It was hot. I can not stress just exactly how hot it was. At one point during Little Ruckus’ set, there was a water balloon fight that broke down into a giant dance pit. The humidity from the water and the sweat, the heat and the movement created this weird atmospheric event that actually brought a reality to the “Sweat Power” Ruckus is always blathering on about. There was this tornado of energy and perspiration and water that actually knocked me back a few feet. Have you ever burned your hand and held it up to your face afterwards and just felt the localized heat radiate off? It felt like that, only times two thousand and with the added benefit of actual liquid in the air. I imagine it is what it felt like if you crawled inside someone else’s underpants as they walked around the festival. It was awful. I was pretty sure I was going to die. Then he made everyone run in a circle. If I didn’t know better, I would’ve sworn Ruckus was trying to kill me. Despite my near demise, it was a gorgeous moment in a festival full of them. But, my God, was it hot.
80/35 has passed for another year. There were so many things to be positive about from a pure music standpoint. Fucked Up somehow had the best set of the festival with the very first set of the festival. Hearing how loud Dinosaur Jr. was in person and realizing exactly what a giant wall of Marshall amps can do in person and to a set of ear drums was both awesome and occasionally painful (but always awesome). Jaill and K-Holes showed up in a new city and hopefully made a few more fans. Atmosphere made a new fan out of my wife with their wit and ability. Des Moines’ own Maxilla Blue brought their usual brilliance, as well the acclaimed Floor Spiders to dance in the middle of the crowd. Dan Deacon had easily the largest crowd I have ever seen at a free stage, which makes me happy both as a fan of his and as someone who was worried because he isn’t exactly the most mainstream sounding musician in the world. But Des Moines showed up. Of course, Avett Brothers and Death Cab For Cutie were amazing. I cried during the Avett Brothers while slow dancing with my wife. Screw you for judging me.
But what I took away this year was not just individual sets, it was the stories that these moments made for so many people.
Chris Lachky is the regular bassist for Love Songs For Lonely Monsters and also in New Member Charles, among others. He is also one of the best music writers I have ever read; a truly gifted person who has the ability to translate enthusiasm into actual content and create thought provoking questions because he is generally curious about what people have to say. He also is one of the nicest people I have ever met. We barely know each other, in all reality, and mostly through social media, but every time I see him, he always treats me like an old friend. There is a constant smile on his face and just a gleam in his eye, like he can’t believe how lucky he is to be alive and making art and just being a human being.
At the end of this year’s GDP, after LS4LM’s now legendary set, Chris smashed his hand loading out gear. He had to have surgery to repair the break and wasn’t able to take part in the play-in contest that won his band a spot on the main stage. Even though he was healed by the time they were able to play, he still conceded his spot to his injury replacement, though he did get to strap on his bass for their final song.
LS4LM followed up their breathtaking GDP set with another gem. I don’t know of a Des Moines band that are as built for this event as they are. Their ability and sound almost demands, and occasionally screams to be on a stage that big with speakers that large.
Now since Chris is a member of the band, he got to experience the perks of being a main stage band. Like All-Access passes. Chris used those to his advantage as he stood off to the side and watched one of his heroes, Lou Barlow of Dinosaur Jr.
If I have one memory from 80/35, this year and maybe ever, it won’t be the fantastic bands I have seen or the memories I have personally made. It will be Chris Lachky, he of the immense talent and winning personality, standing to the side of the stage next to Damian Abraham of Fucked Up with a giant smile on his face as Dinosaur Jr. played tracks from You’re Living All Over Me. Right after that, it is the image of Chris Lachky putting his bass on and playing music with his friends on that very same stage. Because of this festival, a good man got an amazing experience.
Nate Logsdon is a ball of perpetual motion. Even when you can corner him to talk, he moves his shoulders and head often and at times uses big hand gestures. He is a man who can never slow down. He speaks often of hustle, but not in a con artist sort of way. He shouts hustle the same way a little league coach would. He really wants people busting their ass as often and as hard as they can. Nate Logsdon is another of Iowa’s accomplished musicians. He plays a part of Little Ruckus’ entourage, as the androgynous backup dancer and occasional lead singer Beef Cake. He plays trumpet as part of The Black Gold Brass Band alongside Christopher the Conquered. He is also the lead singer of his own band, the high energy Mumford’s. It just so happened that at this year’s 80/35 those three bands went back to back to back and not on the same stage, so he had to basically sprint back and forth across the festival grounds. As I mentioned, it was really, really hot.
Nate began his day strapping on his sundress for Little Ruckus. As I mentioned, Little Ruckus’ set was nearly memorable for the wrong reasons, but instead was just one of the most incredible experiences of my life. The amount of energy and love the crowd had towards the entire Sandwich Eatin’ Crew was quite a sight. It also seemed like the people who knew what was going to happen jammed as close together as possible, while others who were maybe experiencing Sweat Power for the first time hung towards the back and wondered what they got themselves into. With the raging heat, sweaty bodies and threat of heat stroke on the cusp for hundreds of people, there was an element of danger, but never fear. It was a bit like auto-erotic asphyxiation; just when you think you’re near death…
Nate jumped, dance and sang along with everyone, risking his own health just like everyone else. Only, it would have been understandable why he maybe took it down a gear. But there he was, constantly jumping and ass-shaking. He even closed the set, singing a song about how much he loves us all. A normal man would’ve taken it easy, especially just performing as backup for someone else, that isn’t how Nate Logsdon is wired. So, pouring sweat, Nate had a quick costume change into a more conservative khakis and button up and sprinted down the street to play with CTC.
The Christopher the Conquered set was another magic experience. Chris Ford is such a charismatic and talented band leader, so the music was always high energy and had people moving. While the whole set was amazing and full of the things that makes Christopher the Conquered arguably Iowa’s best band, the last song is probably what most people are going to remember. Chris closed the show with a cover of Lesbian Poetry’s “Do You Believe In Angels”, but not just with he and his band, he also brought out roughly three dozen of his closest friends to sing with him. Since it was a love song, Chris passed a verse off to Nate so he could sing with his talented and beautiful girlfriend, Adrien Daller. He passed a verse off to his guitar player, HD Harmsen, so he could sing a verse with his fiancee, before finally taking a verse with his girlfriend. It was a magical experience for a lot of people, but especially the people on stage. My friend Matt said afterword that he got to perform on the main stage of 80/35, which was something he probably never thought would happen.
After all the love and magic, Nate had to then sprint back to the other stage to perform with Mumford’s. I expected a slightly subdued set, due to what had to have been a man running on fumes. Instead, the energy poured out, and in true Mumford’s fashion, he could not do the show by himself, so song after song featured appearances by Sharika Soal from Ladysoal, the aforementioned Lesbian Poetry, Jordan Mayland from Mantis Pincers (among others), and what was a highlight for a lot of people, Devin Frank and Patrick Tape Fleming from Poison Control Center for a cover, but really more of a duet, for their song “It’s A Surprise”. Never showing any ill effects from the weather or the amount of work put in, Nate Logsdon somehow managed to be part of three of the best sets of the weekend, back to back to back. All with a smile on his face and still blabbing about hustle.
There is a side to 80/35 that maybe a lot of people don’t consider. It isn’t just about what it does for the musicians, but what it does for the area businesses. Zack Mannheimer is best known in this town as the Executive Director for the Des Moines Social Club (he is also much lesser known as my brother in law). He is also part owner of the restaurant Proof at 13th and Locust. He and co-owner Sean Wilson prepared some unique chicken and pulled pork sandwiches for the masses, as well as hosted the Midwestix Chill Lounge. Normally a restaurant only open for lunch and twice a week for dinner was seeing people who would normally not be in their restaurant, trying their food and some coming back again and again and again.
Just walking around you could see long lines at all the local businesses, everywhere from Jimmy John’s to Americana and Ritual Cafe. With the festival bringing in some 30,000 people, there were certainly many who had never been to these establishments before and some who will undoubtedly come back.
What always gets me about 80/35; I have been to music festivals before and I always leave after having an awesome time listening to music. But it seems every 80/35 I leave with a sense of pride. These are my family, my friends and my neighbors, and many sacrificed their time and energy to make this festival happen. Even though there are some hiccups, it always comes together.
But this festival isn’t just about the Chris Lachkys, Zack Mannheimers and Nate Logsdons of the world. It isn’t even about the people like me who want so badly to attach themselves to something bigger then they. Chris was talking to a pretty blond named Caroline when I medium-drunkenly went to talk to him. She never seemed impressed with her surroundings, nor was she much for smiling. Which is too bad. She was a beautiful woman with quite the sour-puss(Also, she may not have appreciated me just butting into their conversation. But, dammit, I am a journalist. And I was medium-drunk). She seemed a little sour on the whole event. There weren’t a lot of bands that she would normally be into, but was still there. I asked who she listened to and instead of naming a band or two, she reached into her bag and handed me her iPhone, open to her iTunes. Thumbing through, it didn’t seem like her tastes were too far off from what the festival had to offer. I asked her, then, what brought her out in near record temps to see bands she didn’t really like.
“It’s something to do.”
Seriously. That is the most profound thing I could say about the event. In the long run, what does it matter if you had some sort of childhood dream achieved or if you just showed up because that’s what people were doing that night? It was an event that people of all enthusiasms could be a part of. And really, isn’t that all we need to do to make Des Moines an awesome city? Just give people something to do.
Because of 80/35 and so many things like it, there is real momentum for this city and what it can accomplish. It is exciting for me but mostly it is exciting for them:
This is my 2 year old daughter and 3 year old niece clapping along to Christopher the Conquered. I imagine that when they’re teenagers, they won’t know of Des Moines as anything other than what we all think it can be.