With the 6th annual 80/35 starting this afternoon, we wanted to take a minute to highlight what is one of Des Moines' greatest recent accomplishments. As smart-asses, we spend a lot of time in the complaining/mocking business, but we occasionally stop to notice people who are busting ass to make this city better.
Running a t-shirt shop is more work than it seems (we have to show up by 10am for crying out loud!), and putting on a music festival is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more work. At RAYGUN, we control our space, control our product production and our schedule. 80/35, like any festival, has to use a temporary location, has to contend with weather, with band schedules, with band costs, with sponsorships, with set ups, with volunteers, with ticketing, and on and on.
Scaling Mt Festival is so difficult, that a vast majority of music festivals fail after the first or second year. In 2008, the first year 80/35 took place, they struggled to book bands because the Rothbury Festival was the same weekend in Michigan. With a huge budget, Rothbury booked a massive list of acts that included Trey Anastasio from Phish, Dave Matthews Band with Tim Reynolds, John Mayer, and more. Their attendance was actually less than 80/35's, and so they shrank the event in 2009, then canceled 2010's show, saying, "due to various artists’ recording and touring schedules, we now believe that timing will not allow for us to assemble a cutting edge roster."
The festival promised to return in 2011, but has not been back since.
Similarly, last June brought Live Nation's River Edge Festival in St Paul. With headliners like Dave Matthews Band and Tool, Live Nation lost $1 million that first year, but said it was necessary to build one of the nation's best festivals. This year, Live Nation canceled the second River Edge. They too, are "hopeful" that their festival will return for 2014.
2012's cancelation of Omaha's Red Sky (also organized by Live Nation) and 2013's cancelation of Kansas' Kanrockas were just two other major failures, meaning the survival rate of festivals is low, even with huge funding and huge names.
80/35 has defied all odds. It has succeeded, it has grown, it has been rained on (twice!), but it has done so while remaining a Des Moines-run event. It is one of the largest volunteer-run festivals in the country. The ticketing company is local (Midwestix), the booking is local, the design is local (Saturday Manufacturing), the t-shirt printing is local (8/7 Central), the poster printing is local, many of the vendors are local, many of the bands are local, and it is set up in downtown Des Moines but with minimal impact on neighboring businesses.
And 80/35's trajectory is a perfect example of how something so small can become something so huge: from the Vaudeville Mews' opening in 2002, to the Des Moines Music Coalition's formation is 2004, to Gross Domestic Product, Little Big Fest, and finally the first 80/35 in 2008. It was 6 years of work to build to the first one, and its been 6 years of work since then.
A big outside name is no guarantee of success. St Paul relied on Live Nation, who promised millions of dollars, booking contracts, and commitment to the city, but still couldn't deliver. Des Moines has relied on the Music Coalition and has succeeded in spades.
We at RAYGUN have always been suspicious of big outside brands or companies not because we're assholes (well, it's kind of because we're assholes), but because they can rarely provide more than they can take -- an outside brand comes down from above, providing relatively little to the community. 80/35, by contrast, is part of the ecosystem here, and thus directly helps a myriad of companies and people. As they grow, dozens of other people grow with them. So Des Moines and Iowa should not worry, "How do we get outside companies here?" but rather, "How do we build companies here?"
Don't have the outside build something for us. Build it ourselves, have a blast doing it, and let the outside world come to us.
This city and state has all of the talent and good looks we need right here. It takes longer to develop local talent (RAYGUN has been an 8 year work-in-progress, and took over two years to even employ someone besides me), but the results are companies and organizations engrained in the city. They are part of the fabric and give the city a unique flavor. That is what is valuable. That is what makes a city great.
So, from RAYGUN, thank you 80/35 for staying true to the city, for delivering what you promised, and for making Des Moines and Iowa a better place! And to everyone else: do the city a favor by heading downtown this weekend and spending money!