At the intersection of I-35 and I-80, enormous billboard cat eyes overlooked a meandering crowd. It was the ninth year of Des Moines’ 80/35, a music festival inspired by the city at the crossroads of the two interstates and the people within it. Decemberists’ frontman Colin Meloy sang from the main stage about begging his son to eat oatmeal Saturday night. It was an intimate transition from Lizzo’s energetic, empowering set at the other end of the park, where a trail of food trucks and local vendors led.
In its ninth year, 80/35 brought a community of more than 28,000 people together to celebrate a universal love of music and pride for the often underappreciated talent of the Midwest. From a nearby sculpture park, the reverberation obscured the source of sound, whether it was Lucky Chops brass renditions of top 40 hits or how Chicago supposedly hates Englewood based rapper Vic Spencer. The festival highlighted unity and diversity in a liberal pocket of the Midwest, with acts ranging from hip-hop queen Lizzo to garage-dwelling Black Lips.
Although most of the attention was focused to the main stage, where the Decemberists closed the festival, vibrant life radiated from Western Gateway Park, a skyscraper framed urban oasis. Across the grassy space, a few festival goers enjoyed the music in nothing but body paint, hula hoops secured in the crooks of their arms. Others combatted the sun with handbills functioning as fans.
When the festival slowed Saturday night and people scurried to the remainder of late night food trucks, “O Valencia!” swelled to reach the billboard attached to the top of the main stage. The eyes, now the same blue as the 10 p.m. sky, watched over the last few moments of 80/35’s ninth life.
View photos from Saturday at 80/35 below:
The Lucky Chops
Jeff Austin Band
Thao & the Get Down Stay Down
photos by James Dean