Review: The return of 80/35 this weekend was just what the doctor ordered

!!! (Chk Chk Chk) at 80/35 on July 8, 2022. — Sid Peterson/Little Village

If Des Moines seemed to be asleep these past few years, it certainly woke back up this past weekend as 80/35 Music Festival returned for the first time since 2019.

Maybe it was the large variety of food vendors or the diverse lineup. Maybe it was the tie-dyed Kum and Go bucket hats or the Topo Chico Hard Seltzers at the beer tents. Or maybe it was just because it was finally back. Whatever it was, 80/35 2022 felt like an event worth waiting for.

Understandably, Des Moines’ live music landscape has changed quite a bit since the last 80/35. The city lost Vaudeville Mews, a beloved music venue that hosted baby acts from Iowa and across the country, many of which ended up on the free stages of the festival, in October 2020. A year later, Mickey Davis was named executive director of the Des Moines Music Coalition (DMMC), a role that contributes greatly to the organization of the festival.

So the announcement that the festival would be coming back in 2022 excited Des Moines music lovers, but it also made them wonder what would be different in a year after so much had changed both in the community and the world.

For those who attended the answer would seem, not much.

Father John Misty performs on the Hy-Vee mainstage at 80/35 on July 8, 2022. — Lily DeTaeye/Little Village

The festival took place in the same footprint of downtown, just east of the Sculpture Park. The Hy-Vee Mainstage was blocked off for those with festival passes, and four free stages sat outside the barricades, allowing the entire city to enjoy incredible music. After two years off, the festival was able to retain the same energy it has always had: Midwestern hometown vibes all dressed up to welcome a star-studded lineup.

This year’s schedule saw acts from across the country and the world. Spanning from local favorites like The Envy Corp to international acts like Charli XCX from the UK and Haiku Hands from Australia, the lineup featured an impressive range of genre and influence.

“With a new planning team this year, we made some intentional choices, particularly around making sure many different genres of music were represented, and the mix of people we saw in the crowd was a true highlight of the festival for us,” Davis told me afterwards.

One undeniable, unchangeable truth of 80/35 is that magic happens on the free stages. While Japanese Breakfast was performing the tail end of her set Friday night, !!! (referred to as Chk Chk Chk) was hyping up Des Moines on the Kum and Go Stage. The six-piece New York City-based band is about to take off on an international tour.

In between songs, founding member Nic Offer teased that Des Moines music lovers would soon see them on the main stage. None of the disco-dancing audience seemed to doubt that this would one day come to fruition.

Just before !!!’s set, at the other end of the festival grounds, 28 Days Later made their festival debut on the Local Emerging Artist Stage. The band is made up of four Iowa high schoolers with incredible onstage chemistry.

28 Days Later performs on the Emerging Artist Stage on July 8, 2022. — Lily DeTaeye/Little Village
Plumero performs on the Emerging Artist Stage at 80/35 on July 9, 2022. — Lily DeTaeye/Little Village

Saturday was, fortunately, more of the same. While Des Moines geared up for international pop act Charli XCX to hit the main stage, the free stage acts kept their feet on the gas.

Iowa City-resident and The Voice contestant James Tutson wowed the afternoon crowd with silky vocals and delicious harmonies on the Kum and Go Stage.

On the Bravo stage just a street away, self-described “in your face rock band” Widow7 from Des Moines was starting a mosh pit. But not an irresponsible one — when a moshing audience member lost their balance and fell, lead vocalist Mark Leon firmly told the crowd to “Pick ’em up, pick ’em up.”

“We could not have asked for a better return 80/35 after two years without the festival,” Davis said. “Moving forward, we will continue to make sure that 80/35 is not just an annual event but the culmination of the work DMMC is doing year-round.”

Outside of the festival, Davis says Des Moines can look forward to the expansion of youth music education programs, the return of Music University, and a professional development conference for musicians planned for the fall, all spearheaded by DMMC in collaboration with other organizations and artists.

And if this weekend proved anything, it’s that Des Moines is certainly ready for it.