Like I Hold On – 2016 80/35 Music Festival

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See the man in the Stars and Stripes? His name is John Kirsch. To most 80/35 veterans, he’s a staple. For the last few years he and his partner, Wanda Findley, put on their patriotic best and got wild in the streets. They danced and sweated and smiled and took pictures with all the people who asked, whether they were the hyper-positive jam band hippies, the disaffected teenage hipsters,pretty girls in crop tops and flower crowns, whomever. They were a burst of joy whenever you happened by them and they transcended the cliques and the genres and the ages.

In April, Wanda, along with her friend Peggy Rinehart, were killed in a car accident. Wanda was 81. Those of us in the community were a little bit shaken. While we can’t all say we were friends or we were family, they were evidence of love and joy. My heart ached for a man I had never really met and a family that I never once broke bread.

It’s simple really, Des Moines is my city. It’s the place my wife and I raise our family. Where my sisters, my nieces and my nephew and my closest friends live. People who I consider brothers and sisters all reside here. Some of the best art I have ever witnessed and experienced is here. It’s a place that I can recommend a restaurant, a bar, a shop for anyone who asks. It’s a place I can walk the streets at night and not fear and a place I can just sit and think and be.

But 80/35, 80/35 is my home. It’s two days in the sun with thousands of family members. They’re all there for different reasons, but the fact is it exists and can bring people together to enjoy music and to enjoy our city. To lose a part of that, meant a great deal to me.

A couple of months ago, I lost a lot of things. I had a mental collapse that sent me to the hospital. It cost me my job, it cost me a solid salary in a good company and stability for the first time in my family’s life. It’s cost me nights of sleep. It’s hurt relationships. It’s caused me to lash out. What I lost the most, though, was me.

I sit on my couch all day stabbing at my cell phone. The idea of finding a new job is devastating. I am working my way through potential freelance opportunities, but I’m scared. I’m so scared.

At 80/35, though I’m me again. The sun kisses me, no matter how hot the temperature hits. People I sometimes see only once a year sneak up behind and give bear hugs so tight they lift me off the ground. The beer is ice cold and they even have my brand of whiskey. When my feet get sore, there’s a stream to soak them. When my children get restless, there’s a bounce house to wear them out. When my stomach growls, there are tacos. When I get sick of the sun’s kisses, there’s a tent or a tree or a building or a lobby  we can sneak into with the coldest air in town. When I want to just chill and ignore a jam band, there is more beer and more tacos.

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Ravyn Lenae

Mostly, though, there is music. There are new discoveries, like the stunningly gifted Ravyn Lenae. There’s a chance to stand with headbanging kids in black sleeveless shirts while getting my ear drums destroyed by Druids. There is the confirmation of everything I knew to be wonderful from Dilly Dally. There are moments of pride, like the Holy White Hounds’ triumphant homecoming, fresh off their tour and there are moments of joy like Goldblums destroying their set in 2 minute bursts to a who’s who audience. There were even moments of surprise, like Craig Finn playing a wooden stage in an alley with just an acoustic guitar and that voice.

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Black Lips

There were also Black Lips. For roughly six years, when asked which band I wanted to play 80/35, my answer was always the same: Black Lips. Their brand of juvenile antics and garage music was perfect for 80/35. Sometimes, when you want something bad enough, it happens. Sometimes that thing becomes a disappointment. Sometimes it’s so wonderful, you find yourself crying to a punk rock song that I’m pretty sure is about sex because you love it and your daughter loves it (she doesn’t think it’s about sex) and it’s perfect. It’s just perfect.

Black Lips’ set was 45 minutes of sweat, tears and vomit. They played a history spanning set that closed with the spiritual inspired “Bow Down and Die” from their Almighty Defenders side project. It was the emotional release I needed. I cried. I laughed. I smiled. For a brief moment, I was me again.

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Goldblums

I sit around a lot and think and it makes me very insular. I am home with my children everyday, but I mostly sit and I think. I think about what’s wrong with me and how I can change. I sit and worry about about the damage I’m doing to my wife and my children. Mainly I think about me and how I can be better, and why I’m not being better.

At 80/35, I am part of something. I am experiencing these great bands and this great music with others, together. Whether I met them moments before or if I’ve known them for years, we’re in this together. We make jokes and we talk about bands we’ve seen. Sometimes, we make asses of ourselves, like when I ran into a friend and I pretended I had listened to a set he had done, only I lied and hadn’t actually listened to it. Then I got caught in that lie and felt really embarrassed. It’s the type of things you do with family. You laugh and you have a good time and you make mistakes and you enjoy each other’s company even while making those mistakes. I matter. We matter.

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Craig Finn

At the end of night one, I wandered down to two different after-shows. I was there for the music, but I guess I was there for the camaraderie. While there were some friends and acquaintances, it just didn’t feel the same as it did while we were all outdoors, so I left earlier than expected. I walked the six blocks back to the festival grounds, where the late night DJ’s were spinning.

The bass thumped and the lights flashed and I shook my head at the madness and the sweaty, tangled bodies. I hopped over to the far sidewalk to get past the crowd and just to the right of the stage, there he was.

He was decked out in his best American flag jumpsuit and trademark white hat. He was dancing with a buxom, mid-twenties blonde. She was giggling and twirling and he busted out his best moves.

I stood away from her friends who were shouting things like “Yeah, get it girl!” John’s smile beamed. She kissed him on the cheek and he spun her back to her friends and went back to dancing, by himself.

I walked over to him, arms outstretched. He grabbed me around the waist and I draped my arms on his shoulders. I hugged him tight. He leaned his sweaty face towards my ear and said, “I love you.” I cried on his shoulder for a couple of seconds, but we were separated by a girl a quarter of his age in a mini-skirt and a purple bra. John smiled and the two danced and I walked away.

I felt sorrow for him. I felt joy for him. I felt for him.

Because he is 80/35 and he is family and this is my home.

All pictures taken by me. They first appeared on the 80/35 Twitter page.

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