In year five, 80/35 project manager Amedeo Rossi thinks the festival has found its groove.
When the volunteer- driven festival started in 2008, Rossi said he and others with the Des Moines Music Coalition were just excited that it was happening. But with the festival about to start its fifth go-round, Rossi thinks 80/35 has found its place in Des Moines.
“I don’t think I ever envisioned how integrated the event would become to the community,” Rossi said. “You can say 80/35 anywhere in Des Moines and people know what it is. I’m happy that it’s essentially a similar event to how it started, still drawing lots of acts that haven’t played here before.”
That includes first-time visits to Des Moines by co-headlining act Death Cab for Cutie, as well as Leftover Salmon, F**** Up and Dinosaur Jr. And return visits from co-headliner The Avett Brothers, Atmosphere and others.
The last time the Avetts played Des Moines was in 2009, and the band’s star has risen significantly since then. They have been hitting the road hard this year, playing in Iowa City in March, Council Bluffs earlier this week and Minneapolis the day after they play 80/35. The Avetts are a group that attracts fans to multiple concerts, but the proximity of the other shows means 80/35 will likely lose out on some fans from Minnesota and Omaha.
“We may lose some travelers, but the core of people who come to 80/35 live here,” Rossi said. “The Flaming Lips and Spoon both had other shows in neighboring states around 80/35. The top acts will get followed, and people who love the Avetts may have seen them multiple times this summer.”
After struggling to line up a second headliner last year, Rossi and the DMMC set a goal of signing a headliner earlier this time around. By January they had signed or nearly signed both The Avett Brothers and Death Cab for Cutie. Rossi said other bands that ended up with dates near 80/35, such as Wilco in Sioux City and Cake in Minneapolis, were considered possibilities as well, but the Avetts and Death Cab were always in their sights for 80/35.
Girl Talk and Of Montreal, the 2011 headliners, were less expensive, allowing 80/35 to spend more on other acts like Grace Potter, Edward Sharpe, and Galactic. Rossi said the festival’s budget has increased this year (it’s around $600,000), but that a greater share of the money went to the headlining acts.
Booking earlier also allowed 80/35 organizers to adjust their method of reaching potential ticket buyers. For instance, they released a video full of clues about the festival’s acts before the lineup was announced.
The characters in that short, Jam Band Guy and Indie Rock Chick represent the two types of fans 80/35 targets most. Death Cab appeals to the indie fans who came for Spoon and Modest Mouse in years past, while The Avett Brothers have a crossover appeal to jam fans, similar to The Flaming Lips and Ben Harper.
The festival also has opened doors for bands in Des Moines. Many main- and free-stage acts play Des Moines for the first time through the festival, then make return visits in the following months.
“There does seem to be some boomeranging after playing 80/35,” Rossi said. “A lot of these bands haven’t played Des Moines before, so they haven’t done the grass-roots work to become popular here, which is a lot of times what it takes — 80/35 gives them some instant cred and lets them see the passion of the area. They’ve gotten a warm reception here and want to come back to get their whole show out there.”