80/35 invaded downtown Des Moines again July 12th/13th, and while the festival was set-up slightly differently this year it didn't hinder any attendees, and if anything only made for a better experience overall. The changes were pretty clear, with new stages/stage placement, which made for navigating the grounds slightly confusing before arrival, there we a lot of great improvements. Including 2 ticketed stages allowed for shorter times between bands, and a shorter travel between the 2 stages as we bounced between bands all weekend. Additionally this year the IPR sessions had an actual stage as opposed to the tent they've been presented from in recent years. While the striped down sets were appealing, it was great to see additional sets by bands in a more complete sense, especially considering it allowed you to see performances by bands you couldn't see during other set times, as many bands played 2 stages during their Friday/Saturday commitments.
Arriving Friday we made our way through the alleys across from the Sculpture Park to gain access to the volunteer headquarters where I received my credentials, and we stretched our legs in the early July heat after a non-stop 3 hour drive west from Davenport. After a quick rendezvous at the hotel, 7 blocks from the Main Stage, we arrived in time to check out Cedar Falls based Hex Girls. Their energetic rock was a great way to kick off the weekend, and it helped get me into the shooting groove I'd need to carry me through the next 40 hours. Their set came to a close and after a brief Dumpling/Brussel Sprouts break we made our move into the ticketed area to take in Murder By Death's set. I got the chance to see MBD in Iowa City a decade ago, and was thrilled to see their name on this year's lineup announcement. They brought their Western tinged Alternative Rock to a very engaged crowd, mixing in new songs with classics such as one of my favorites, "Until Morale Improves, The Beatings Will Continue." And while their set occurred at 6 Friday, the cooler of festival days, much of the crowd took in the set with their feet beneath the flow of the man-made waterway that cuts across the park. This is a common view at 80/35, and the newly added second ticketed stage was placed perfectly to allow festival goers to cool themselves off while still holding onto a great view of the action unfolding on stage.
Murder by Death came to a close, supplying us just enough time to make our way across the grass to the Main Stage and Metric. I've been a fan of Metric for more than a decade, and they were in my top 3 favorite sets of the entire weekend. Front-woman Emily Haines is fierce, and she truly controlled the crowd while she traveled across the stage and helped fill the air with the electronic punk/alternative sounds of this Canadian quartet. I couldn't pull myself from their set, or my camera for that matter, and found myself shooting periodically through the entirety of their performance. However the heat was getting to us, and we needed a quick retreat to the hotel to refresh ourselves before returning to experience Elle King, Friday night's headliner.
I'm about as familiar with Elle as one can be without intentionally searching out her music. Of course some of her work has been unavoidable in recent years, however I'd have to say I'm still more familiar with her father's career. With all that being said, her set was very impressive, and was far bluesier, and raw than I ever would have anticipated. Her voice resonated through the faceless windows of the long closed businesses which stretch out and surround the festival, and the band which backed her shined in their own right. A great close to night one, but as the crowd spilled out into the street, making their way in sporadic direction towards the various after-parties, we knew we were in for much more the following day.
Saturday arrived quickly, bringing with it some blistering temperatures. After a quick, practically required, stop through Fong's to get in some late morning slices and specialty mimosas we found our way back to the newly added 2nd ticketed stage to see Dressy Bessy share their alternative sound before we planned on checking out the newest festival addition, Dessa. I caught someone standing off to the side of the stage wearing a Sebadoh shirt, which was highly fitting for the tone which Dressy Bessy presented.
Dessa graced the main stage just after 3, replacing Noname, who had to recently cancel her entire tour, including the 80/35 appearance. Dessa definitely didn't disappoint, taking time to address the crowd on several occasions as the midday heat crashed her band's computer more than once. However everyone was very understandable, and after some quick work from the stage crew the computer was up and running and Dessa was back on track to supply the crowd with her personal yet infectious blend of hip hop and pop music. After Dessa the main stage was taken over by the iconic, Liz Phair. Liz had some limitations with her set, so I wasn't able to capture any of the event, however it was a nice break from shooting and I took the time to just take in the set with my camera packed away.
After Liz Phair's set came to a close we pushed through the crowd, and after a brief break to shoot photos of a contortionist performing between stages, we found ourselves back at the free stage where Hex Girls first opened the night before to take in another Iowa-based band, Des Moines' own Druids. Druids is not the sound I traditionally find myself standing in front of, but I've seen them at 80/35 in the past and I definitely didn't want to miss their set. The energy they supply is always welcome, and it was a great change of pace from the other acts we saw at the festival. It was a great counterbalance to refresh ourselves before the final two acts of the day, Open Mike Eagle, and Portugal. The Man.
Open Mike Eagle was the final act on the 2nd ticketed stage, and he put on a performance that was easily my 2nd favorite of the entire fest. We had spotted him the night before at Wooly's for the Emily Haines DJ set after party, but I never expected him to fill some time on stage Saturday performing a freestyle touching on several points of the festival, dropping names of other performers, streets around the city, and even referencing the after party from the night prior where we had witnessed him at the ticket booth. His deeply personal and vulnerably revealing lines were truly absorbed/felt as the ground and atmosphere carried his down-tempo energy through the crowd. While we grew up in drastically different situations/worlds, we undeniably share common ground in way of perspective, and I've been unable to pull myself from his music/expression in the 10 days following his performance.
The festival came to a close with a performance from Portugal. The Man unlike one I've ever seen before. The set began with Zachary Carothers, P.TM's bassist, introducing Larry Yazzie, a member of Iowa's Meskawki Nation, after first explaining how members of the band are originally from Alaska and recognize the significance of Native people/cultures, and as such wanted to include someone from the local native people to showcase/share in some of their traditions. Larry came out and performed a traditional dance to a highly welcoming crowd. His moves were intense and the energy in the air was truly palpable. Larry's performance brought a wall of cheers from the crowd as the photo pit erupted with action, and I moved through the others covering the event like a cell in an ever closing artery. Larry's performance was greatly enjoyed by all in attendance, and while taking a break from shooting briefly I watched as he filmed the band and crowd with a smile, showing he was enjoying the night just as much (if not more) than those that had just watched his rhythmic motions 10 min prior. P.TM had my favorite performance of the weekend, but having the opportunity to see/shoot the performance Larry put on was definitely one of the weekend's top moments.
Portugal. The Man has been one of my favorites since the very final days of high school, and having the ability to shoot them (now more than a week ago) is a real high point of my 2019. When I first saw P.TM they were opening a "metal show" (The Fall of Troy, Horse The Band, and/or some other various Equal Vision artists) and I'm not even sure if their first album, Waiter You Vultures, had yet been released. I was familiar with one song, but the crew I went with was not a fan of the sound, opting to instead share the company of the other smokers outside. They played to a rather vacant Gabe’s that night, yet here we are more than a decade later and they are headlining the biggest festival our state offers and I watched as the pulsing crowd sang along to every word. Not to mention after Larry's show, the band had a custom Beavis and Butthead introduction, truly showcasing how large they have become. They certainly deserve the attention they are now receiving. Their performance was phenomenal, and while I'd have loved to hear some songs from the pre-American Ghetto days, coming back for the encore to play a medley of "Sleep Forever-Plastic Soldiers-Hey Jude." was a treat I never expected and a great close to the festival.
As the crowds pushed out into the humid streets of downtown Des Moines in a mess of motion, we stood in the grass still digesting what we had witnessed. Slowly we too made the walk from the park towards the hotel which had truly become our home, complete with posters and side tables which doubled as coolers, and spent the evening decompressing atop a partially closed parking garage, watching the city fold in on itself amid the gold resonance of the capital dome and the distant blue glow of a pool hidden from view by those that share its elevation.