May 14, 2021 - News

Des Moines’ 80/35 music festival cancellation was about survival

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Last week’s decision to cancel the second consecutive year of Des Moines’ 80/35 music festival was part of a tactical move to ensure survival of the nonprofit organization that runs it, its board chairman told Axios.

Why it matters: The multiple-day festival draws tens of thousands of people downtown and contributes to the state’s cultural scene.

  • Dozens of musicians play each year. Past acts include Public Enemy, Jakob Dylan, Flaming Lips and Weezer.
  • It pumps lots of money into the local economy and has been credited for helping to attract and retain young professions.

Context: The Greater Des Moines Music Coalition (DMMC) launched its flagship event in 2008, which is run almost entirely by volunteers — but the group's wider mission is to build the metro’s music community.

What happened: Planning for this year’s 80/35 event began at a time when it was unknown whether pandemic restrictions would be lifted — a problem that venues and events across America faced.

  • Contracts were not finalized because there was "the potential to wipe out the entire organization" if the festival was unable to move forward, DMMC chairperson Kuuku Saah told Jason.

What’s next: DMMC is launching Riverview Music Festival, a new one-day event on Sept. 4 at the newly completed Riviera amphitheater at Riverview Park.

  • Tickets and musical acts will be announced this summer. DMMC is seeking sponsors to help reduce ticket prices low.

The bottom line: "Canceling 80/35 was the right decision. It puts us in the position where we remain an organization and can have a festival in 2022," Saah said.


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