Written by Chad Taylor
Ziggy Marley is a self-important, set-ruining, prima donna. More on that later.
80/35 is two weeks past now, which means that everything that occurred has had a chance to digest in our collective consciousness. The time has given us all a chance to get over any minor slights, but also to put away our rose colored glasses and now we can really look at the entirety of the festival with a level of honesty. So what can be taken away?
The best sets of the weekend were from the locals. Dr Dog put their best foot forward, and Raz Simone and Xavier Rudd were both memorable and fun. But if you missed the likes of James Biehn, Bonne Finken, Holy White Hounds, Har-di-Har, Twins and Kris Adams, then I feel sorry for you, son.
The headliners both surprised me. I didn't honestly go in expecting a hell of a lot from Conor Oberst. As I said in my radio show, Critical Mass, two weeks ago, when Oberst's name was announced, I thought of him as a second-tier name. Someone who looked good on the main stage, but had no business headlining a festival. I'm not going to advance my opinion so far as to say that he proved me completely wrong, but he definitely put forth a better show than I thought he might. And it didn't have a lot to do with the music.
Though Oberst's sound has gotten more rock-tinged as he's progressed his career, the biggest reason why his Friday headlining set wasn't a disappointment was because he was more animated on stage than many people expected. He certainly wasn't David Lee Roth up there or anything--that's hard to do when so much of your set revolves around playing an acoustic guitar whilst you sing--but Oberst showed moments of fire and passion that helped energize the crowd at just the right moments, and kept people who weren't familiar with the entirety of his catalog involved and engaged.
Meanwhile, Saturday's headliner, Cake, got away with a deft bit of thievery.
There was so much between (and mid) song banter, most of the people in attendance probably didn't notice that they got a headlining set that, unless my count was off, totaled 11 songs before the encore. Ultimately, the length of the set didn't seem to matter much to the gathered crowd, and that's a good thing, because that was the largest main stage crowd I've ever personally seen at an 80/35. The entirety of Gateway Park was absolutely packed with festival goers, and trying to navigate at all through the hundred or so yards immediately in front of the stage was nearly impossible. Cake played most of their hits, though saving The Distance and Short Skirt Long Jacket for the encore, and completely eschewing I will Survive. But there was so much padding in the form of "audience engagement" that I almost feel like the DMMC should ask for some of their money back.
One point of the show that is universally agreed upon as being a low spot, was Best Coast's set. One of the more anticipated acts of the festival's two days, many of the people who commented on the set after the fact made note of singer Bethany Cosentino's rather blah stage presence. More than a couple of people mentioned that it seemed like the duo didn't really want to be there, and more than a couple people walked away disappointed. And it's true: Consentino was disengaged and a little surly, and the end result was a set that probably the weakest of the festival.
And now, I’m going to tell you why. But first, let’s talk about Ziggy Marley—because seriously, screw that guy.
Going into the event, anyone who had applied for a photo pass (and there were plenty; a rant for another day) was given an early warning that Marley was going to be a bigger pain than most 80/35 acts: photographers needed to be "pre approved" to shoot his set, and there were going to be tighter restrictions on when and where you could photograph the set. Signing an extra release for a specific set is rare for large festivals and, to the best of my knowledge, unprecedented for 80/35, but it was also a fairly small hoop to jump through in this case, so whatever.
But on the day of the event, roughly an hour before Marley was set to take the stage, an alert was sent out on the 80/35 mobile app: Show time change. Ziggy Marley pushed back to 7:30, Conor Oberst to start at 9:30. Then, roughly 25 minutes after that, a second alert came through, announcing that Ziggy was actually starting his set early. Like now early. People scrambled from other stages to catch the set.
This is the point where Marley's special photo release came into play. Marley had instituted a hard-and-fast "first three songs" rule, and because of the surprise announcements, I know of several photographers who missed their three-song window of opportunity. Under normal circumstances, that isn't the end of the world, because after the first three songs in the photographer's pit in front of the stage, a photographer can move out into the crowd and shoot more of the show with relative ease. But for Marley's set, once the first three songs were done, photographers were asked to completely leave the paid main stage area. Meaning if you were caught unawares by the sudden schedule change, you missed your chance.
But what does all of this have to do with Best Coast, you might be asking yourself. Best Coast played their set immediately before Marley's. As Best Coast was setting up, Marley's people approached DMMC staff, saying they had a rather elaborate stage show planned, and wanted to start setting up. During Best Coast's set.
Quite naturally, it was a request that Best Coast wasn't on board with, because who the hell is so rude as to want to set up on stage while another act is trying to perform? The two camps went 'round and 'round over the matter, with both becoming increasingly unhappy with the situation.
We're a fairly unpretentious people, Des Moines. We're nice, but our patience has limits. We enjoy a good show, but we're far too Midwestern to be impressed by ego. As such, we don't tend to cotton well to prima donnas, and Amedeo Rossi is no different. When the bickering showed no signs of coming to a conclusion, Rossi was on the verge of cancelling BOTH sets, and being done with it. Finally, when faced with a doomsday scenario, Marley's camp relented.
But the damage was done.
Cosentino--known to be a somewhat fickle performer in the best of times--checked out. The result was a Best Coast set that was wildly disappointing to virtually everyone who saw it, and a severe let down to people watching the act for the first time and trying to figure out what all the hype was about. If you were ranking every performance at the festival, Best Coast's would be at or very near the bottom.
First of all, yes. Shame on Best Coast for not being able to suck it up and still deliver the performance that fans knew they were capable of. But to a larger degree, fuck Ziggy Marley et al for coming into town with more baggage than a schizophrenic with daddy issues. When you're the third (fourth?) most famous Marley people can think of--and only the third most famous Ziggy--and you've made the bulk of your fame trading off your daddy's name, you should have a little more humility.
By all accounts, the DMMC handled the situation admirably, and the unwashed pile of hippies who showed up for Marley's set were none the wiser. But he had a direct hand in ruining one set, and nearly cost the event two in the process.