80/35 festival brings variety to Iowa’s music scene

80/35 is a non-profit music festival in Des Moines that took place on July 8 and 9. From well-known musicians like Japanese Breakfast to emerging artists from Iowa like Alyx Rush, the festival showcased an enormous variety of music.


Gabby Drees

Jamila Woods points to the crowd during the final day of the 80/35 music festival in downtown Des Moines on Saturday, July 9, 2022.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter

Generally, the Midwest is not considered a hub for diverse music. If an artist is looking to make a career out of their craft, the east or west coasts are generally where to go. Yet, this year’s 80/35 festival made it known that quality music can be for Iowa too. 

80/35 is a non-profit music festival in Des Moines that took place from July 8 through 9. For the past two years, the festival was canceled due to COVID-19-related concerns. The high volume of attendance highlighted how much the Iowa music community missed the event. 

Over the two short days, a variety of performers were packed into the lineup. From well-known musicians like Japanese Breakfast to emerging artists from Iowa like Alyx Rush, the festival showcased an enormous variety in genre and sound. 

The first day of 80/35 was projected to rain, but luck was on the audience’s side as the sky stayed clear. While the air was quite humid, a brisk breeze blew by every so often, creating a rather nice day. The second day offered nothing but sunshine and heat. Water stations were available throughout downtown Des Moines to ensure that audience members stayed hydrated and healthy. 

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The main stage at 80/35 had quite a few large names performing. With Father John Misty headlining Friday and Charli XCX headlining Saturday, the audience only grew as the days progressed. Anticipation was high on Friday and Saturday for these two acts, and fans were certainly not disappointed. 

While the headliners gave impressive performances, I thought one of the most powerful sets of the entire weekend came from Jamila Woods, an artist from Chicago. Woods had the most natural and overwhelming stage presence from the second her songs began.

At one point during her performance, Woods commented on the audience’s energy, complimenting the positivity and kindness that everyone was showing. The comment came with a great deal of weight, considering the incredible energy that Woods presented that night. 

Every song that Woods had in her setlist was unique. Whether the emotional intention was anger, sadness, joy, or empowerment, Woods nailed her performances perfectly. One highlight was a compelling cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, which had a smoother and slower tone. 

Future Islands followed Woods, and while the genre was not my favorite, the themes that their music presented was interesting. The lead singer said that one of the songs was based on a long walk across a bridge. While vague, the description was able to inspire a memory of my own, giving an additional level of connection to the material. 

Japanese Breakfast and Guided by Voices were two of the main stage acts on Friday. Guided by Voices opened the main stage for the entire festival, and set a high bar to meet. With shorter songs that were quite easy to follow along to, the audience couldn’t help bobbing their heads, swaying side to side, and dancing along with the band. 

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There was one point in the set that Guided by Voices presented a song so compelling that I couldn’t help but dance along. As I stood at the front and center of the audience giving “sparkle fingers” to the lead singer, he mimicked the motion back to me. 

Japanese Breakfast continued the trend of bringing amazing music to the table. With lyrics dripping in emotion and an onstage gong draped in flowers, the band’s performance was loud and all-encompassing in the best possible way. 

In addition to the packed performances on the paid main stage, 80/35 offered several stages that were free to attend, providing music for anyone interested. 

Some of the most interesting musicians were presented at these smaller stages. Even if they were just walking by, attendees of 80/35 were able to hear snippets of new artists, expanding music tastes and exposing emerging artists to a larger audience. 

The Iowa Public Radio stage was a perfect example of this. Hidden in an alley by the Des Moines Public Library, the stage was shaded by nearby trees and certainly easy to miss. The smaller crowd that surrounded this stage cheered at the artists playing earnestly, eager to support these musicians. 

Iowa alternative pop artist Alyx Rush was one of the artists that played at the IPR stage, giving a breathtaking performance. Between unique lyrics, amazing instrumentals, and smooth vocals, Rush’s performance had the same quality as any of the main stage acts.

These smaller, free stages were certainly a highlight of the festival. In just a single hour, one could experience the strong voice of emerging artist Kelsie James, the electro-pop dance music presented by Haiku Hands, and the stunning instrumentals with the Diplomats of Solid Sound. 

Regardless of personal music tastes or exposure, 80/35 presented music that could be enjoyed by anyone. So many genres were tapped into — from intense heavy metal bands to emotional indie rock performers — without a doubt, there was a stage for everyone at 80/35.