9 years of 80/35: The good, the bad and the weird
Hip-hop artist Nas and folk rock band The Decemberists are set to headline the ninth annual 80/35 Music Festival, set to take place July 8 and 9 at Western Gateway Park in downtown Des Moines.
In 2009, hype man Flavor Flav didn't show up for his set with Public Enemy ... at all. In 2013, Talking Heads frontman David Byrne fell in love in Des Moines and its cycling trails. And then there was that Twitter squabble in 2015 between rapper Talib Kweli and organizers of 80/35, the largest music festival in downtown Des Moines that's been going strong for nine years.
Set to take place again at Western Gateway Park this Friday and Saturday, here's a look back at nearly a decade worth of the good, bad and weird that is 80/35.
2008: 'That first weekend was absolutely magical'
The inaugural year of 80/35 included headlining performances from The Flaming Lips and The Roots. The event took place in the area where Pappajohn Sculpture Park now resides, its only year doing so.
During the booking process, festival project manager Amedeo Rossi said he booked The Roots for the July 5 headlining slot in hopes of attracting a different demographic than Lazer 103.3’s now defunct annual rock fest, Lazerfest, which booked Stone Temple Pilots to headline its event in Indianola on the same night.
“(We wanted) an opposite genre band on the second day,” Rossi said. “That first weekend was just absolutely magical. Everybody came and participated … it felt like a transformational event.”
Nickelle Stevens, a volunteer who’s helped organize the festival since its first year, said there were 10 to 12 core volunteers during the first year and about 100 volunteers overall. The festival now brings in around 500 volunteers to help pull off the event.
“We had no idea if anyone was going to come,” Stevens said. “We had no idea what was going to happen.”
Around 30,000 people attended 2008 in total, according to Register archives.
2009: Where's Flavor Flav?
The festival moved a few blocks east for its second year, to its long-standing location at Western Gateway Park.
Fun fact: Rossi noted that hype man and reality television star Flavor Flav didn’t show up to perform with rap group Public Enemy. The group headlined the second year of the festival along with Ben Harper.
Rossi said Flavor Flav provided a doctor’s note for his absence.
“I didn’t think the performance suffered without him,” Rossi said.
Around 30,000 attended the event again in 2009.
2010: Getting comfortable.
The event brought in radio-friendly headliners Modest Mouse and Spoon during its third year. It stormed on the second day of the festival and Rossi recalled certain artists performing in spite of the rain.
Rossi refers to 2010 as a “stabilizing” year for the festival. An estimated 34,000 people attended.
“(It poured) during The Walkmen performance and they moved back their backline ... but played right through it,” he said.
2011: The party year.
Rossi referred to 2011, the fourth of the festival, as a party year. The year featured multiple big band performances, including an appearance from The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band.
“Of Montreal brought all of their theatrics from years of shows and loaded ‘em up and had a huge performance,” Rossi said.
That year also showcased Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, who returned to central Iowa in 2015 to headline the inaugural year of Hinterland Music Festival in St. Charles.
Around 30,000 attended again in 2011.
2012: One hot summer.
For 80/35-goers, volunteers and most living in the Midwest, 2012 is remembered as one sizzling hot summer. The festival, which took place on July 6 and 7, logged temperatures peaking at 102 and 100 degrees, respectively.
Successful indie rock groups The Avett Brothers and Death Cab For Cutie headlined the event. Around 35,000 attended.
Volunteer and Des Moines Music Coalition board member Justin Schoen recalled sweating through multiple T-shirts during the weekend.
“It was hot, very hot,” Schoen said. “We tried to keep people cool and hydrated.”
Rossi said free water is provided to festival-goers at two stations located on festival grounds.
2013: David Byrne discovers Des Moines.
David Byrne headlined night one of the festival in 2013. The Talking Heads frontman took to his blog to comment on Des Moines after his stay in Iowa’s capitol city.
In 2013 Byrne noted central Iowa's bike trail system.
"Iowa, especially central Iowa, has an incredibly beautiful, well maintained and extensive network of bike trails that stretch all over this part of the state," Byrne said in the blog post.
Byrne returned to Des Moines in 2014 to give a speech during the opening of the Des Moines Social Club’s Ninth and Mulberry Street location.
“He basically became a Des Moines resident,” Rossi said. “He was seen around town. He was out in the crowd. He was writing in his blog about these places and making some estimates and judgment about Des Moines.”
Wu-Tang Clan headlined the second night of the festival. A total of about 30,000 people attended.
2014: The last holiday weekend.
This marks the final year the festival took place over the Fourth of July holiday weekend. Conor Oberst (of Bright Eyes fame) and Cake headlined this year’s offering. While Oberst's performance was announced with the initial lineup revealed in April 2014, it wasn’t until six weeks after the announcement that Cake was added to the bill as the second headliner.
After the 2014 edition of the festival 80/35 announced it would be moving to the weekend after the holiday in 2015. Around 27,000 people attended.
“We discovered that there were conflicts with people that were going out of town,” Rossi said. “(And) we were finding a lot of artists weren’t looking to work that weekend.”
2015: New weekend ... record crowd. And a bit of beef.
With headlining performances from Weezer and Wilco, around 36,000 people attended 80/35 in 2015, marking its most-attended weekend to date.
The year also marked a “beef” between Rossi and rapper Talib Kweli, who performed on the Kum & Go stage on July 10. The New York rapper’s mic was cut off after his set ran long and he took to Twitter to share his distaste for being shut off.
The festival organizer and rapper have since reconciled, Rossi said.
“Talib and I squashed beef,” Rossi said. “Talib ran long and our production people kinda cut him off at some point before his hit song. In the end, he has warm feelings for Des Moines and 80/35 and if he comes back I don’t think there would be any issue.”
It was also reported in 2015 that a Missouri man was beaten and robbed near the Iowa State Capitol after leaving the festival.
80/35 is set to bring an estimated 30,000 people to downtown Des Moines again this weekend. WHO-TV in Des Moines predicts a high of 86 degrees and sunny on Friday and a partly cloudy 85 degrees on Saturday. Free parking is available in the Nationwide parking garage on 12th and Mulberry Street.
When: July 8 and 9
Who: Nas, The Decemberists, Wolf Parade, Black Lips, Lotus, Lizzo and more
Price: $45-$80 before Friday. $50-$90 on the day of the event.
More info: 2016.80-35.com