It was hard to escape the music at the 80/35 Festival. Some would scoff — it’s a no-brainer, of course, to expect a cacophony of sound at an event dedicated to music.
Yet 80/35, nestled in the heart of Des Moines, offered something different.
Maybe it was the free side stages flanking a few Locust Street blocks or the always-booming main stage situated in between. Perhaps it was the vendors along the street, blaring the latest hits from top 40 radio or the practice-if-you-want drum kit and guitar set up by the Central Iowa Music Lab.
Somehow, everything was close and insulated — even welcoming. If the friendly Iowa of popular myth were to host a festival, this was how it should be. Even main stage acts — where two-day passes cost $60 — including Of Montréal and Yelawolf were open to meeting fans in the free area, posing for photos as festival goers clamored for autographs and the chance to say they met their favorite artist.
Amedeo Rossi, the festival’s project manager, said the free accessibility to bands is grounded in the nonprofit Des Moines Music Coalition’s mission to attract larger bands while spotlighting local talent. Organizers hoped to “bring people down for the party” and have an awesome show.
“We want to provide free, quality music to people,” Rossi said. “It’s an essential element to what we do. I think it’s a very nontraditional way of looking at things.”
A crowd on 13th Street grew steadily as Iowa City’s Uniphonics, a blend of hip-hop and funk, flowed from the all-Iowa Independence Stage. Soon, more than 1,000 people gathered in the street.
“Once they heard the music, they just flooded in,” said guitar player Craig Heidgerken.
Bass player Ryan Casteel reacted favorably to the burgeoning interest in the group.
“It’s definitely a positive affirmation that your music is bringing them over,” he said.
Unmistakeably, there was more to hear in the confines of chain-link fence surrounding the main stage — the quick picking and washboard strumming of Reverand Peyton’s Big Damn Band, the trumpet solos of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Grace Potter’s glass-shattering notes.
But not buying a ticket doesn’t mean you’ll miss out on great music.
You’ll hear it anyway.