The first day of 80/35, July 6, ended with a performance by headliner Phantogram.
By Naomi Hofferber
DES MOINES — 80/35 was not always the music festival it is today. Nearly a decade ago, it didn’t exist.
Brian Sauer, one of the founding members and the creative director of 80/35, remembers the first unorganized meeting that led to the inception of the festival.
“I got invited by a coworker of mine to come to this meeting to talk about music; she knew I was a huge music fan,” he said.
He recalled seeking his musical kicks away from Des Moines, because the city lacked an indie-music scene.
“I went to the first meeting, and it was literally a handful of people who had the same feeling about this guy’s idea, about, ‘Let’s organize, and let’s show the city and the corporate entities that we can make a vibrant cultural music scene in Des Moines and make an economic impact,’ ” he said.
Sauer said they were battling what was missing in Des Moines.
Guitarist Josh Carter performs with his band Phantogram during the 80/35 Music Festival in Des Moines on July 6. (Thomas A. Stewart/The Daily Iowan)
“A lot of the other fringe music that didn’t get played on the radio, didn’t have a place to go,” he said. “That’s kind of what started the idea of a multi-day music festival. At the time, we didn’t know what it was going to be or how it was going to work out, so we tried a lot of small, local things.”
Over the years, small events grew into the 80/35 Festival, which fills blocks of Des Moines.
“If we can bring an event to downtown, where we bring in acts that would not normally come to Des Moines, let alone Iowa, and we can sell enough tickets and bring enough people downtown, people are going to want to start hanging around in Des Moines, people are going to start moving to Des Moines, businesses will profit and pop up,” Sauer said.
80/35 takes elements of larger music festivals — numerous stages, hula hoops everywhere, face painting, and trendy food stands — and morphs it with something culturally Midwestern. While the overcrowded street and the smell of smoke, sweat, and beer should feel uncomfortable, the festival feels simply like a more exciting farmers’ market.
Even the festival wear was distinctly stereotypically Iowan; among space buns and glitter, country hats, overalls, Hawkeye and Cyclone garb, even a pair of antlers showed up.
Fans vibe to the tunes of Phantogram during the 80/35 Music Festival on July 6 in Des Moines. (Thomas A. Stewart/The Daily Iowan)
Babies were strapped to bodies like accessories, massive headphones covering their small ears. Locust Street overflowed with booths and vendors and people of all ages. Teenagers in fishnets and band T’s from before their time rocked to the music next to middle-age couples, toddlers ran and played in the grass as Atmosphere rapped expletives about a hard life.
“I think the reason 80/35 is so special is that it truly is a community event; we get everyone together in the heart of Des Moines. It’s accessible for everyone,” said Jarin Hart, the Des Moines Music Coalition executive director in a previous interview with The Daily Iowan. “I think that’s what makes it so magical.”
Phantogram ended the night with thundering bass, haunting vocals from Sarah Barthel, and electronic rock that reverberated through downtown. Clad in a glitter poncho and leather strap pants, Barthel and bandmate Josh Carter delivered a sound that was both beautiful and unnerving.