Hinterland: A small festival with lots of heart

Since its creation four years ago, Iowa’s Hinterland music festival has grown in more ways than can be counted.


Thomas A. Stewart

Ben Bridwell sings on Friday, August 3rd, 2018. He is the lead singer of Band of Horses, a popular rock band. This is Hinterlands fourth year in existence. (Thomas A. Stewart/The Daily Iowan)

Austin J. Yerington, Arts Reporter

For four years now, 14,000 people have gathered in St. Charles, Iowa, to not only see musicians but to have a unique music festival experience. Hinterland will bring several acts to those gathered Aug. 2-4.

The gathering brings artists from all over the country to a small town in Iowa, with one goal in mind: to have a good time, said Hinterland festival organizer Sam Summers.

With past lineups featuring Nathan Ratliff and the Night Sweats, Willie Nelson, and Alt-J, Hinterland is no stranger to big acts. With this year’s headliner being music star Hozier, it’s pretty evident that Iowa has made a name for itself when it comes to the festival industry.

“The first year we were very small,” Summers said. “We have grown slowly, and I still consider us [to be] a small festival in the grand scheme of things. But this year will be our biggest, and Friday is looking like it will sell out.”

RELATED: Photos: Hinterland 2018

Positioning the festival near Des Moines, where two main interstates intersect, has helped bring in a lot of big talent, Summers said. With this year’s lineup including such music stars as Hozier and Kacey Musgraves, it also contains rising music artists, some with Iowa roots, such as Elizabeth Moen and the Maytags.

“This will be our first time playing a stage of this caliber, so we’re super excited,” Iowa City native Elizabeth Moen said. “[Hinterland] was one of my favorite festival experiences I’ve had as an attendee. It was just very put together, very clean, family friendly, and had a good vibe.”

Each artist touches on a different sides of a genre of music, and that’s what makes Hinterland unique, Summers said.

“I try to categorize it as Americana or rootsy, but really, it’s about a lot of the artists who play music that is authentic to them,” Summers said. “It resonates in their music.”

The festival offers weekend passes and day passes along with camping passes, with tents and campers populating the surrounding fields. The festival is not just a day project — it takes great planning and infrastructure to make it possible for the weekend.

“Infrastructure is absolutely [important] when you’re camping and parking in addition to a festival,” Summers said. “You’re really setting up a small town; you’re creating this little community.”

Compared with large music festivals such as Lollapalooza and Coachella, Hinterland sees its size and positioning as a unique benefit.

“That’s what makes up different compared with some of these other festivals like Lollapalooza,” Summers said. “You need to focus on the smaller things which is experience and make sure people have a good time, because at the end of the day, that’s what everyone is trying to do.”

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