Just Family Stuff: The 2013 80/35 Festival

The only pic I took this weekend was from Wavves set. I cashed in a favor to get backstage to see them. I left halfway through one song because its more fun to be out front.

The only pic I took this weekend was from Wavves set. I cashed in a favor to get backstage to see them. I left halfway through one song because its more fun to be out front.

Jeff Jarrett is a professional wrestler of some acclaim. He was actually an above average talent, but lots of learned people (yes you can be learned about pro wrasslin’) absolutely hated. Not in a “boo, you’re a bad guy way” (because if more people did that, he’d likely be more famous), but in a “gee, that guy is boring and I don’t feel like watching him” way. He was a world champion during WCW’s dying days, was fired from WWE on live television (For real, not storyline. Well sort of, but I will spare you the story) and started his own semi-big league organization, the often laughable but occasionally great TNA (that name is not one of their occasionally great things). I was always a fan of his because he did some great work and was often more interesting a performer than people were willing to credit, but as people who read my work often can attest, I am not always the most critical and often find things entertaining that others don’t (see: Pryde, Kitty). So while he’s not exactly a wrestling legend on par with the Stone Colds and Hulk Hogans of the world or anything, I have always been a fan. Jeff Jarrett also has maybe my favorite quote ever about his so-called sport. In an A&E Documentary that came out 15 years ago or so, he was asked why there are so many die hard fans of wrestling, and why there are so many who would be so quick to deride it. His response was (and I may be slightly paraphrasing):

“To those who love it, no explanation is needed. To those who don’t, no explanation is acceptable.”

I had been thinking about this quote for a bit in regards to 80/35. There seems to be some backlash and anger towards the event, most of it directed at the events organizers, The Greater Des Moines Music Coalition. The detractors say that DMMC could do more to ingratiate themselves into other aspects of our scene; away from just indie music or the people they’re comfortable with. They say that a lot of the same bands are repeatedly given a shot at exposure, while many others are ignored. They say that friends and confidants are helped more than they should be, in compared to the array of talent this town has. I honestly think that some of these are solid talking points and are worth further discussion (I also think some are slightly overblown). I had a long conversation with my friend Chad on that subject, where he took the side of those asking the those questions and I took the side of trying to answer them, even if we, in all reality, sit closer to the middle. But while I found myself nodding along with some of his points, I was always quick to have the back of the festival, itself.

Where I get lost in this whole discussion is that because of the perceived flaws of the DMMC, it means 80/35 is an event that is not beneficial to our community and should be flamed and ignored. That you can’t love the event, warts and all, without offending their sensibilities. It’s as if battle lines are clearly drawn, and you’re either with or against. As often with this world, it isn’t that cut and dry. I think people who hate this event, no explanation is acceptable. To those who love it, no explanation is needed. But, I’m going to do my best to offer an explanation as to why I love it.

Musically, I am unabashedly pro 80/35 and always will be. I think that this event, now in its 6th year, is what it is. It is a festival that helps the community, that uses a ton of local talent, not just on stage but also behind the scenes, and it makes bands who normally wouldn’t come to Des Moines start looking closer at our town. It probably will never be a fest for fans of metal. It will likely never be an event that everyone can agree on. But, again, at year six, I think we all know what we can expect. I don’t go to Lazerfest and get mad that Deerhunter isn’t playing or The Big Country Bash and wonder where the hell Maxilla Blue is, because I know what those events stand for. Could 80/35 bring in other genres or bring to light some metal acts? Maybe. Could there be more mainstream pop or modern country? Possibly. But I think at this point in time, we know what 80/35 stands for, warts and all. And simply enough, I like this event because it is mainly the type of music I like listening to. We are far enough down the timeline that we know what 80/35 is, musically, and may always be.

But there is more to it than just my choice in music. This event feels like home to me now. I walked down the streets and constantly saw people I know and not just know, but people who are happy to see me, even if it’s just for a quick hug or high five on our way to different stages. I mentioned this in the previous post on this site, but just getting to chat with people I don’t see as often as I should, or meet and get to know people who I have just a passing familiarity with is a big deal to me right now. Those five or so blocks one weekend out of every year all feels like home to me. I go to a stage and hear a band I love and it feels right to me. I pop in on a vendor or get some food and they’re all super nice and I overflow with civic pride. I see friends, nay, family that I love at every turn, and I just can’t ask for more.

This is an event I brought my three year old daughter and two month old son to (yes, they had ear protection) and let them enjoy the area without fear of them tripping over someone already too drunk to stand at 1pm or overly rude people. She listened to music, and played in the water, and got into a squirt gun fight in the kids zone with some awesome volunteers and ice cold water. She ate pizza. She met other kids doing the same thing. He mostly slept. It was very cool. My wife and I discussed how awesome it is going to be when they grow up and start making up their own minds on things and maybe we get to share these experiences on a whole other level. I can only hope that they want to come to this with their old man, and I get to have an experience like my friend Anne did when she hung out with her daughter and partied to Trouble Lights. I was happy to have two generations of Murphys present, but I can’t imagine how Anne felt to have her daughter be into the same things she’s into. It is my most selfish dream as a parent to be friends with my kid once we’re adults, so I felt like family just getting to share in Anne’s joy and dream about that for myself.

This was an event I was also happy to use to re-introduce this city to someone who maybe didn’t realize what it had become. My cousin and her boyfriend had just moved back from Minnesota, or in his case had just moved here for the first time ever. Having just moved back, money is tight and they were looking for something inexpensive to do. I couldn’t think of a better place than 80/35. We bounced back and forth between stages, catching bands like Water Liars and SP3. My cousin is an awesome young woman, who seems to have a great guy, so I was eager to show them what Iowa has to offer. I literally couldn’t think of a better event to show off the town. They got to be frugal, they got to have fun and I got to hang out with more of my family. I hope they had a great time, and I hope the opportunity comes where we can do it again. I hope they grow to love this city, and it loves them back.

Good families make you feel comfortable and for a lot of people, this festival is comfort. It is that cozy, familial feeling that helped give Mumford’s Nate Logsdon chutzpah enough to pop the question to his girlfriend, Trouble Lights’ Adrien Daller, live and on stage. An event where David Byrne felt comfortable enough to just wander around town, and not worry about being hounded. An event where a band on the brink of a breakout, like Dylan Sires and Neighbors, Tires or HD Harmsen or even veterans like House of Large Sizes can plan one of their best shows in front of strong crowds and do what they do best and either continue to be or grow to be respected and accepted.

I struggled for a bit to find an angle for this review, because as some may know, I don’t just like talking about the music and that’s it. I like doing a sort of “Bart’s People” thing with a lot of these pieces and talk more what it means to be human and not just what it means to be a music critic. I wanted to talk about how I thought this was the best year for hip hop in the six years its been running. Or how with St. Vincent, Prissy Clerks, Escondido, Annalibera, Trouble Lights and so many more, that this was a great year for women. But I couldn’t find the right way without just saying those things. Hell, re-reading this, I realized that I didn’t talk at all about how the bands were musically other than some passing platitudes. After putting my thoughts on the back burner, I took a break and ran into another of my friends, Anna, while waiting for Wu Tang. I tried to share some unsubstantiated rumors regarding Wu Tang with Anna (because I was waiting slightly impatiently for them to come on). She replied with simply, “Man, that just sounds like family stuff to me. They’ll be fine.” Then Wu Tang showed up (fashionably late, but they did show up) and absolutely killed with Method Man (a guy at the center of a lot of rumors) looking less like a man twenty years removed from their debut album and maybe tiring of it all and more like a man happy to be doing what he was doing and supporting his brothers. Because when you’re a family, like Wu Tang, the Murphys or 80/35, you love them, warts and all. And no explanation is needed as to why you would do so.

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2 Comments

  1. Bitching and moaning about the people who make musical things happen is universal . . . I produced, hosted and wrote for a television show in Upstate New York dedicated to promoting regional artists, and we aired over 100 episodes over a five year period (got a Cable Ace award in the process), but still got routine complaints about favoritism or discrimination or bad taste or whatever. But we offered everything from this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QPmcYRMLs7k to this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aTV6lZiSs4A . . . so it was hard to call us one dimensional, just like it’s hard to complain about a bill that offers Wu Tang Clan and St. Vincent as headliners.

    I guess I chose to see the glass as half full, not half empty, and I’d rather have a huge, awesome downtown musical festival with a few flaws than have no huge, awesome downtown musical festival at all . . . I mean, yeah, sure, I love Napalm Death and was happy to see them at Wooly’s, but I also know that you don’t offer them at a community building show like 80/35 that’s heavily dependent on corporate sponsorships and community good will. I think the DMMC organizers did a good job of finding the sweet spot where edgy and quality and accessibility overlapped . . . which is what you need for a festival like this one.

    My wife and I caught Yeasayer and Menomena the first night, and Mumfords and House of Large Sizes the second night. Our daughter was with us for Yeasayer . . . they have been a family favorite since their earliest days, so we had a good time dancing to them together, between beers . . . since she’s 22, and had just moved into her new Des Moines apartment the day before the show. We started her on live music when she was tiny like your kids . . . so I think that builds a life-long appreciation when they experience it when they’re little and impressionable. I though HOLS was utterly fantastic . . . one of the best sets I’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve been loving digging through their back catalog . . .

  2. All I can say is that a) J. Eric Smith is both insanely cool and spot-on and b) Dave Murphy captures how I feel about 80/35 better than anyone I know, including me. Just to add, on a family note, that Dave bounding up to me and giving me a big hug was one of the highlights of my personal festival this year.


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