Music Makers

Written by Chad Taylor
Photos by Dan McClanahan

If you’ve lived in Des Moines during the past five years and have somehow managed to completely avoid the 80/35 music festival, I don’t even know what to do with you. 80/35 (July 6–7 at Western Gateway Park) has quickly built a national reputation, drawing acts from across the country, and has helped put the capital city on the musical map. Starting with a grand idea and a $50,000 city grant, the Des Moines Music Coalition has developed 80/35 into a homegrown event that embraces local artists and businesses, generates $2.5 million a year in revenue and attracts national accolades. But this is no self-perpetuating monolith. From its initial conception to its yearly execution, from the board who signs the checks to the fans who gather around the stages, 80/35 has always been about people with a passion for music and for Des Moines. We found four you should know about.

 

Justin Schoen 
Des Moines Music Coalition

Justin Schoen is committed to reconnecting Des Moines with its youth.

“Des Moines has a lot of great cultural events going on,” says Schoen, president of the Des Moines Music Coalition (DMMC) board. “The symphony, for example. But if you’re 20-something, that doesn’t always connect with you. The Des Moines Music Coalition’s goal is to fill that gap. The DMMC is the arts and cultural scene for the next generation.”

For the 31-year-old Schoen, promotion has been a way of life. After working as station manager for the radio program at Valley High School, he interned at the Des Moines Radio Group and studied business at the University of Iowa. He then spent seven years working with G&L Clothing, establishing and running the company’s online marketing presence, before starting his own marketing firm, eComegy LLC, in 2010. Schoen joined the DMMC’s board of directors in 2005 and last year assumed his current role as president. Having been involved from the humble beginnings through the current halcyon days, Schoen is well acquainted with the development of 80/35.

“We knew from the beginning that we wanted to do something big. So we originally thought, ‘Why not just do what South by Southwest does?’” he says, referring to the yearly Austin, Texas, film and music extravaganza. “(So) we were planning to do a multi-day music festival and conference.”

Eventually, the conference idea would fall by the wayside, but the idea for a major festival was off and running. Schoen, who’s been heavily involved in 80/35 every year, sees the festival as a way for the DMMC to embrace Des Moines’ local flair. “Everything we do, we try and have a local tie-in,” he says. “We have local beer at the festival. We try and go with all local food vendors.”

But the DMMC’s biggest influence can be seen in how it engages the community’s younger set. “I’m passionate about volunteerism,” Schoen says. “So one of our goals, which I think we’ve accomplished, is engaging young people in a meaningful volunteer experience.”

Thanks to events like 80/35, the DMMC is well positioned to be a steward for the growth of Des Moines’ local artistic identity. “We’ve been called Pitchfork’s baby brother,” Schoen says with a smile, referring to the Chicago-based music festival. “And that’s pretty great.”

 

Jill Haverkamp
Hillary Brown 
On Pitch LLC

Hillary Brown, left, and Jill Haverkamp.

“The goal was to get people out and listening to music in Des Moines,” Brown says.

For the better part of an hour, the duo answer questions easily and interchangeably, concurring on favorite local acts (Christopher the Conquered. “It’s religious!” quips Brown), and taking turns nodding in agreement as the other expresses their shared goals for the future.

Haverkamp, 29, and Brown, 32, started On Pitch LLC specifically with events like 80/35 in mind. Recognizing the potential for a marketing company to serve the local music community, the two launched On Pitch in 2010. “We wanted to work with local bands and Iowa businesses,” Haverkamp says. “There wasn’t a job opportunity here, so we had to make one.”

Since then, On Pitch has worked on marketing campaigns for the Nadas, Envy Corps, Nitefall on the River, First Fleet Concerts and the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines. In between paying customers, Haverkamp and Brown donate their time and energies to 80/35, choosing to volunteer their efforts to a cause they both believe in. The pair works throughout the year helping to establish the festival’s theme, as well as coordinating street teams and social media blitzes to get the word out. During the festival itself, they recruit a half dozen or so volunteers to help them patrol the grounds and make sure everything is running smoothly; keep the festival’s social media presence updated (apps for Android and iPhone were released last year); and talk with concert-goers and bands alike, mining feedback to make improvements for the next year.

Business for the two is growing. Haverkamp quit her day job as marketing manager for Ames-based Olde Main Brewing Co. to handle On Pitch full time, and the company’s client list continues to grow. The 80/35 festival, however, remains a priority. “I think 80/35 can inspire change,” Haverkamp says.

To that end, a big part of On Pitch’s vision for the festival has always been the strong commitment to integrate the concert with the city, embracing the downtown corridor rather than blocking large portions of the festival off from the general public. “The goal was to get people out and listening to music in Des Moines,” Brown says.

Haverkamp and Brown are bullish about both On Pitch as a whole and 80/35 specifically. “I definitely see (the festival) growing,” Brown says. “Whether that’s by adding another day, or by expanding the range (of acts), we’ll just have to see.”

 

Patrick Tape Fleming
The Poison Control Center

The Poison Control Center, from left: Devin Frank, Patrick Tape Fleming, Don Curtis, Joe Terry. Not pictured: David Olson.

“(Iowans) are a much more loving audience. It doesn’t matter if you’re the headliner or playing the last set on a free stage; they are glad you’re here. They’re musically savvy and appreciate the effort.”

Through its 12 years of existence, the band—whose members, scattered in four cities in three states, get together a couple of times a year to collaborate—has always been the bridesmaid-rather-than-bride band in the minds of many of Des Moines’ music-minded. This is due, in no small measure of paradox, to the band’s greatest strength: They don’t really have a thing. Lacking the seething, animalistic fury of Slipknot, the carefully measured emotional pandering of Envy Corps or even the overpowering, singular focal point of talent like Radio Moscow, PCC has gotten by for 12 years simply by being a group of really talented guys who play really great music.

To be sure, it’s served them well. They’ve found success on the College Music Journal (CMJ) charts, played alongside some of the most successful pop acts of the last 20 years, and just wrapped up a 2011 that saw them pack in more than 200 shows. The recipe for that success lies in the working relationship of the band’s members. Songwriting is a collaborative effort. The band changes vocalists from song to song with such dexterity that tracks on the same album sound like they come from completely different bands.

Founded in Ames in 2000, the band consists of Patrick Fleming, Devin Frank, Joe Terry and David Olsen. (Don Curtis also occasionally plays with the band.) The bandmates have since scattered, with Fleming moving to Des Moines with his wife; Frank and Terry settling in Columbia, Mo., and Ashville, N.C., respectively; and Olsen still calling Ames home. PCC has played 80/35 three times so far and wouldn’t pass up the chance for number four, if it were offered. “Last year, we booked our summer shows to make room for 80/35,” Fleming says. “We played in Missouri one night, drove up (to) Des Moines for the festival, and went back out on the road when we were done.”

Aside from the fact that 80/35 is in his own back yard, why the affinity for a festival in Des Moines? “Because it’s the best city in the world,” Fleming says, channeling his inner Raygun. “(Iowans) are a much more loving audience. It doesn’t matter if you’re the headliner or playing the last set on a free stage; they are glad you’re here. They’re musically savvy and appreciate the effort.”

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