Des Moines Music Scene Hoping to Continue its Emergence

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Lists; Des Moines has ranked highly in all kinds of them.

Business Insider’s number one city for the middle class, Forbes' 2014 best city for young professionals, and even a top 15 farmers market are just some of the accolades Des Moines has racked up. However, there is one list Des Moines hasn`t even come close to touching, which is a top music town.

“There`s huge amounts of talent here, that don`t necessarily get seen as much as I would want them to or they would want them to,” said Anne Mathey, Co-Owner of Lefty’s Music Club.

Leaders in the music community are working hard to speed that process up. Yearly festivals like 80/35 and 515 Alive bring nationally touring artists to Des Moines.

However, while national acts headline the main stage, most of the talent is made up of local and regional bands.

“We want them to succeed we want them to get in front of a bigger crowd and have to up their game, and they can gain fans,” said 80/35 Director Amedeo Rossi.

Local artists say these festivals can be used as a launch pad to reach bigger Midwest markets.

“It`s super important, just getting your name on a flyer with these big name acts, that also gets you noticed if you`re trying to play out of state you can be like `I`ve played at this festival,` it`s a really big deal,” said Des Moines DJ Alyssa Kunath.

Club owners and festival directors believe if local acts become successful, like metal legends Slipknot did in the early 2000s, it would inspire more people to join and grow the music community.

“It gives all those bands hope it gives them the idea that local boys made good, makes everybody be like `oh maybe I can do that! I want to be a rock star one day,’” said Mathey.

Known music cities like Austin, Los Angeles, and New Orleans have more than just talent, they have musical diversity, which is why local rapper Marquas Ashworth has been at work for years planning 'Fresh Fest', Des Moines' first ever hip-hop festival.

“If you look at a lot of the best events that even happen here, typically they have a hip hop artist at the base of it. So that`s a hint and a clue towards what the city is actually wanting,” said Ashworth.

Ashworth says the two-day event in August will bring Des Moines something that hasn`t been readily available in years past.

“To add that diversity to add that choice that you can have now in the city to see a quality hip-hop event, to see quality B-boy performances, to see everything within the culture of hip hop displayed right here,” said Ashworth.

Though it`s clear growing a musical culture doesn`t happen overnight, some cities have had yearly festivals for over a decade, the payoff can be far more than landing a big act for a night or two.

“It`s definitely attractive to employers. We have Nationwide here and Wellmark on the other side and Principal on the other side and they want things for young people to do,” said Rossi.

“If you have a strong art scene or a strong music scene your city has a strong soul. It has something intangible that people seek out and people want even though you can`t touch it and say `this is a concrete thing,'” said Mathey.

It’s not just employers though, it’s also potential employees. Millennials say when moving to a new city, a thriving music scene is a top priority.

“It`s huge, it can help you meet new people, just experience new things about the city. It`s huge, it`s hugely important,” said 80/35 attendee Matt Utterson.

Musicians in the area say that despite not appearing on a “best of” music list, they can feel a change.

“Wonderful things they`ve done already, having the pianos out on the different corners, allowing there to be just pop up, stand up musician places where people can come and preform their art and be where they want to be,” said Denise Forney, a guitar player at the farmers market.

“We`re adding to the theme of what`s happening in Des Moines altogether. Growth, culture, innovation, you know it`s all wrapped up into one,” said Ashworth.

The hope is if the music scene starts growing at the same rate the city has over the past 20 years, music lists may need to make a little more room.

“It would really validate the work we do as musicians, because I`m proud to live in Des Moines, I`ve been here over 25 years with my husband and our family and there`s just something about seeing that list that says the music scene is where its at,” said Forney.