Music (Juice file photo) The Flaming Lips closed the 80/35 Music Festival on Friday.

(Juice file photo) The Flaming Lips closed the 80/35 Music Festival on Friday.

80/35 Music Festival finds itself head of class in 2013

Published on July 2nd, 2013 | by Joe Lawler

When the 80/35 Music Festival launched in 2008 it was something of an unknown quantity. The festival featured dozens of bands from a multitude of genres, many of which had never played Des Moines before.

Would people come? What kind of bands could a nonprofit book?

Five years later, 80/35 seems to have found its niche. Over that time the headlining acts have been in line with headliners for Chicago’s Pitchfork Music Festival or the B-level acts at the Coachella Music Festival in California. Public Enemy, The Flaming Lips and Modest Mouse have all headlined 80/35 and Pitchfork. Previous 80/35 headliners Death Cab for Cutie, The Roots and Modest Mouse were B-level acts at Coachella.

Ben Harper2009

“I think that we have an event that’s at the right size for Des Moines,” 80/35 project manager Amedeo Rossi said. “We really learned a lot in our first couple of years — we survived our second year — the thing we do have is a community behind us. We’ve learned to do a good job of pre-selling tickets. Ticket pre-sales and sponsorships are our two insurance cards. They’ve really been the thing that makes a difference in us being in good shape.”

In its first year, 80/35 had nearly perfect weather, which lead to strong walk-up sales at the gate for 2008. In 2009 rain on the festival’s first day lead to poor sales at the gate and the weekend was a loss for the Des Moines Music Coalition. Since then, the group has worked to push ticket sales in advance, so that bad weather doesn’t derail the festival. Rossi said pre-sales for 2013 make it the second strongest to date, behind last year’s Death Cab/Avett Brothers headliner lineup.

Other festivals have grown faster or started stronger, but going bigger comes with a price. Top of the bill Coachella acts like Radiohead, Arcade Fire and Jay-Z mean higher fees for organizers, which translates into higher ticket prices for fans. Coachella tickets run $349 for three days, while 80/35 is $65 for two days.

Spoon2010In 2011 the Kanrocksas Music Festival launched in Kansas City with headliners Eminem and Muse along with The Flaming Lips, The Black Keys, Bassnectar and others. The Kansas City Star reported attendance of around 50,000 over the two days, but ultimately the event was a money loser for organizers.

The festival went on hiatus in 2012, which may seem like a bad sign but is not unprecedented. Coachella did the same in 2000 after an unsuccessful first year, and Lollapalooza canceled in 2004 during its transition from a touring festival to a stationary event in Chicago.

Rather than go for bigger names when it returned in 2013, Kanrocksas spread the money across a greater number of smaller acts, landing bands like Tiesto, fun., Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Avett Brothers, Kendrick Lamar, Sublime with Rome and others. On May 28, just a month before the June 28-29 festival, organizers canceled citing “insufficient ticket sales.”

Rossi feels 80/35 has managed to avoid imploding like some festivals by not rushing to make the headliners too big or the bill too loaded. A large number of the bands playing 80/35 are from Iowa, names that might not attract eyes from out of state, but do help build buzz and goodwill locally.

“We want to do a right-size festival for what’s appropriate,” Rossi said. “If it makes sense to take bigger risks in bringing in bigger bands, we’re willing to do that. But we’re trying to do something that’s relevant and at a good scale that will challenge the scene.”


80/35 Music Festival

When: 5 p.m. Friday, noon Saturday

Where: Western Gateway Park

Cost: $39 per day or $65 for both days in advance, $45 per day or $80 for both days at the gate.

Info: or


About the Author

Joe Lawler covers music and more for Juice Magazine. E-mail him at or follow his updates on Twitter @JoeLawler

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