10 Years Strong, The 80/35 Festival

Story: Day 1 • Brian Amick    Day 2 • Jennifer Rolf     Photos • Cory Weaver

Day One of the 80/35 Festival in Des Moines, Iowa, was full of vibrant music, an expanded layout, and enough food and beverages to make you forget you were standing in 90-degree weather.

The day got off to a rocky start, as festival opener Yungblud had to cancel his appearance following a mishap with his tour bus. The festival worked quickly to replace him, however, and local classic soul band The Maytags stepped in to ll up the Hy-Vee Main Stage with its signature sound.

From there, acts such as Murder by Death, Lissie, Hex Girls, MarKaus, and Squirrel Flower entertained concert-2019 Summer goers until the next headline act, Metric, took the stage. As the sun began to go down and things cooled off a bit, the Toronto rock veterans brought the heat back up with their performance. Lead vocalist Emily Haines worked up the crowd as the rest of band blasted the speakers with enough power to shake listeners to their core.

The massive riffs and smooth vocals bled into the evening, as Metric played older standards like “Black Sheep” and “Gimme Sympathy” as well as newer hits such as “Now or Never Now.” Technical difficulties cut the set just short, but the crowd didn’t leave dissatisfied.

“Have you ever had somebody say something mean to you? I like to write songs about that and sing them to people.”            -Elle king

80/35 would be hit with some attitude and soul to finish the night. Headliner Elle King brought her multiple-Grammy Award-nominated prowess to the festival. Eager attendees went wild for her badass lyrics and bluesy guitar playing. King and her band fuse a dive bar vibe with a stadium-worthy performance that is unlike any other.

The talented singer-songwriter gained plenty of new fans that night, while reminding her previous fans why they enjoy her work so much. King is an inspiration for millions with her strength in the face of adversity. “Have you ever had somebody say something mean to you?” she asked the crowd in the middle of her set. “I like to write songs about that and sing them to people.”

As 80/35 closed down for the night, those in attendance were left with contentment at an excellent first day. Some went to sleep, while others shuttled across town to the 80/35 after-party where Metric singer Emily Haines brought the energy with an eclectic DJ set. Day Two of the festival promised to be just as big, with headline acts Portugal. The Man, MisterWives, and Liz Phair set to rock the stage.

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Photos: (L-R) Metric, Elle King, Portugal. The Man and Misterwives (click for festival images)

Day Two of 80/35 may have been a little more than sweltering, with the heat index teetering around 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but that didn’t stop the music—or us from covering the day’s events. I have to give it to the bands in the early slots, which began around noon. They really had no relief from the beating, relentless sun. With some of the stages repositioned this year to accommodate businesses and the growth of the festival, two stages that were squarely in the shade last year were in full sun this time around. It wasn’t until about 5 p.m. that some cloud cover moved in and took the edge off a bit.

First up for us was Massachusetts-based indie rockers And the Kids, made up of lead vocalist/guitarist Hannah Mohan and drummer Rebecca Lasaponaro (a third member, Canadian synth/percussionist Megan Miller, has been grappling with visa issues since 2014 and can only make sporadic appearances). The duo pulled double duty on Saturday in high heat, first performing on the ticketed Hy-Vee Main Stage and then on Iowa Public Radio’s free smaller stage. Mohan’s vocals are easy to listen to with often introspective, moody lyrics that jell just right with Lasaponaro’s rhythm—a testament to the bond they’ve had for years.   

Next we caught the dynamic Dessa on the main stage. The word “dynamic” is not used here for the mere benefit of alliteration. The Minnesota native is a singer, rapper, writer, author, philosophy major and former CEO/current president of the Doomtree record label. She’s performed at music festivals and with orchestras, has four albums and two EPs under her belt, is part of the Doomtree hip-hop collective, covered the track “Congratulations” for the Hamilton Mixtape, and has made guest appearances on multiple records, among other music-related endeavors. She kept her cool as she sang and rapped about life, love and heartbreak, performing a set that included “Seamstress,” “Dixon’s Girl,” “Fire Drills” and the catchy “Matches to Paper Dolls.”


 

Des Moines hip-hop phenom Marquas “MarKaus” Ashworth has Missouri roots but is firmly planted in Iowa, where he is making noise and a name for himself with his music, his Media Fresh record label and his own small batch of rye whiskey called Ziyad. Performing on the Iowa Public Radio stage, his rebellious lyrics had all present taking note, and his TechN9ne and Nas influences were evident. We were enthralled by his guitarist, Rudy Wylde, who caught air several times throughout the set with his high jumps, all with a huge smile on his face.

Take Iggy Pop and the Stooges, throw in a dash of Mick Jagger and a few other British rockers, and you have Hex Girls. The Cedar Falls four-piece offered their hard driving, punk-spiked rock on the Iowa Public Radio stage, and we couldn’t pull ourselves away from their sound and the energy that they emanated.

Performing on the main stage, Liz Phair, who is in her early 50s, is somehow ageless and was seemingly immune to the heat (she credited being from the Midwest). She has the stamina of a much younger musician and sounds as good as ever. Opening with “Supernova” and rocking out with songs such as “Polyester Bride” and “Why Can’t I?”—she was clearly having a good time up there, as was the crowd.


The Beths performed on the medium-size Kum & Go stage, bringing their easy indie-pop sounds all the way from Auckland. The four-piece’s harmonies, led by Elizabeth Stokes, are smooth, and the band’s tight-knit sound has been drawing crowds Down Under and abroad for the past couple of years. It’s only a matter of time before they catch fire here. It was clear that they had gained a few new fans at the festival with songs like “Great No One,” “Not Running” and “You Wouldn’t Like Me.”

A “stumble-upon” stop for us was EleanorGrace. She is no more than 18 or 19 years old but she commanded the Gen-Z Showcase stage as effortlessly as a much more seasoned artist. The melodious vocals of this local Des Moines songstress and her engaging manner tell us she’s going to be around awhile.

This was our first time seeing indie-popsters MisterWives (curses, cancelled 2018 LouFest!), and they definitely get the award for the band that looked like they were having the most fun. Donned in 1980s attire, they almost made us forget that we were starting to melt out there. Mandy Lee was in near-constant motion, dancing around the stage, connecting with the other band members, smiling at everyone and engaging the crowd. The third song in was dedicated to her “Drummer Boy” husband, Etienne Bowler, a cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams” had the crowd singing along, and they ended the set with crowd pleasers “Reflections” and “Our Own House.”

Photos: (clockwise) Dessa, Open Mike Eagle,

The Beths and Misterwives

Formerly of Chicago, Los Angeles-based hip-hop artist and self-described art rapper Open Mike Eagle has a sense of humor that comes through in his music and in life—he has been a part of Cartoon Network’s “Adventure Time,” co-hosts a related podcast called “Conversation Parade” and is featured in Comedy Central’s series “The New Negroes.” But he’s not all laughs, as he also tackles social topics and personal issues in his lyrics. His performance on the Kum & Go stage entertained the crowd, who he helped hype up along the way along with his cohort, Video Dave.

 

Portugal. The Man was the coup de grâce of the festival, and they did not disappoint in this revered role. Originally from Alaska but now based in Portland, Ore., the band remains conscious of the importance of their native state’s—and the rest of United States’—indigenous roots. They invited a member of the Meskwaki Nation, based in Iowa, to talk about the Meskwaki people and perform a tribal dance.

 

This was followed by a video introduction by Beavis and Butt-head, who, in a short, praised PTM as the greatest band in the world, “…better than the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Silver Chair.” The band then took the stage to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and went into hit song “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” infused with Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” Other tracks included “Number One,” “Live in the Moment,” “Modern Jesus” and their most popular track to date, “Feel It Still.”

 

Overall 80/35 was memorable, despite the extreme weather conditions.Kudos to the Des Moines Music Coalition and the city on 10 years—they are clearly doing something right and have found a way to make an urban festival successful. We highly recommend this road trip next year: Des Moines is only 340 miles from STL and it’s even less from Kansas City.

© 2020 Bands Through Town

All Photos © Cory Weaver/CMW PhotographyBands Through Town • Unless noted