Kelsie James
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Kelsie James

Des Moines, Iowa, United States | Established. Jan 01, 2021 | SELF

Des Moines, Iowa, United States | SELF
Established on Jan, 2021
Band Pop Rock




"80/35 festival brings variety to Iowa’s music scene"

80/35 is a non-profit music festival in Des Moines that took place on July 8 and 9. From well-known musicians like Japanese Breakfast to emerging artists from Iowa like Alyx Rush, the festival showcased an enormous variety of music.

Gabby Drees

Jamila Woods points to the crowd during the final day of the 80/35 music festival in downtown Des Moines on Saturday, July 9, 2022.

Jami Martin-Trainor, Arts Reporter
July 10, 2022

Generally, the Midwest is not considered a hub for diverse music. If an artist is looking to make a career out of their craft, the east or west coasts are generally where to go. Yet, this year’s 80/35 festival made it known that quality music can be for Iowa too.

80/35 is a non-profit music festival in Des Moines that took place from July 8 through 9. For the past two years, the festival was canceled due to COVID-19-related concerns. The high volume of attendance highlighted how much the Iowa music community missed the event.

Over the two short days, a variety of performers were packed into the lineup. From well-known musicians like Japanese Breakfast to emerging artists from Iowa like Alyx Rush, the festival showcased an enormous variety in genre and sound.

The first day of 80/35 was projected to rain, but luck was on the audience’s side as the sky stayed clear. While the air was quite humid, a brisk breeze blew by every so often, creating a rather nice day. The second day offered nothing but sunshine and heat. Water stations were available throughout downtown Des Moines to ensure that audience members stayed hydrated and healthy.

RELATED: Photos: 80/35 Music Festival – Day 1

The main stage at 80/35 had quite a few large names performing. With Father John Misty headlining Friday and Charli XCX headlining Saturday, the audience only grew as the days progressed. Anticipation was high on Friday and Saturday for these two acts, and fans were certainly not disappointed.

While the headliners gave impressive performances, I thought one of the most powerful sets of the entire weekend came from Jamila Woods, an artist from Chicago. Woods had the most natural and overwhelming stage presence from the second her songs began.

At one point during her performance, Woods commented on the audience’s energy, complimenting the positivity and kindness that everyone was showing. The comment came with a great deal of weight, considering the incredible energy that Woods presented that night.

Every song that Woods had in her setlist was unique. Whether the emotional intention was anger, sadness, joy, or empowerment, Woods nailed her performances perfectly. One highlight was a compelling cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, which had a smoother and slower tone.

Future Islands followed Woods, and while the genre was not my favorite, the themes that their music presented was interesting. The lead singer said that one of the songs was based on a long walk across a bridge. While vague, the description was able to inspire a memory of my own, giving an additional level of connection to the material.

Japanese Breakfast and Guided by Voices were two of the main stage acts on Friday. Guided by Voices opened the main stage for the entire festival, and set a high bar to meet. With shorter songs that were quite easy to follow along to, the audience couldn’t help bobbing their heads, swaying side to side, and dancing along with the band.

RELATED: Mission Creek Festival returns to rock Iowa City

There was one point in the set that Guided by Voices presented a song so compelling that I couldn’t help but dance along. As I stood at the front and center of the audience giving “sparkle fingers” to the lead singer, he mimicked the motion back to me.

Japanese Breakfast continued the trend of bringing amazing music to the table. With lyrics dripping in emotion and an onstage gong draped in flowers, the band’s performance was loud and all-encompassing in the best possible way.

In addition to the packed performances on the paid main stage, 80/35 offered several stages that were free to attend, providing music for anyone interested.

Some of the most interesting musicians were presented at these smaller stages. Even if they were just walking by, attendees of 80/35 were able to hear snippets of new artists, expanding music tastes and exposing emerging artists to a larger audience.

The Iowa Public Radio stage was a perfect example of this. Hidden in an alley by the Des Moines Public Library, the stage was shaded by nearby trees and certainly easy to miss. The smaller crowd that surrounded this stage cheered at the artists playing earnestly, eager to support these musicians.

Iowa alternative pop artist Alyx Rush was one of the artists that played at the IPR stage, giving a breathtaking performance. Between unique lyrics, amazing instrumentals, and smooth vocals, Rush’s performance had the same quality as any of the main stage acts.

These smaller, free stages were certainly a highlight of the festival. In just a single hour, one could experience the strong voice of emerging artist Kelsie James, the electro-pop dance music presented by Haiku Hands, and the stunning instrumentals with the Diplomats of Solid Sound.

Regardless of personal music tastes or exposure, 80/35 presented music that could be enjoyed by anyone. So many genres were tapped into — from intense heavy metal bands to emotional indie rock performers — without a doubt, there was a stage for everyone at 80/35. - Daily Iowan

"Live Recap: 80/35 Festival"

Back after a two-year pandemic-induced hiatus, Greater Des Moines Music Coalition’s annual 80/35 Festival (named for interstates I-80 and I-35) returned to Western Gateway Park in “downtown-ish” (as one festival tee-shirt put it) Des Moines for two days on Friday, July 8th and Saturday July 9th. The festival, which includes numerous free stages for local and smaller acts sponsored as well as a larger ticketed headliner stage sponsored by Hy-Vee, is a non-profit festival which is 100% volunteer run committed to strengthening the live music scene in greater Des Moines.

The diverse line-up began on Friday afternoon with Guided by Voices taking the Hy-Vee stage first and getting the sun-drenched crowd roaring to life which powered through the hour set. The stage, with a viewing area split down the middle between general and VIP admission sections, filled up as GBV presented “21 of their over 1,600” songs, as Robert Pollard pointed out between numbers. Next up was Japanese Breakfast, who thundered onto the stage with a gong which prominently features on their Jubilee track “Paprika.” The tempo continued with the energetic “Be Sweet” and the summer dreamy and breezy “Kokomo, IN” rounding out the first three tracks on the LP before bringing in earlier favorites from the discography all performed while bathed in the hues of a gorgeous Iowa golden hour.

As evening turned to night, Father John Misty took the stage with his band for one of their first North American tour dates in support of the new album, Chloe and the Next 20th Century. Several songs from the new “obsolete Jazz” album (Tillman’s own words) were played along with favorites across the catalogue by Tillman’s 12-member band which sprawled out comfortably across the stage. Tillman and company seemed confident with the new material and in wonderful spirits with a buoyant energy that never eased up across the 19 tracks presented, closing out the night with a spectacular rendition of “I Love You, Honeybear,” which saw Josh Tillman maneuvering his way into and throughout the crowd.

Saturday, which started earlier (and hotter) than Friday, featured a full schedule of local and touring bands stretched across several city blocks that surrounded the main grounds. Among the street vendors, beer tents and food trucks that scattered the avenues, the sounds from the un-ticketed acts served as breadcrumbs to festival gems with not only the sounds of their music but also that of audience reactions. These tempting echoes, cascading down streets, between buildings and around blocks, worked to pull in and reward those that decided to venture away from the main stage and ticketed grounds. There, discoveries abounded, such as the post-punk Brooklyn-based quintet Geese and the Sydney and Melbourne-based dance pop group, Haiku Hands, which both commanded the attention of those present at the Kum & Go stage. Several blocks away, at the Local 5 Emerging Artist stage, Kelsie James (singer songwriter from Des Moines) pulled in an amble crowd of admirers with her tender and sturdy songwriting under the late-afternoon sun.

Back on the Hy-Vee Main Stage, 80/35 favorites Envy Corps fired up the afternoon crowd for the Chicago-based Jamila Woods who laid down several tracks from 2017’s HEAVN and 2019’s LEGACY! LEGACY!—including some unreleased music that set perfectly against the sunny, crisp summer afternoon. Following Woods came the bombastic and unstoppable Future Islands which saw Samuel Herring thundering across and on top of the stage in his usual exuberant, characteristic way, as they performed songs from latest LP As Long As You Are which is accepted gladly by a firecracker audience whose feet were often grass as often as their hands were in the air. Topping off the night and entire festival was headliner Charli XCX, bringing 21 songs from across the discography to an excited and buzzing main stage with every demographic of festival goer represented, including plenty of wide-eyed children starstruck watching from their parents’ shoulders, concluding a weekend that they will likely long remember and the greater Des Moines area’s return to live summer festivals. - ANCHR Magazine

"This teen is bringing her love for songwriting, performing to 80/35 Music Festival"

"Ever since I was young, I was always listening and writing my own music," said 15-year-old Kelsie Knapp. "So it's just always been a part of my life."

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Author: Stephanie Angleson
Published: 4:22 PM CDT July 7, 2022
Updated: 4:22 PM CDT July 7, 2022
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After a two-year hiatus due to COVID, the 80/35 Music Festival is back.

Downtown Des Moines will be filled with the music of big headliners and homegrown acts this weekend, July 8 & 9.

For one young artist taking the stage, it's an opportunity to take her music to the next level while bringing along a legacy from her roots.

"Ever since I was young, I was always listening and writing my own music," said 15-year-old Kelsie Knapp. "So it's just always been a part of my life."

Singing and songwriting is her passion, the depth of her lyrics going far beyond her years. And it's performing where she lights up. Sometimes she's even surprised where music takes her.

"Especially considering it was only a year ago that I first started playing live which is really crazy. To have gone from just a year ago playing at like Valley Junction Farmers' Markets, to now being able to play at 80/35 is really insane. But like, even if you told me when I was little that I'd be doing this, I definitely would be a little surprised."

But music runs in her genes. Her Uncle Brian was something of a music prodigy, losing his sight as a child but going on to play with the likes of Johnny Cash. Even recording music in Nashville.

Brian passed away as a teen long before Kelsie was born, but here today she brings her uncle along on this journey, playing his guitar.

"I think it's very cool to know that people before me and my family have been so heavily influenced by music just in the same way I have," she said. "Which it just like ... it's such a cool connection to them."

She's remaining humble as she prepares to take the biggest stage of her career.

"It's kind of like, there's no expectations for you or anything, which is very nice. It's not a heavy weight on your shoulders or anything."

Just like the notes that drift off her strings, Kelsie is writing her path through life, one she seems destined to take. - We Are Iowa

"Album Review: Kelsie James — ‘Songs About Daisies’"

Not many teenagers can say they’ve already made a dent in their career bucket list. But since performing at a music festival for thousands of people and releasing her five-song EP, 16-year-old Urbandale musician Kelsie James has bagged two of her goals.

James played Des Moines’ 80/35 last summer, and released Songs About Daisies earlier this year — an engaging exploration of both the passion and confidence of youth. The EP features a warm, lush orchestration that blends elements of alt-country and gospel.

The organ that introduces and weaves through both “Things That We Don’t Talk About” and “One Hundred” envelop the listener like the glow of a sunrise cresting over a hilltop. The steady strumming and mellow strings of “Settle with Me” are cozy and inviting.

Through it all, the confidence in James’ vocals belies her age. “Lost in You” is an excellent example of her range. Starting out whispering and wounded, James digs deep to infuse her choruses with soulful crescendos that send the track soaring. On “Love Me Not or Love Me So,” she taps into a heartbroken blues groove with convincing sincerity.
If Songs About Daisies stumbles anywhere, it’s on the lyrics, which can at times feel circular or contrived. But occasionally, James hits at a wisdom beyond her years. On “Settle with Me,” she croons, “I don’t care what the gossips have to say / I don’t care if the small town casts me away / Give up my whole life to live with you in the mundane.” Here, the lyrics are evocative and resonant, reflecting an ability to step into someone else’s shoes and tell an engaging story.

There is an emotional maturity that James is connected to on this EP that lends her songwriting unique authenticity. More than simply mimicking her influences, she’s building on them.

Songs About Daisies is a promising debut. As James’ experiences continue to shape her worldview, there is reason to be encouraged by what comes next. - Little Village Magazine


Kelsie James released her first album Song About Daisies in February 2023.  The five-track EP was produced by Bryan Vanderpool of Golden Bear Records.  According to Village Magazine, it is "an engaging exploration of both the passion and confidence of youth. The EP features a warm, lush orchestration that blends elements of alt-country and gospel."



Kelsie James is a seventeen-year old singer/songwriter from Des Moines, Iowa. She has spend her whole life writing, performing, and being entirely consumed in the world of music. In the past year Kelsie has performed at Roof Garden Ballroom, xBk, the Iowa State Fair, 80/35 Music Festival and released her first EP Songs About Daisies in February 2023. James' music is vulnerable, emotional and raw, as well as inspired by music of the 70s.  Like her favorite artists, such as Taylor Swift, she does not like to be defined as one genre or style.  Kelsie James wants her music to speak for itself.    

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