Great music, amazing food, good friends…it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why this year’s 80/35 music festival was the best yet. With attendance upwards of 35,000 people, Des Moines was overrun with people looking for a fun time, and boy did they deliver. I wasn’t sure that it would be worth the 5.5 hour drive from Chicago, and I was pleasantly surprised.
I stayed true to my word and took more money out than I should have so I could blow it all on Tropical Sno. I’m not sure why Chicago hasn’t hopped on the shaved ice train yet, but it had been over five years since my last sno cone and it was absolutely the first thing we did when we got on the festival grounds. I went for the special, a “Party In Your Mouth,” which was blue raspberry, lime, and peach. Plopped down at a table next to the Iowa Public Radio stage and enjoyed a frozen great before heading for the Hy-Vee main stage.
St. Lucia has Iowa ties, so it made sense for them to kick off the fest. I’d heard them before but didn’t really get into it. Their live set was a lot of fun, and the crowd that got there early showed up with purpose. They were all singing along to every tune and making the band VERY welcome.
Being a short day, the lineup was pretty stuffed. Jenny Lewis played on the main stage next, so we hung out to see her. This is the third time we’ve seen Jenny, and it was easily the best. Her set at Toronto Urban Roots Festival was good, and the first time we saw her was kind of a mess. Here she seemed more in control and excited to be playing. She hit a lot of Rilo Kiley songs, including a couple of my favorites like “With Arms Outstretched” and “Silver Lining.” The balloon release during “Portions For Foxes” was a great touch.
I wanted to run out to the free Kum & Go Stage to catch Talib Kweli, even though I knew I couldn’t stay for the whole thing. The crowd for that set was crazy energetic, jumping up and down while Kweli spit rhymes and his DJ cut it up. A bit of controversy unfolded after we left the stage. Wilco ended up hitting the main stage a few minutes early and Kweli was cut short. He lit up Twitter with his grievances and let the world know he wasn’t happy about it. I wasn’t there, so I’m not sure what happened. I know from seeing him before that he’s a perfectionist, always wanting to deliver the best show possible. So if anything hindered that and it wasn’t his fault, I would assume he would be very upset about it.
Wilco, my favorite band, hit the main stage at about 9pm and launched into one of their 20th anniversary tour sets that includes lots of hits and some more obscure tracks that don’t get played much. “Panthers” has been a big one. “Secret Of The Sea” is another they’d never played until about 6 or 7 months ago (I think one of the shows I saw at The Riviera was the very first time they played it live). Yankee Hotel Foxtrot got its proper due, as they played “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart,” “Camera,” “Heavy Metal Drummer,” “I’m The Man Who Loves You,” and “Jesus etc.”
Day 2 got off to a late start, but once we got there it was poppin’ off like gangbusters. I chose to skip the main stage in favor of the free Nationwide Stage where Christopher The Conquered would be playing an hour later. Brazilian 2wins were up first and I had no idea what I was in for. It was already hot and these guys were pumping fire at the audience through their whole set.
Christopher was tasked with following that incendiary act, and he managed to keep that power flowing. He was on top of the speakers, out in the audience dancing, crowd surfing, tossing Laffy Taffy out for the fans to enjoy. He also delivered some great songs. He’s got a new album coming out (next year), so we got to hear some of that and a few older cuts.
I was most excited to see Run The Jewels. They hit the main stage around 7, and it was like an awakening in Iowa. Thousands of people screaming the lyrics from “Blockbuster Night pt 2” back at the rap duo. Trackstar the DJ kept El-P and Killer Mike in step as they put on the best rap set I’ve seen. I don’t know if they’ll be able to top it this coming weekend at Pitchfork, but I’m excited to find out!
There was a little time in between their set and Weezer’s closing, so we went out in search of food. It was blistering hot still, so we found the only viable choice: The Outside Scoop ice cream truck. The salted caramel was a freezing cold dream. I ran into a friend I haven’t seen in five years in line to get it, so that was an added bonus of the festival. We chatted and then he decided to skate to go after a girl he was with (probably a good call).
Everything smelled really good. Especially the roasted corn and kebabs being grilled right there on the street. We ended up getting some pulled pork the night before, so we didn’t want that again. Neither of us were really feeling hot food at the moment, so we waited til after the fest and hit a restaurant by our hotel (don’t ask me where because I won’t say. It’s embarrassing. Let’s just say it’s a “grille” you might find in your “neighborhood”)
I was surprised how young the people seeing Weezer were. Everyone in the front was 25 or younger, meaning when Weezer’s Pinkerton came out they were barely in grade school. They came up with a completely different band than the Weezer I knew in my youth. “Beverly Hills,” “Pork And Beans,” “Back To The Shack” were the songs these people wanted to hear. And Weezer offered up all of them, plus some older hits for fans like me. They led off with “My Name Is Jonas,” “Hash Pipe,” and “El Scorcho,” so it would be hard to complain about anything.
Rivers Cuomo has a nice bushy beard now. He looks more like a college English professor than a rock star, but he still knows how to please the fans. He was out at the ends of the stage leaning out during guitar solos, getting the locals riled up with mentions of Zombie Burger. He’s always seemed like a reluctant frontman, but he’s good at it.
Walking out we hit one more ice cream vendor: Thelma’s. This one is the one. I’m telling you, if you’re in Iowa and need an ice cream sandwich…well, you’re in luck. The snickerdoodle is fantastic, but don’t sleep on the cayenne chocolate chip. It’s a sneaky spicy treat sure to delight your tastebuds.
The drive home was long, but we got to stop at the same old places we would when we lived in Iowa. The World’s Largest Truck Stop and the Tanger Outlet Mall. Both exactly the same as they were half a decade ago. 80/35 was well worth the time and money we spent to get out there and stay. I hope they’ll have us back again next year!