Review: 80/35 2014 went the distance

Review: 80/35 2014 went the distance

I’ve posted my reviews of the 80/35 headlining sets of Conor Oberst and Cake, but I was running around all weekend and have a notepad full of thoughts on other acts. That’s what you’re getting here.

RELATED: 80/35 headliner review: Cake

I’ll start with something the festival organizers had no control over: the weather. It was a beautiful weekend for an outdoor concert, with sunny but cool weather Friday and slightly warmer but overcast weather Saturday. I had some fears Saturday morning that there might be an afternoon downpour, but thankfully nature held off.

RELATED: 80/35 headliner review: Conor Oberst

Attendance was slightly down this year, 6,000 paid on Friday, 12,000 counting the free stages (matching the first day of 2013); Saturday saw 7,000 paid, 15,000 counting the free stages. This figured surprised me, since Saturday’s crowd seemed on par with Wu-Tang last year (9,000). The festival grounds were packed.

Once again, local bands brought their A game. Gloom Balloon, Brother Trucker and The Envy Corps showed that they very much belong on the main stage. On the free stages, Foxholes, Holy White Hounds, The River Monks, Parlours, Bonne Finken and many others sounded great.

With deadlines and running around, I missed a few sets that I was really hoping to catch: Max Jury, The Maytags, Twins, Volcano Boys and Kris Adams among them. Sorry guys, I’ll make it out to a future show.

There was lots of great national and regional talent on the free stages as well. Minnesota had a strong showing, with Caroline Smith, Black Diet, Pert Near Sandstone, Useful Jenkins and several others. Smith in particular drew a huge crowd on the Kum & Go Stage, mixing pop, soul and humorous stage banter with her backup singers. If a fraction of that crowd shows up for her next Des Moines show, it will be a sell out.

RELATED: Video interview with Caroline Smith on being a musician in the Midwest

I’ve been entranced by Those Darlins’ sound since I first heard them on NPR a few years ago, and they did not disappoint live. This is a band that I’d been hoping would come to Des Moines and when I got word they were confirmed for the festival it was the act I was probably most excited about. They lived up to expectations and then some.

Back to the main stage, I really enjoyed Dawes and Best Coast. Juice editor Sarah Day Owen and I were having a conversation about “When My Time Comes” being everyone’s favorite Dawes song. Can anyone dispute that fact? I keep going back to listen to it, and it was great to hear live. Best Coast helped amp up the energy before Ziggy Marley. I liked what I heard of Marley, but I was in and out of the gated area during his set. The overall theme seemed to be “positive energy,” “weed” and “songs by my dad.” It’s tough to say anything negative about that.

For day two’s main stage, I feel like Boy & Bear did a great job playing for a relatively sparse crowd. They threw in a cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” which is a song I’m surprised more bands don’t cover. Raz Simone gets high marks for audience participation, which you can read more about below. I hope he comes back to town, because he knows how to work a crowd.

RELATED: Watch Raz Simon give an 80/35 fan his first crowd surfing experience.

Xavier Rudd is someone I was not super familiar with, but he had a great energy and seemed to have a larger crowd at 5 p.m. than Oberst did in the headlining slot the night before. Dr. Dog has been a festival fixture for years and walks that line between jam and indie with its psychedelic sound that seemed to unite the crowd. I could see both of these acts returning for Nitefall on the River shows in the next few years.

80/35 had its ups and downs this year, particularly in its struggles to secure a second headliner, but things seemed to go off without a hitch over the weekend. Now we only have 360 some days to debate who we want to headline next year.

I’ll go with my perennial first and second choices: Beck and Nick Cave. Who do you want to see?

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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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