booking partnership with Basilica and our change in date, we were able to make an offer that made sense for them.
“Weezer is one of those bands that are of a scale to be recognizable, and they haven’t been to Des Moines proper before,” he continued, noting that both bands were acts that 80/35 faithful had been asking for since the beginning.
The effect in the community has been remarkable. Last year was the largest public backlash that the DMMC had ever faced, and it seemed like every day brought a fresh batch of complaints about the lineup and lack of new announcements. This year, the announcement of Weezer and Wilco was met with almost universal acclaim, as even those who may not be fans still had to admit that both bands were a good get.
This year’s festival doesn’t just have a good finish, however. While not all of the bands coming to town are household names, the fact remains that this could very well be the deepest roster of talent 80/35 has ever put together, and that’s before you set foot on one of the three free stages. Here is a rundown of what is gracing this year’s main stage.
July 11, noon
This year’s local entrant to the main stage activities is the passion project of Envy Corps drummer Scott Yoshimura. Canby is not so much a band as it is an event. With a fluid approach to band size, Canby fluctuates between eight and 13 members, depending on the setting and everyone’s schedule. But no matter how many people hop on stage, the result is tremendous. Canby has a huge, lush sound full of funk-driven horns, captivating harmonies and Yoshimura’s whip-smart song writing. The band played to a capacity crowd at this year’s Gross Domestic Product, and if anyone can bring people out to the main stage at noon on the festival’s second day, it is going to be these guys.
July 11, 3:15 p.m.
A Cleveland, Ohio-based three-piece, Cloud Nothings’ last two albums have both hit No. 2 on the CMJ music charts, and the band has worked with legendary “In Utero” producer Steve Albini, among others. Cloud Nothings started as a solo project for front man Dylan Baldi but quickly grew into a three-piece band that has been compared favorably to an in-their-prime Guided By Voices. Ultimately, what that means is that you have to be a fan of lo-fi indie jams to appreciate what Cloud Nothings is putting on your plate. But if that sound happens to be up your river, then Cloud Nothings is here to be your savior.
July 10, 7 p.m.
The former Rilo Kiley front woman (and co-star of 1989 Fred Savage vehicle “The Wizard”) made her first foray into the land of solo music in 2004 at the behest of 2014 80/35 headliner Conor Oberst. Since then, Lewis has released three albums, including 2014’s “The Voyager,” which rose as high as No. 9 on the Billboard 200. Lewis’ vocals have been compared to everyone from Loretta Lynn to Joni Mitchell to Emmylou Harris, and all the comparisons fit, depending on when you catch her. There are few vocalists around today with the ability to be as much of a vocal chameleon as Lewis, but her bread and butter is always going to be the slightly twee expressions of love and loss that made “The Voyager” such a strong hit.
July 11, 1:30 p.m.
Jon Wayne & The Pain might be the single most difficult band to quantify on this list. Featuring smudges of jam band, reggae and electronic influences, Jon Wayne & The Pain have perhaps the best chance, outside of the headliners, of appealing to just about everyone. They are a party band, a sanctioned Grateful Dead cover outfit, a ska band when the mood strikes and an act that is not afraid to whip out a laptop and give you a good, old-fashioned EDM bass drop. For anyone who does not think that 80/35’s typical rundown of indie rock is going to get them excited, checking out Jon Wayne & The Pain might be worth the price of a main stage ticket, all by itself.
July 11, 5 p.m.
The mid-card slot on Saturday is where the 80/35 main stage gets funky, as Lettuce — a New York-based seven-piece — brings it to you straight, no chaser. The band has been around for two decades now, but 2014 proved to be one of the most successful in the group’s history.
“People tend to look at funk as a one-trick pony, but we aim to smash those limits by drawing on a range of styles that can be traced from the early ’60s through the early ’80s, incorporating plenty of modern hip-hop sensibilities along the way,” said drummer Adam Deitch.
July 11, 7 p.m.
As the penultimate act of the festival, there has been no act with bigger buzz and excitement than Run the Jewels.
Formed in 2013, Run the Jewels is a hip-hop act that consists of New York-based producer El-P and Atlanta rapper Killer Mike. In 2012, El-P produced Killer Mike’s critically acclaimed album “R.A.P. Music.” Later that year, the duo teamed up again, as Killer Mike appeared on the track “Tougher Colder Killer” from El-P’s “Cancer 4 Cure.” The following year, Run the Jewels released its first self-titled album as a free digital download, and they have been off and running ever since.
Known for their sharp lyrics and killer flow, Run the Jewels has not been afraid to show off their sense of humor as well. After releasing their sophomore album, “Run the Jewels 2” in 2014, the band announced plans to release a remix album made entirely of cat sounds, appropriately titled “Meow the Jewels.”
July 10, 5 p.m.
Initially entirely the solo project of South Africa-born Jean-Marie Grobler, St. Lucia has evolved into a fully functioning band with a vibrant, flexible sound. After moving to Brooklyn, New York, Grobler developed his sound based upon a wide range of global influences, eventually teaming up with Nick Brown, Ross Clark, Nicky Paul and Patricia Beranek to flesh out the sound and give the act some additional heft during live shows. From there, it was not long before St. Lucia partnered with Columbia imprint Neon Gold Records to release its first album. The band’s single “All Eyes On You” has enjoyed licensing success, having been used in national advertising campaigns for brands including Victoria’s Secret and Taco Bell.
July 11 9:15 p.m.
As the second half of the greatest headliner announcement in the festival’s history, Weezer has a heavy torch to bear. Many of the festival’s critics feel that 80/35 has struggled to reach the high bar set when the DMMC brought The Flaming Lips to town, but this year’s announcement rivals anything that has graced Western Gateway Park.
Founded in 1992, Weezer has sold more than 17 million albums worldwide and is regarded as one of the best bands to come out of the 1990s. After signing to Geffen Records in 1993, Weezer released its debut self-titled album, also known as The Blue Album. Featuring songs like “Buddy Holly,” “Undone – The Sweater Song” and “Say It Ain’t So,” The Blue Album went triple-platinum, and it features many of the bands most recognizable songs. Weezer’s second album, Pinkerton (1996), was initially a commercial letdown on the heels of The Blue Album, but found a devoted cult following on top of its glowing critical acclaim. Though the albums took different paths to get there, both of Weezer’s first two offerings are now considered to be some of the best the ’90s had to offer.
July 10, 9:15 p.m.
Headlining the festival’s opening day, Wilco has managed to be an incredibly successful band without giving off the normally poisonous impression on having sold out. Thanks in large part to the band being one of the first to stream its work for free (2002’s “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot”), Wilco is universally regarded as an indie band, despite a nearly career-long association with one major label or another.
Wilco’s sound has been classified alternatively as alt-country, folk rock, indie rock and experimental, but it is almost always punctuated by lyric-driven, hookless works that require more thought than most anyone anticipated.
Founded in 1994 by former Uncle Tupelo singer Jeff Tweedy, Wilco’s sound has gone on to inspire dozens of bands, and the act remains a beloved member of the indie rock pantheon, thanks to its well-documented determination to stay true to the bandmembers’ vision and release the music they want, in the manner of their choosing.
Off the main stage
In addition to the acts that will be stationed behind 80/35’s paywall, there are three free stages full of great local and regional acts, including indie pop act Boh Doran, turntable extraordinaire DJ RackCity, local hip hop masters Prettygirlhatemachine, and mind-bending funk/pop/reggae/electric violin act Brazilian 2wins. Additionally, the Generation Z stage marks its second year, showcasing some of the state’s best under-21 talent, including rock act Grandchamp, and singer/songwriter Lily DeTeaye.
No matter where you choose to wander during the festival’s two-day runtime, no matter what kind of music you might be in the mood for, this year’s festival does a surprisingly good job of finding ways to scratch as many itches as possible.
But once this year’s 80/35 goes dark, planning will begin for the 2016 iteration. In many ways, that planning has already started, well before any offers can be sent out. Not only do the DMMC’s volunteers know that unforeseen issues like last year’s lineup crisis are continually lurking just around the corner, but Rossi is well aware of what new challenges are created simply by being more successful. Weezer and Wilco have established a new bar for what an 80/35 headline announcement looks like, and this year’s full lineup may very well adjust everyone’s perception of what the festival can be — should be — from here on out. It is the old Spiderman adage about great power coming with a large amount of responsibility.
Time will tell if 2016 can live up to 2015’s hype. But for now, Des Moines — you are in for a hell of a show. CV