It’s that magical time of year again! Festival season is back and that means wristband tan lines, sipping craft beer with buddies and seeing all your favorite bands onstage.
Although most festivals took a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many are back this year in full force. Alongside national favorites like Coachella, South-By-Southwest, Bonnaroo and Americana Fest, Iowa boasts its own exciting schedule.
Savannah Rae is the senior editor for The Festival Voice, a blog dedicated to covering festivals across the country. “It is great to be able to highlight Iowa’s festivals because we are a smaller state,” she said. “This lets my readers know that there is something to do in Iowa besides looking at corn! Iowa knows how to throw some amazing parties.”
Kansas City resident Maggie Klos has got camping at the central Iowa fest Hinterland down pat.
“Our group of six-to-eight of us rent an RV in Kansas City. We drive up, which is always an adventure,” Klos explained. “We kind of have a routine now where we make sure we are settled down in the type of spot we like. And then it’s just like a lovely weekend being around friends and really great other concert or festival goers.”
Klos and her group have camped in St. Charles for three and a half festivals since Hinterland began in 2015. Last year, a separate commitment kept the group from the first part of the fest.
“This is how much I love Hinterland really,” she said. “We flew from St. Louis at 6 a.m. Sunday morning and took a cab to Hinterland. We were there for like 24 hours, but we wanted to make it there for at least Sunday. So I count that as a half.”
Klos says traveling in an RV is still the best camping experience. A nice bed to sleep in at night can be a godsend, and you still spend plenty of time outdoors.
“We have a lot of space where we kind of set up what we call our front patio,” she said. “With chairs and rugs and stuff like that.”
First time camping at a music festival this year? Klos recommends doing your research before showing up.
“Typically, you’re not going to go to shows until later in the afternoon,” she said. “So make sure you think about what you want to do during the day. It doesn’t have to be that organized, but bringing games, bringing food to cook or going on a nice walk. They have the covered bridges all over Iowa. Thinking of fun things to do in your downtime is really great.”
Klos’s group is responsible for organizing the Hinterhalf, a half marathon (and concurrent 5K) held on Saturday morning of the festival. Participants get shower tokens and great camaraderie. Interested in joining? Be on the lookout for this year’s Hinterhalf details coming soon.
Rest assured that when you’re visiting a festival, your favorite artists will probably be having just as much fun as you. But have you ever wondered the best way to support the acts that come through? Dustin Smith, a solo artist as well as frontman for Des Moines band, The Maytags, said the way to an artist’s heart is through the merch table. Selling merch while on the road is a “game changer,” according to Smith. But there’s other things you can do if you’ve already emptied your wallet on your tickets.
“If it’s an artist you don’t know, haven’t heard of before, I think it’s important to do the little things,” he said. “Give them a like on Instagram, pull them up on streaming services, start following them on their journey. If they were a lower name on the roster, there’s a good chance any of those little things will go a long way.”
Although the Maytags have played festivals across the country, Smith vibes best right here at home. He said Hinterland is the most unique artist experience he’s had.
“Each artist has their own RV with everything you could want. What makes Hinterland different is the artist area isn’t just one tiny green room or a tent out back, which is what I’m used to,” he said. “All the artist RVs are centered in this one area and there’s fire pits and a bar for the artists alone. There’s bags and all this other stuff that give the artists an outlet. Especially if you’re touring and you’ve been on the road, to have this unique space is pretty awesome.”
Of course musicians aren’t the only artists at the festival. Many are in the pit getting shots of the bands onstage. Madeleine King is a photographer and a member of the digital team for Iowa Public Radio. She attends festivals regularly to get shots for IPR’s “Best of the Festival” posts.
“It’s always a privilege and really exciting, especially for bands you like, to be able to be in front of the crowd even for a portion of it,” King said. “But it’s definitely challenging, especially when there’s a bunch of other photographers trying to get the same great shot as you, but it’s really thrilling.”
The days are long and sweaty, but ultimately worth it to King. “I’ve never, in any other situation, been able to get so many perfect shots in one day,” she said. “It’s always fun.”
Festival Pro Tips
Having fun is hard work! A few tips from some committed regulars should help make your experience more magical and less stressful.
Don’t ignore the up-and-comers
“I saw Lizzo before she blew up on a free stage at 80/35. There were maybe 150 people in the crowd. Core memory.” —Lily DeTaeye
“If you hear a crowd getting really excited, go there. Because it’s probably gonna be a really good show.” —Madeleine King
Dress for success
“Bike shorts are amazing. Rompers feel really cute but are kinda hard when you’re in a port-a-potty.” —Maggie Klos
“Pack for the weather. Your outfit looks wonderful — but you won’t have fun if you’re freezing to death.” —Savannah Rae
Make the most of the space
“I’m a back-of-the-crowd person. I feel like a lot of really fun dancing always happens back there.” —Madeleine King
“Do your research in advance and get a lay of the land.” —Dustin Smith
“Bring both cash and card if you can. The beer tent could be card only but your favorite artist’s merch stand might just take cash.” —Lily DeTaeye
“Bring your own toilet paper.” —Maggie Klos
Put yourself out there!
“MAKE FRIENDS! Iowa has so many wonderful people and I can say that I’ve met some outstanding people from all over the state.” —Savannah Rae
“There are so many things they offer for kids and adults that are not drinking and music.” —Dustin Smith
Kosmic Kingdom 2022
Sleepy Hollow, Des Moines, Friday-Saturday, June 3-4, $53.36-278.46
Beckster Polka Fest
Amana Colonies RV Park, Amana, Friday-Sunday, June 3-5, $15-40
Glenn Miller Festival
Clarinda High School, Clarinda, Thursday-Sunday, June 9-12, $15-22
Heritage Park Grounds, Forest City, Friday-Sunday, June 10-12, $75-400
Iowa Summer Jam
Doubletree by Hilton, Cedar Rapids, Saturday, June 11, $30-75
Electric Park Ballroom, Waterloo, Thursday-Saturday, June 16-18, Free-$25
Multiple Venues, Iowa City, Friday-Saturday, June 17-18, Free
Wild Cat Country Fest
Downtown Newton, Saturday, June 18 at 1 p.m., $50
Fierce Faith Music Fest
Downtown Newton, Sunday, June 19 at 1 p.m., $20
Volta Youth Music and Art Festival
Green Square Park, Cedar Rapids, Saturday, June 25 at 2 p.m., Free-$5
Iowa City Jazz Festival
Friday-Sunday, July 1-3, Free
Western Gateway Park, Des Moines, Friday-Saturday, July 8-9, $55-220
Jerry’s Farm, Lone Tree, Thursday-Saturday, July 14-16, $70-130
Dawn and On Music Festival
Schwiebert Park, Rock Island, Saturday, July 23, $TBD
Guthrie’s River Ruckus
Guthrie County Fairgrounds, Guthrie Center, Thursday-Saturday, July 28-30, $80-220
Avenue of the Saints Amphitheater, St. Charles, Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 4-7, $99-1,500
Turkey River Music Festival
Riverside Park/The Inwood Ballroom—Ludwig Stage, Spillville, Friday-Saturday, Aug. 5-6, $10-15
Downtown Davenport, Thursday-Sunday, Aug. 18-21, Free
Exile Music Festival
Exile Brewing Company, Des Moines, Saturday, Aug. 27, $35
Midwest Old Threshers Reunion
Midwest Old Threshers Museum, Mount Pleasant, Thursday-Monday, Sept. 1-5, $15-35
Norwalk Music Fest
Norwalk City Park, Norwalk, Sunday, Sept. 4, Free
Maximum Ames Music Festival
Downtown Ames, Thursday-Sunday, Sept. 15-18, $TBD
World Food and Music Festival
Western Gateway Park, Des Moines, Friday-Sunday, Sept. 16-18, Free
Pioneer Village Harvest Moon Song and Dance Fest
Dan Nagle Walnut Grove Pioneer Village, Long Grove, Sunday, Sept. 25, $3-6
This article was originally published in Little Village’s June 2022 issues.