Sunday, July 11, 2010

80/35 Music Festival Recap: Day 1

William Elliott Whitmore performing at 80/35 on July 3rd

80/35 Music Festival
Des Moines, Iowa
July 3 & 4, 2010

The streets of downtown Des Moines were abuzz with music this past Independence Day weekend as the third annual 80/35 Music Festival brought in one of its strongest attendances to date.

Saturday kicked off the event, as music lovers filled the streets of Western Gateway Park. The festival grounds were set between Western Gateway's Pappajohn Sculpture Park and the city's Chipperfield-designed public library. Large insurance buildings towered on either side to provide an intimate venue for a crowd amassing more than 17,000.

Two free stages on the side streets supplemented a paid main stage. One free stage was dedicated to Midwest hip-hop and electronic music, while the other combined local and national talent ranging from roots folk to bluesy hard rock. More music was held inside at the Des Moines Social Club and on the streets of the fest's Do More Village.

On Saturday, the main stage featured acts like Spoon, Slightly Stoopid and Yo La Tengo, while the free stages were rocked by bands like Holly Golightly & the Brokeoffs, Earl Greyhound and Solid Gold. More than 25 bands played in the hot summer sun.

I had the pleasure of working both days of the volunteer-organized festival again this year as part of the stage support crew. This year, the free stage I helped at had one of the best lineups yet. I spent the weekend meeting bands, loading gear and listening to free music from backstage - so I had no complaints.

The Des Moines Music Coalition, which has put on 80/35 each of the past three years, created a strong lineup of national headliners, while still providing a large scale venue for showcasing local talent. Local bands Canby and Cashes Rivers were amongst the early bands to play the festival on Saturday.

Minneapolis' Solid Gold had a terrific set of heady, indie-electro rock that brought to mind images of MGMT and just about every Bret Easton Ellis novel. Glammed out songs like "Bible Thumper" and "Who Ya Gonna Run To?" were as melancholy as they were danceable. Echoed harmonies washed over layers of guitar, stirring into soup, yet staying afloat. Solid Gold put on one of my favorite sets of the whole day. Still unfamiliar? Watch the video to their single, "Matter of Time" below:

William Elliott Whitmore took the stage with nothing more than a guitar, a banjo and the raspy voice of someone who has truly lived. Whitmore stomped, strummed and howled some of the best Americana this side of the Mississippi. A humble songwriter fueled by moonshine and fascinated with sin and redemption, Iowa's own Whitmore belted out a full set for a hungry crowd. Occasionally, Whitmore would take breaks for a pull of whiskey or free beer offered from an adoring fan. Watch Whitmore's 80/35 interview, with clips of his performance, HERE (via

Earl Greyhound, a New York City power trio of 1970s psychedelic blues-rock proportions, took the stage next. The group roared through songs from their albums Soft Targets and Suspicious Package. The shared vocal duties of guitarist Matt Whyte and bassist Kamara Thomas wailed as loud as anything coming from Jack White's The Dead Weather. Earl Greyhound was definitely a band to hear live for the first time. Visit the band's website to hear them for yourself.

When Spoon took headlining residence at the main stage Saturday night, they brought one of the weekend's tightest, most polished sets with them. Spoon performed much of their 2007 album, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, with songs like "Rhthm & Soul", "Don't Make Me a Target", and "Don't You Evah" shining through. The band also mixed in new songs from Transference, such as "Written in Reverse" and songs from the past, like 2005's "I Turn My Camera On". The latter received heavy praise from the crowd, which danced and cheered. A horn section backing the band added the perfect flavor to cap off the warm, summer evening.

Fortunately, I was able to wrap up my shift in time to sip craft beer and enjoy Spoon's entire performance before eventually heading to after hours with some friends in the downtown bar district. A truly great end to a great day of live music!

Stay tuned for highlights from Day 2 of 2010's 80/35 Music Festival! In the meantime, be sure to visit for photos and much more!

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