Gromotka: A fitful odyssey at 80/35

BY ADAM GROMOTKA | JULY 07, 2014 5:00 AM

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A short security guard with spiked hair and Oakley sunglasses rushed into the crowd and snatched an under-age girl by the wrist as she tried to sip from her Silver Bullet. Hardly through the second song of a set by the Envy Corps, a little after 3:30 p.m., the crowd was thin, and she had grown too bold too early, or she was stupid. Either way, she didn’t have the go-ahead-and-drink wristband, so she was whisked away. The security guard came back and — like a robin snatching a bug from the July air — swept in and robbed a group of kids of the joint they had been passing around before escaping. He left for some time.

Having driven two hours to Des Moines, I took every step to suit up for the July 5 80/35 festivities: A wristband for the main-stage performances, a wristband for beer, a graphic T featuring a wolf floating among the stars, denim-blue Vans, and a pair of aviators. The wristband for the main stage, paid, performances was the key investment — all I needed to attend besides an appropriate amount of clothing — though sparing any expense would have ruined the day. Everyone was spending, tens of thousands of people crowded on a few acres of land, a few blocks of city space. Korean BBQ, smoked turkey legs, grinders, brats, snow cones, tacos, gyros, burgers, ice cream. Face painting, koozies, hard cider, soda;  $6 beers, $25 T-shirts. You made the trip. You have to do it.

With the performance almost over, I left with a friend to watch a bluegrass band from Minnesota on the free Kum & Go stage. When they were done, we headed back down Locust Street toward the main stage, and I bought a corndog and a cup of Blue Moon. A representative from the US Cellular tent begged people over with her loudspeaker in an uncomfortable display of interactive marketing: 
“Come on! You haven’t been to 80/35 unless you’ve been in a conga line. Somebody … lots of people walking by. Anybody? Come on, guys.” 

After 45 more minutes of festival shenanigans, we made it just in time for the start of Pennsylvania rock band “Dr. Dog’s” set. After 15 minutes, the heat took over. Despite the cost of attending the event, the morning storm had created an abundance of free humidity, and the grass in Western Gateway Park was excited to share the moisture. We went and sat near a fountain at the southern side of the park, undid our shoes, and placed our feet in the cool water while the band finished its set.

When we got up to get ice cream, I noticed a purple wristband — the coveted, paid wristband — on the stone next to my right hand. Some poor schmuck had lost it. I knew it wasn’t mine because I had paid for mine, so it must have been someone else’s. The logic was sound.

Twenty steps out of the gate separating the free and paying customers, I realized my mistake. My wrist was naked, and in a panic I sent my friend back in to look for it. After three agonizing minutes, he came back. Nothing. We went to the free stage, and on the pavement I pondered my bad luck.

Perhaps I could poach the wristband off the gentleman sitting across the way, the one who looked like he already had too good of a day and wanted someone, anyone, to drag him home, put him in bed, and turn the AC on full blast. He cradled his head on his knees. I was on the hunt, and it seemed like a reasonable plan, but this notion was crushed when four of his friends sat down to rally him for more drinking.

Without a wristband, the day was a wash, a waste, even after watching a number of talented bands perform. There was one show left on the paid stage — Cake, the band most people at the festival had heard of before seeing their name on the lineup and checking Wikipedia.

I walked a few blocks and tried to beg a wristband off groups of couples that looked like they were leaving. They were all disgusted with my forwardness. A few snarled. A few swore.

Without that piece of plastic around my wrist, I felt empty, stuck in the capital with nothing to do but wait and brood and fret. Perhaps I could attempt to listen over the fence, maybe even climb it. Neither would be the full experience I had paid for.

Sitting sad and alone on the curb waiting to sober up, with the Sun setting over downtown Des Moines and my hopes sufficiently crushed, I received a text from the same friend as before, informing me that his friend — one he happened to meet at his internship who happened to be going to 80/35 — had purchased an extra ticket for a girl, but that she, as it just so happened, had turned him down at the last minute. This stranger’s bad luck was my bliss. With five minutes to spare, I bolted to the tent and got a new wristband and bought a shirt. I had been saved at the last minute, the stuff of fairy tales, a triumph.

The security at the gate herded the mob through without bothering to check for wristbands.

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