‘We have local acts that deserve to be on a stage of that size’: 100-year-old Hoyt Sherman Place theater to host GDP music festival on April 15

The Hoyt Sherman Place theater, a 1923 addition to the 1877 Sherman Hill mansion, underwent a renovation in 2004 and seats 1,252. — Britt Fowler/Little Village

Gross Domestic Product sticks to the mission — but that’s about it. Since the all-local music festival first popped up in 2006, GDP has bounced between Des Moines neighborhoods to celebrate the various corners of both the city and the scene. That means no two years of the one-day festival look or sound the same.

“This is the only festival that is specifically designed to showcase Iowa artists,” said Mickey Davis, festival organizer and executive director of the Des Moines Music Coalition. “I think the perfect success of GDP is when a local act plays the festival, then plays their own show at a venue down the road, and sees an increase in attendance because of it.”

GDP 2023, presented in part by Little Village, will belong to Hoyt Sherman Place and the Sherman Hill neighborhood on April 15. The festival lineup is something of a daily special, inspired and shaped by its location, meaning this year’s mix of hometown heroes and buzzy up-and-comers were handpicked to play the century-old space.

“We really wanted to celebrate Hoyt Sherman Place and say, ‘Hey, we have local acts that deserve to be on a stage of that size,’” Davis said.

Originally built as a private family residence for Major Hoyt Sherman (appointed Army Paymaster by President Lincoln at the start of the Civil War), Hoyt Sherman Place was completed in 1877 with the help of architect William Foster. Almost immediately, it was regarded as “a society showplace of the grandest scale.” — Britt Fowler/Little Village

The Envy Corps will headline the festival’s first stop at Hoyt Sherman Place for the 15th anniversary of their major label debut, Dwell. The band, who have been standard-bearers of the central Iowa music scene since the days of MySpace, will play its mid-aughts indie rock record, front to back, with the support of a string octet — giving the band its flowers and the occasional oomph it deserves.

“I used to drive around listening to 105.1 Channel Q in my car, waiting for the Envy Corps to come on the radio,” Davis said. “I can’t remember a time when not only the commercial radio stations but the whole scene came together behind a band like that.”

The lineup also includes B. Well, Annalibera, Geneviève Salamone, James Tutson, EleanorGrace and Lani.

B. Well, a straight-up institution in Des Moines, needs no introduction. But any festival-goers sneaking across the street for some food from A Dong should make it back for Annalibera — a band that toured with the unbothered rock gods of Pavement — and Geneviève Salamone, who delivered not one but four performances at Paris Fashion Week. James Tutson is in the mix, too; his set at 80/35 last year was a midday surprise that kicked off with a decent crowd, then a few songs in, packed the street with people.

The Des Moines Women’s Club (DMWC), created the city’s first art collection, first exhibited in 1909. Hoyt Sherman Place continues to host the collection in its gallery space. — Britt Fowler/Little Village

The artists will arrive right in time to play a part in Hoyt Sherman Place’s centennial season. The Victorian theater was actually a 1923 addition to the family home of the building’s namesake. The entire cultural center, a literal historic landmark, is composed of the theater, that mansion and what was the first public art museum in Des Moines. With so many stories in the architecture, even the little things become a delightful contrast of high and low culture.

“To walk through an 1897 mansion on your way to get a beer, it’s just very, very cool,” said Robert Warren, CEO of Hoyt Sherman Place.

Britt Fowler/Little Village

Cliché as it is to say, Hoyt Sherman Place will also play a part in the performances for GDP 2023. “I hear a lot of our artists say that [the theater] is like another member of their ensemble,” Warren said. “They walk to the edge of the stage, and all of the sudden, this room just comes to life.”

Further festival-related entertainment will stretch out into the Sherman Hill neighborhood. GDP’s block party will get started at Big Grove Brewery, before the main event at Hoyt Sherman Place, and afties will happen at, where else but, Carl’s Place. MFKS will take the stage at the beloved dive bar, along with J’Main and Annie Kemble, for the final performance of the festival.

“That after-party is gonna be fun — and free,” according to Davis. Lachele’s Battlebus, fully armed and operational, will pull up outside and sling burgers to pair with the cheap shots of Malört.

At the end of the day, the Des Moines Music Coalition will pay more than $10,000 to local artists for their performances at GDP 2023. If the festival is a big hit with everybody, a return to Hoyt Sherman Place may be in the cards.

“My dream is doing a show with Slipknot and an orchestra,” Davis said.

Tickets for GDP 2023 are available now. Advance passes are $30, and on April 15, any remaining passes will be $35 at the door.

LVVMAKING performing at Gas Lamp on Saturday, April 23 for GDP Festival 2022. – Alyssa Leicht/Little Village

Benjamin Jeffery is a writer based in Des Moines. He has opinions on music and film. This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 012.