I boycotted the fireworks tonight. They couldn’t possibly have been more excellent than Saturday’s.
It takes a certain amount of masochism, a three a.m. wake up call, great weather, seemless airline connections, an hour of time zone savings, and about 15 milligrams of Xanax to make it to Eastern Iowa Airport before nine a.m., but sure enough, Abbi and I were settling into our rental car (a gun metal gray Impala) shortly thereafter.
We stopped off I-80 for a little light shopping (the Nike Store and Banana Republic at Tanger Factory Outlet Center in Williamsburg, Iowa have some awesome deals!) and a little light lunch (Farmer Nick’s in Guernsey, Iowa makes a bitchin’ pork tenderloin!) before spotting the gold dome of the Iowa State house.
The Des Moines Arts Festival was just a few blocks from the Authentic Records offices, which I managed to find from memory. Abbigail, however, wasn’t impressed when I ignored the festival map and drove straight into contruction.
Des Moines, it ends up, is enjoying some sort of economic and cultural renaissance. Meredith Publishing calls the city home, as does Principal Financial. It boasts a population of some 500,000, a pretty decent skyline, an art museum designed by I.M. Pei, a beautiful new library, and plenty of new condos with great views of the Des Moines River (seriously). Moreover — thanks in no small part to my pals in The Nadas, there’s a pretty happening creative scene.
Now, Abbigail’s no fool. She knew she was gettin’ the soft sell way before we boarded the plane. Still, wading into the populous but polite festival crowd, I’m not sure I had to do much sellin’. It was one of those rare July afternoons where the sky is blue, the humidity’s low, and the smell of bratwurst and The Josh Davis Band wafts in the breeze.
Authentic Photographer Mandy Miller was the first to spot us as we approached the backstage tent. She ushered us in, poured us a beer from the keg, and encouraged us to dig into the crut de ta and Twizzlers. Pretty soon, we were knee deep in old pals like Nadas bassist Jon Locker (with whom I’ve obviously been corresponding a bunch as he mastered both volumes of my brand-new CDs, “Besides”), and front man Mike Butterworth, plus fellas from The Tyler Thompson Band.
It’s been two years since I recorded “Heartland” in Des Moines, so I was more than a bit nervous to see everyone. Of course, everyone was super cool as always, but — midwest or not — it’s a frenzied scene. There’s a lot going on at these big events (the festival saw some 200,000 attendees), and we were swept right up in the action.
Jason Walsmith called and invited us to join him at KFMG-FM high atop the historic Hotel Fort Des Moines. We hustled over to the crowded, dusty studio where Jason and I reunited on air. The station, it ends up, has only recently returned to the airwaves after a twenty year hiatus, and the staff has the enthusiasm to show for it. I borrowed Josh’s guitar and raced through a slightly awkward version of “Harder To Believe,” before pimping our show.
“Oh shit!” Jason said as we rode the elevator afterwards. “I left the van running outside! And it’s unlocked!”
TO BE CONTINUED…