' Cinema Romantico: 80/35 Music Festival (Day 1)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

80/35 Music Festival (Day 1)

For any newbies to next year's two day 80/35 Music Festival in downtown Des Moines, Iowa, here's a helpful tip: you only need to buy a ticket ($45 when I bought mine) for the "main stage." There are two free stages that, as the name implies, don't a cost thing. Granted, many of the so-called big acts appear on the monetary required "main stage" but don't presume the free stages are just stacked with middling local bands who knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who got them a gig. I went to 80/35 specifically for three acts. Gold Motel, Jessica Lea Mayfield and especially Handsome Furs. All three of them played the Kum & Go Stage. A free stage.

Well played, 80/35. Well played.

Now I had some nice experiences over at the main stage - a couple fantastic ones, in fact - and my friends said Grace Potter & The Nocturnals were pretty righteous (I passed them over for a different show) and I'm also pretty sure they had not even announced who was playing where when I bought my discounted ticket but, you know, a little food for thought from a first time 80/35er. And one who might very well return next 4th of July weekend. Of course, since it is a free stage it's also possible that's where they stick the sound guys that no one likes who have a penchant for screwing everything up. But more on that later.

Look closely and you will see the poor sap up there at the window who apparently had to work right next door to 80/35. Worst.Saturday.Ever.

This is a photo of a bunch of people NOT rocking out when Bruce Springsteen's "Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)" appeared on the loudspeakers. Idiots.
I arrived mid-afternoon on Saturday with my friends Nicolle and her husband Tim and Tim's mom and we initially decided to check out a local Des Moines rootsy band called Brother Trucker.

They were okay, but eventually Nicolle and I decided to wander over to the free stage to catch Titus Andronicus because I'm always hearing this band is supposed to be "Springsteen-esque." Now, as a Springsteen fanatic I can tell you that often bands who are extremely punkish get compared to Springsteen because, yes, Bruce can be traced in a sense back to The Clash and The Ramones. But that really is not at all the core of Springsteen, nor my favorite sort of Springsteen. Not even close. I prefer the piano-driven, open-road romantic Springsteen.

Titus Andronicus, at least from the couple songs we heard, turned out to be pretty punk. Plus, it was, like, 117 degrees in the sun. We gave up and wandered back to Brother Trucker.

After that show and some food we transferred ourselves to the other free stage, the aforementioned Kum & Go Stage, because even though Jessica Lea Mayfield wasn't on for a couple hours, damn it, I came to see her and I wanted a good spot (even though, as it turns out, if you do it right it's really, really easy to get a good spot at 80/35 which is a humongous plus). And here's why you gotta love music festivals: the acts progressed from a bluegrass band (that worked in an Irish drinking song) to a rap band "bringing the political back to the party" even though, from what I could tell, they just employed "fuck" every fourth word to a two woman group named Bitch that perhaps unsurprisingly seemed to have a devout core of two mom families. That's diversity.

Our first sighting of the "purple girl" and the "red girl." We saw them many more times (and there were others like them). They appeared with Girl Talk onstage at the night's end.

Notice the dancing young man dead ahead. Or as Nicolle put it: "Not only can he not dance, he needs to pull his pants up."
Once they ended I abandoned my friends and moved smartly right up to the metal rail in front of the stage which left me alongside several young gentleman who appeared to be Jessica Lea Mayfield devotees as they graced her with "cat calls" when she and her band made their entrance. Here's the funny thing, prior to this Tim and I had found ourselves in a discussion regarding the current state of music lyrics. I explained that quite often anymore the sound of a band is what draws me in and interests me much more than lyrics. Except......for Jessica Lea Mayfield. I cherish Jessica Lea Mayfield's lyrics. So, of course, wouldn't you know it, the sound system on the Kum & Go Stage which, as Nicolle would point out later, was working perfectly when Bitch was "treating" us to the "Pussy Manifesto", turned to complete shit the moment Jessica Lea Mayfield showed up on the scene. If you didn't already know the lyrics you would have no idea what she was singing. Which Nicolle and Tim confirmed later while also pointing out how they kept turning up the sound on the instruments, but not the vocals. But that's not the worst.

Midway through the mesmerizing "Run Myself Into The Ground" the loud frying sound no concert-goer ever wants to hear made itself known and the entire sound system went out. Now......if you had told me prior to 80/35 that Jessica Lea Mayfield would only get to play for 20 minutes before her sound got fried, I might have punched you in the face. Instead......I suddenly found myself launched headfirst into 10 of the greatest minutes of my whole life. I'll explain. (Though I still wish I could have heard her play this.)

The instant the sound went out, without skipping a beat, Jessica Lea hopped off the stage and onto one of the ginormous, now useless, speakers in front of the stage, sat down with an acoustic guitar and treated us to "Sleepless." It was incredible. Her voice, while beautifully twangy, hauntingly quivery, doesn't carry that much so I don't know how many people got to hear it, but I got to hear every word. And while I don't know which of my friends do or don't read this blog, I will say that one of my best friends very recently said that he and his significant other were "worried about (me)" which was a reference to my slightly pitiful love life. I just kind of let it slide. It wasn't mean-spirited or anything, it was a friend being a friend, but still......in "Sleepless" there's this line Jessica Lea sings that goes: "My friends worry I'm wasting away / I wish they'd not say a thing." I thought that of that line that night my friend said that to me and so when she sang it on top of her busted speaker with just her and her acoustic guitar with me five feet away, I would have jumped through the roof had we not, in fact, been outside.

Jessica Lea Mayfield. Acoustic by necessity. A moment I'll never forget.
Then she picked up and left the stage and the bass player shrugged helplessly to a couple disgruntled fans and advised, "It's fried, man. What do you want us to do?" So I tracked down my friends at which point a guy suddenly asked if he could take a picture of my tee shirt, a tee shirt bearing an illustration of the late American long distance runner Steve Prefontaine I bought when I visited my sister in Oregon. This just reinforced the fact that every time I wear this tee shirt, I get at least one compliment on it. I simply assumed this was this day's compliment. Little did I know that it was actually foreshadowing something.

We headed back to the main stage where Nicolle's brother and wife had staked out a spot for the night's closing act, Girl Talk, and on the way there, just inside the gate, some girl suddenly took hold of my right arm, turned me just slightly to the right and said to someone, "Look at this guy's shirt." At that moment quite possibly the most beautiful woman I have ever seen, a willowy blonde, right around my age, her designer shades offset by the fact she was not all made up and overdone, accentuated by a nose ring (important note: nose rings turn me on more than cigarettes and scotch combined), walked right up to me, hugged me, gently, warmly, but firmly, and whispered into my ear, and I quote, "Coos Bay" and "Carried my luggage."

Unfortunately, the nearby music was so loud I couldn't hear anything else she said. Coos Bay (OR), if you didn't know, was Prefontaine's hometown. But, was she from Coos Bay? Did she know someone from Coos Bay? Did someone from Coos Bay carry her luggage? Did a relative of Prefontaine carry her luggage? I wanted to clarify except then she spilled part of her beer down the back of the shirt she'd just complimented me on and she apologized for spilling the beer and then she released me and vanished into the crowd. Perhaps I should have called out or gone after her but damn, man, it's not every day a jaw-droppingly gorgeous, Sienna Miller-esque blonde with a freaking nose ring hugs you without warning. I was a little taken aback. I'm pretty sure my friends thought I made this encounter up, and that's fine. I know what happened. I'll always have it. I'll always feel that hug. No one can take it away from me. And I can dream of she and I running away to Coos Bay and opening a luggage store.

Girl Talk from a long ways away. Or: Yes, Des Moines HAS a skyscraper.
The only problem was that now I was on such an unstoppable high that I started drinking beer way too fast and right around the time Girl Talk (essentially the most famous party DJ in the world) was laying down the vocals of "Bust A Move" over the beat of Kylie's "Can't Get You Out Of My Head" I went a little overboard and tackled Nicolle's brother which wound up with me spilling beer all over my arm and maybe I looked like a drunken idiot but that's fine. It was a good day, man.

It was a good day.

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