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Sound Circuit

Val Air’s marvelous venue

4/3/2024

Local music lovers and concertgoers enthusiastically embraced the newly remodeled Val Air Ballroom, which re-opened for its first concert on Feb. 29.

The Val Air, an 80-year-old iconic ballroom, located at 301 Ashworth in West Des Moines, recently completed a $15 million renovation.

As I had attended concerts at the old Val Air, I was eager to check out the refurbished venue. Turns out I wasn’t the only one, as concert numbers soared.

The inaugural concert was on leap day, by Greensky Bluegrass band, with opener High Hawks. Tickets were about $30 plus fees for general admission.

Pulling into the Val Air parking lot, I just missed the last spot. A nearby lot didn’t post a no parking sign, so I pulled in. Parking at Val Air is free until April 1; after that, it’s $10.

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“I’m really excited for the new venue. Everyone wanted it torn down. He (the owner) took measures to change the sound. It’s amazing. I’ll be back.” — Derek Knight

Walking from my car, I couldn’t hear the High Hawks playing. Were they taking a break already? Turns out the money owner Sam Summers spent on insulating the concert noise worked, keeping the Val Air neighborhood happy.

Walking through automatic metal detectors was a breeze. Since I arrived at the middle of the show, there was no line. Walking upstairs to the venue I pondered how accessible it was for wheelchair-bound folks. A staff member escorts people to go around to a side ramp.

Tickets were scanned quickly where I entered in the back of the ballroom. Among the pink and green retro décor, the Val Air retains its classic feel, and it’s not as industrial looking as big venues. For thirsty patrons, there are two large bar areas plus a portable bar toward the back of the stage. More than a dozen staff members doled out drinks at each bar. Once again, there was little to no wait time to get a drink.

Draft beer prices start at $6. A Tito’s, red wine and a Coors Light each cost about $9. If you pay cash, it was $27; otherwise, the card charge was $28.89. Save a few bucks and bring some cash or use the nearby ATM. A water bottle was a reasonable $2, and ample drinking fountains were available.

A raised VIP section to the right of the stage offered paid seating options. Several empty chairs and tables near the back weren’t reserved and didn’t cost extra. Admittedly, I’m a sometimes concert sitter, so I liked the option. 

But then, who could sit once Greensky Bluegrass took the stage? I made it to a shiney wood floor, standing with the friendly and carefree bluegrass crowd. The lighting was top notch, resembling a mini-Wells Fargo Arena. The acoustics were spot on. Bluegrass music might not generate a booming bass, but the sound wasn’t screeching loud, nor did I need earplugs. It’s undeniably the best sound I’d heard at a concert venue of this size.  

While standing on the ballroom floor, I witnessed at least a half a dozen people (all sober) trip on the step from the upper level to the dance floor. When walking from the ballroom floor, you step up about a half a foot, and you can see a few lights on the step. However, when you’re stepping down, you don’t see the light.

As with any concert, there are those who attempt to dance with a full beer in their hand. After a man spilled his beer, another guy “dance-mopped” the beer, and the puddle were gone. This just adds to the ambience of your shoes sticking to the floor. 

Derek Knight attended the concert with his wife, Amber. Both were High Hawks fans and sat toward the back. Derek attended dozens of concerts prior to the remodel saying, “I’m really excited for the new venue. Everyone wanted it torn down. He (the owner) took measures to change the sound,” he says. “It’s amazing. I’ll be back.”

Chatting with patrons, nearly all gushed over the new venue. Old-timers liked the shorter lines, additional bathrooms and how roomy it was. Newcomers were eager to return.

The Val Air, in its eight decades of glory, provided a solid music venue. Today, the Val Air embraces its iconic history, greeting old friends and earning a new set of fans. 

Welcome back, Val Air.

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