80/35 Music Festival: Meet Teen Artist Kelsie James


“Ever since I was young, I’ve always listened to and written my own music,” 15-year-old Kelsie Knapp said. “So it’s always been a part of my life.”

IOWA, United States —

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID, the 80/35 music festival is back.

Downtown Des Moines will be filled with music from major headliners and local acts this weekend, July 8-9.

For a young artist stepping onto the stage, it’s an opportunity to take her music to the next level while bringing a legacy of her roots.

“Ever since I was young, I’ve always listened to and written my own music,” the 15-year-old said Kelsie Knapp. “So it’s always been a part of my life.”

Singing and songwriting are his passion, the depth of his lyrics goes far beyond his years. And that’s where she shines. Sometimes she is even surprised to know where the music takes her.

“Especially considering that it’s only been a year since I started playing live, which is really crazy. To have gone from just a year ago to playing Valley Junction Farmers’ Markets , to now be able to play 80/35 is really crazy . But like, even if you told me when I was little that I would do that, I would certainly be a little surprised.”

But music runs in his genes. His uncle Brian was something of a musical prodigy, losing his sight as a child but still playing with the likes of Johnny Cash. Even record music in Nashville.

Brian died as a teenager long before Kelsie was born, but here today she takes her uncle on this journey, playing his guitar.

“I think it’s very cool to know that people before me and my family were so heavily influenced by music in the same way I was,” she said. “What feels like…it’s such a cool connection with them.”

She remains humble as she prepares to take the biggest step of her career.

“His 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.”

Like the notes that drift from her strings, Kelsie writes her path in life, the one she seems destined to take.

Kelsie James performs at 6:15 p.m. Saturday on the Local 5 Emerging Artists Scene. All performers on stage are 21 or younger.


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