Riverview Music Festival Is Bringing New Joys To The North Side
Sound In Color is an audio series from Studio One which takes a closer look at the people and communities of color that make up Iowa’s local music scene. IPR’s Cece Mitchell talked to Des Moines Music Coalition board president Kuuku Saah and local neo-soul artist Spayce about the upcoming inaugural Riverview Music Festival, taking place Sept. 4 in Des Moines’ Northside neighborhood.
The Riverview Music Festival is a brand new one-day fest that’ll be held at the newly renovated Riverview Park in Northside Des Moines this Sept. 4. It will feature some pretty big national acts alongside regional and local talent.
This year, in lieu of their usual 80/35 Music Festival, the Des Moines Music Coalition organized Riverview in order to celebrate the Highland Park and Oak Park neighborhoods of Des Moines, also known as the Northside.
I had the opportunity to chat with DMMC board president and Northside resident Kuuku Saah about how this festival came to be.
“For 80/35, the focus had been on bringing the biggest names into Des Moines for just a huge music festival,” Saah said. “But with this [festival], we were a little bit more deliberate on the community. One of the things that we realized as an organization, just going through the summer changes we saw last year after the George Floyd murders and the protests, was how our actions impacted equity. We realized that a lot of our programming was concentrated in the downtown area.
“The downtown area has pretty specific demographics, so we were like, ‘Okay, how do we provide more programming to people not in the downtown area? How do we make our programming a little more equitable?’ The conscious decision was made to push out of downtown, push out into our neighborhoods, push out into our diverse neighborhoods and our underserved neighborhoods [which are often] underserved neighborhoods.
“The timing worked out because the Riverview Park opened up and we were in a position to make that happen – just going in, deciding to have the festival, seeing the culture there and being excited to shine a spotlight on the culture that's already there.”
The lineup is absolutely stacked, and the vast majority of the performers are people of color.
National acts at the Riviera stage include Mick Jenkins, Duckwrth, Sudan Archives, EARTHGANG, the headliner, and more.
At the xBk stage, we’ll see kiddos from Des Moines Music Coalition’s summer camp, Maria Isa, James Tutson, Spayce, local headliner Andre Davis, and more.
This festival, with its diverse lineup and accessible price point, was designed to serve the community it will inhabit. So, I figured it was about time I actually visited the Northside. Lucky for me, Spayce, an artist playing the xBk stage, was willing to give me a little walking tour.
We met up at Tacos La Familia, a little joint on 6th Ave that Kuuku said was a must-visit in the neighborhood. There, I had some of the best authentic-style Mexican food I’ve had in the state of Iowa. And I’ve eaten a LOT of Mexican food.
Tacos La Familia was just down the street from the newly renovated Riverview Park, and on our walk there, I chatted with Spayce about her history, not only as a musician but also as a longtime resident of the Northside.
“So, my streets are very friendly. I know all my neighbors on the street. I would say we have more of like a close knit where everybody's family knows everyone,” Spayce said. “Same as the area where I was raised, that as well. Which I was just raised about three blocks from where I have the house now. So, we all know each other, you know, all our families kind of grew up close to each other. None of us are really strangers, to be honest.”
“How did Spayce become Spayce today?” I asked.
“Well, it's kind of weird. I never did music before [and the] last couple years, I actually got stage fright.
“So, I started off managing. I managed this guy named Da Younger, rapper in Des Moines. And I started off with that, and then I was looking for another artist. But I wanted an artist that could sing, ‘cause I like slow jams. I went looking, and I didn't find anybody. But I went to the studio one day, hanging out with some friends, and I recorded my first song, ‘Body to Body,’ which went up on SoundCloud. And it went crazy. I had never done music before, but it went up to like 150,000 [listens], the best song I've ever had. I still haven't got that high.
“So after that one song, I was like, ‘I think I kind of like this,’ you know what I mean? And I started doing more. My first performance, they found that ‘Body to Body’ song and booked me for Wildin’ Out. And then from there, it was kind of crazy that first year. I start performing for a lot of rappers.”
To be honest, I’m still kind of a newcomer to the local music scene. And so is Spayce: she just started putting out music on Soundcloud and opening for local rap shows within the last five years. So, it was really nice to just be real and geek out with her about the acts we’re gonna see at Riverview.
“I'm gonna be there all day,” Spayce said. “I mean, like, it's a big deal. I'm not gonna be able to sleep the night before. And EARTHGANG, I'm a fan of EARTHGANG.”
“Yeah!” I said, “And Duckwrth…”
“Oh, oh, the girls!” Spayce said.
“VanJess?” I said.
“Yeah, I love them too, because they have that new song, ‘Slow Down.’ Yeah, that's on the playlist. I didn't connect the dots, but we listened to it all the time in the house. So I was like, ‘yeah, we're looking forward to seeing them too.’”
Spayce is also a mom, and she told me that she’s been taking her kids to the new park all summer and plans to take them to the festival as well. I asked her about what she hopes her kids would get out of something like this.
“I hope they meet a friend. That's all I pretty much want to get from it,” she said. “I hope that they also see the unity when everybody comes out. I love when you go to an event and I get to bring my kids and you see everybody come out and there's no problems, everybody's having a good time. You know what I mean? Everybody's vibing with the music type of deal.
“And, my kids like to dance. So I think they have fun with music, too.”
It's a big deal. I'm not gonna be able to sleep the night before.Spayce
Finally, we made it to the newly renovated Riverview Park. And it was spectacular. The gorgeous retro sign, the bridge that leads you into the park like a castle’s moat. It seemed like a picture from a storybook, complete with kids laughing and playing on the brand new playground.
“So, it's definitely redone. Everything's brand new. And I definitely don't think they were expecting it in our community. It’s definitely an upgrade because people will drive from far just to come over here. That's not normal for this community here,” Spayce said. “And they gave us a little lake and stuff. Well, the river.”
“So when you come here with your kids, where do you go, what do you do?” I asked.
“So the first thing they're gonna do is go over to this little sliding thing they got so they could feel like they're flying. That’s the first thing they're going to hit, then we usually gonna come to this other side, where they got all the musical instruments for the kids. And then, we're gonna make a remix to some type of song. That's what we usually like to do. Then my girlfriend, she's gonna walk this, go ahead and get her exercising.
“It's lovely here and it's peaceful. Everyone says that it looks like it doesn't belong over here, but I'm like, ‘No, it looks like it's the perfect spot right here.’”
I think it’s the perfect spot too.
I could tell from talking to Spayce and to Kuuku and to other friends who plan on being there, that this brand new Riverview Music Festival is a labor of love for a community where everybody knows their neighbors, and it's going through changes for the better because of people who care about it.
Plus, the lineup is amazing for a one-day inaugural festival, some of these artists I can’t even believe are performing here in Iowa, much less just down the road from killer hole-in-the-wall tacos. But it’s really happening, and general admission tickets are on sale now.
I’m ready for it. And I know that Spayce and Kuuku and the rest of the neighborhood is too.
For more information on the Riverview Music Festival, and to purchase tickets and parking for the event, visit riverviewmusicfestival.com.
At the end of the audio story is a song by the local artist that Spayce said she’s most excited to see at the xBk stage, James Tutson, performed live at Juneteenth: The Movement earlier this summer.