80/35 Music Festival: Music Takes Over

Posted in Screening Room by - July 14, 2015

While Lollapalooza may lay claim to being the Midwest’s most well-known music festival, it has some steep competition with the Des Moines-based 80/35 Music Festival. Located in the heart of downtown Des Moines, 80/35 is named for the intersection of I-80 and I-35, and has been in existence since 2008. Since then they have featured musicians such as The Roots, The Flaming Lips, Modest Mouse, and Wu-Tang Clan. Having never been to Des Moines prior to this past weekend, I jumped at the opportunity to attend the festival and check out what ended up being one of the most memorable concert going experiences I’ve had.


Lead by Jeff Tweedy, Wilco was one of two acts that initially drew me to the festival. If you’ve never heard anything by the alt/experimental rock band from Chicago, you’re missing out on some of the most innovative music of the last twenty years. They have spawned numerous imitators, won two Grammy Awards, and sold out shows across the country with their take on rock.

They headlined the main stage late Friday night, and the set they put on was nothing short of a master class in music. From Jeff Tweedy’s vocals to Nels Cline’s ability to make his guitar sing like few guitarists can, it was an absolutely great way to close out the first day of the festival. There is something to be said for enjoying one of your favorite bands with a huge crowd that can sing every lyric.

Favorite Moment: Finally hearing “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” live and realizing that yes, it is one of the best songs ever written

Run The Jewels

If you’ve never heard of Run The Jewels, and you’re a fan of hip-hop, then you’re doing yourself a massive disservice. Not only have they had their iconic “pistol and fist” gesture grace the cover of three Marvel comics, but they are also the most energetic act I have ever seen live. Both El-P and Killer Mike performed the act in the hot Iowa heat, it must have been high-90s at least, and they didn’t let it slow them down one bit. 

Their genre-bending take on hip-hop is one that has not only been successful, but has also gained a sizable following in the last two years since the release of their first album. Songs like “Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck)”, “Angel Duster”, and “A Christmas Fucking Miracle” are great examples of the way RTJ takes hip-hop, smashes it in the mouth, and tells it sit the fuck down. They totally stole the show, and were the absolute best thing I saw all weekend.

Favorite Moment: Watching Killer Mike and El-P not letting the heat get them down as they killed each and every song they performed


I can’t imagine that you’ve never heard of Weezer. Everybody has heard of Weezer. From “Island in the Sun” to “Pork and Beans”, Weezer has had an indelible impact on the alt-rock/pop landscape since they came together in 1992. That sentence makes me feel old just typing it. Honestly, as I remember hearing their cover of “Susanne” in the credits of Mallrats back when I was six or seven, then hearing “Island in the Sun” when I was in middle school, I feel like a senior citizen.

Seeing them live for the first time was quite the experience, since it was the most crowded 80/35 got the entire weekend. It was standing room only. The crowd knew the lyric to every song, and sang them loud and proud, proving that Iowans really are some of the best music fans out there. Weezer was an awesome way to close out the entire festival, and an act that I will surely remember. 

Favorite Moment: Singing along to some of their greatest hits with the rest of the Weezer fans in the audience 

St. Lucia

I hadn’t heard of St. Lucia before 80/35, and after watching them tear up the main stage, I’m glad I stuck around and heard them play, as they almost stole the whole weekend. While technically St. Lucia refers to just Jean-Philip Grobler, lead vocalist, the entire band tore it up over the weekend. Being a huge fan of Genesis, Talking Heads, and Fleetwood Mac, they reminded me of a band in the vein of 80’s pop with 00’s sensibilities.

While they only have one studio album released as of 2015, there was a sizable crowd that knew every word to their songs. It’s always nice to see that even those that aren’t immediate fans of the band were rocking and enjoying their performance. Whenever a band that isn’t top billed tears it up as much their headliner counterparts, one has to applaud them. They are definitely ones to keep an eye on in the future, and check out their album When The Night if you haven’t.

Favorite Moment: Watching the band play the concert as if it was their last, and leaving everything out there for the fans

Hot Buttered Rum

Like with St. Lucia, I had never heard of Hot Buttered Rum prior to 80/35 but, being a huge fan of bluegrass and folk music, I was immediately drawn to their energetic take on the genre. From the Bay Area, the group has been together since 2002 and have performed all over the country, including headlining the famous Fillmore Theater in San Francisco. 

While the misconception is that all folk/bluegrass is still stuck in the past, it couldn’t be farther from the truth with Hot Buttered Rum. With songs like “Let the Love Come Through Me” and “Another City”, they not only reinvent but subvert the conventions of the bluegrass/folk genres. They were one of my favorite acts of the show, and I’m always happy to see bluegrass/folk performed live, in front of a huge group of fans. 

Favorite Moment: Just getting to listen to live bluegrass music performed by some of the most talented artists of the genre

Everything Else

As luck would have it, I was able to stay with a buddy of mine who lives in Des Moines for the duration of the festival, and we kicked around Des Moines, hanging out at some awesome places. We had boots full of beer and traditional German food at Hessen Haus, emphasis on boots, not just a boot. We also checked out Fong’s Pizza, which serves Chinese-inspired pizza to hordes of hungry Iowans, and yes, it’s as delicious/crazy as it sounds. We finally rounded out the weekend with a late-night stop at Zombie Burger and Drink Lab where you can get spiked-milkshakes and undead-themed burgers, like the “Undead Elvis”, which features bacon, fried banana, peanut butter, and a fried egg.

I honestly didn’t know what to think when I visited Des Moines, but I was pleasantly surprised. Not only did the 80/35 Music Festival knock it clean out of the park with some awesome headliners, but they also had some really great indie acts to satisfy even the most knowledgeable music connoisseur. If you consider yourself a fan of awesome music, cool cities, and great food, then make sure to check out the 80/35 Music Festival

This post was written by
Chris Stachiw is the Editor-in-Chief and co-host of the Kulturecast. He's a native Californian with a penchant for sarcasm and a taste for the cinematic bizarre. You'll often find him wandering the wasteland of Nebraska searching for the meaning of life and possibly another rare Pokemon.
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