By Ben Smith
DES MOINES — Thousands of people filled Western Gateway Park this past weekend, a green space between the streets of Locust and Grand, for the 10th anniversary of the annual music festival 80/35.
Using an abbreviation for the junction of Interstates 80 and 35, the festival took root in 2008 with the support of local nonprofit Des Moines Music Coalition.
Justin Schoen, one of the board members of the coalition, a co-organizer of the festival, and a UI graduate, said the festival began with a $150,000 grant from the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation. Thus began a 10-year evolution of one of central Iowa’s largest music festivals.
The event takes aim at artists from across the country with the hopes of putting Iowa on the map within the music industry.
“The development here is we’re now known; we’re no longer a flyover city,” Schoen said. “Bands traveling through the Midwest and across the country are traveling on Interstates 80 and 35, and most of the time just driving through. We wanted them to stop here.”
Much of what attracts attendees, Schoen said, is not just the big label music, but the atmosphere created with a mix of progressive artists ranging from many different genres.
“We really try to curate an atmosphere and a lineup that is going to be interesting,” he said. “People will come, not because they’ve heard the acts, but because they’re going to have the experience.”
Local commerce also plays a major role in the weekend’s festivities. Numerous street vendors were open for business, some of which included Iowa City’s own Dumpling Darling.
Another local vendor on Locust Street was Banh ME, which serves dishes ranging from beef brisket banh mi to Korean barbecue burritos.
Owner Scooter Cavan, who established the business three years prior, said he was pleased with the organizers’ relationship with vendors, but he did have questions over the festival’s decision to host vendors from outside the state.
“Even though we find it odd that they’re bringing in outside vendors, it’s 80/35,” he said. “You’ll get those kinds of travelers, so we bring them to our town and try to expand our town.”
Operating out of food trucks, events like 80/35 provide them with the second-highest grossing day in sales of the year, second only to the Des Moines Arts Festival.
80/35 organizers said the festival continues to promote musical artists while strengthening the relationship between the arts and Iowa businesses, ultimately growing the music economy.
“They’re able to benefit just as much as we are as the festival,” Schoen said.