Hopscotch 2016

It’s (past) time once again for my annual Hopscotch Music Festival recap post (previous years’ posts, as always, tagged hopscotch). This year I saw 33 bands, drank 28 beers, and—according to my phone—walked 16 miles.

With the sad closing of Blount Street institution Tir Na Nog, the festival was down to only 10 venues this year, and it definitely felt smaller. This was the first year I’ve had trouble getting into more than one show I wanted to see because the lines were too long. Memorial Auditorium, last seen in 2013, rejoined the roster, and the black-box Kennedy Theater (also in the Duke Energy Center complex) was dropped; Busy Bee Cafe’s upstairs bar The Hive is now Mash & Lauter, and was no longer a Hopscotch venue; and Nash Hall, another new room and as it turns out the site of one of the best shows I saw this year, was added.

This year for the first time, they also had two headline stages (only on Friday): Gary Clark Jr. and Erykah Badu played at the Red Hat Amphitheater while The Dead Tongues, Anderson .paak and the Free Nationals, and Beach House played at City Plaza. I had planned to catch Clark, go back to City Plaza for .paak, then return to Red Hat for Badu, but due to a delay leaving Dallas, she didn’t arrive and start her set until something like an hour and a half late. I had a lot of other shows I wanted to see, so I didn’t wait around.

I also wasn’t able to get into Slim’s to see A Giant Dog on Thursday, or Sarah Shook & the Disarmers on Saturday, which was disappointing.

Bands I’ve seen before are italicized, and bands I’ve seen at Hopscotch before are also bolded. My favorite sets are marked with an asterisk.

Thursday

  • Day Parties

    • The Second Wife (Slim’s)
    • Schooner (Slim’s)
  • Main Stage

    • Wye Oak* (City Plaza)
  • Club Shows

    • The Hell No* (Slim’s)
    • Battle Trance (Nash Hall)
    • GROHG (Lincoln)
    • Mutoid Man* (Lincoln)
    • Television* (Memorial)
    • Lambchop (Fletcher)

Friday

  • Day Parties

    • Sarah Louise (Kings)
    • Lemon Sparks* (Crank Arm)
    • Nance (Pour House)
    • Scanners (Slim’s)
    • Shirlette Ammons (Slim’s)
    • See Gulls* (Commerce Place street fair)
    • Merge happy hour (Foundation)
  • Main Stage

    • Gary Clark Jr.* (Red Hat Amphitheater)
    • Anderson .paak* (City Plaza)
  • Club Shows

    • S.E. Ward (Nash Hall)
    • MAKE (Pour House)
    • Dai Burger (Lincoln)
    • Adia Victoria* (Nash Hall)
    • Julien Baker (Nash Hall)

Saturday

  • Day Parties

    • Sara Bell* (Berkeley Cafe)
    • Melissa Swingle Duo (Berkeley Cafe)
    • The Nude Party (Ruby Deluxe)
    • Zack Mexico (Pour House)
  • Main Stage

    • Vince Staples (City Plaza)
    • Sylvan Esso (City Plaza)
  • Club Shows

    • Bad Friends (Lincoln)
    • Eldritch Horror (Kings)
    • Eric Bachmann* (Memorial)
    • Andrew Bird* (Memorial)
    • Baroness* (Lincoln)

Wrap-Up

I hope that next year Hopscotch will be able to bring more venues (back?) into the fold, as having this few felt weird.

I saw Wye Oak my first time at Hopscotch, back in 2012, when they played in the final time slot, Saturday at half past midnight, at the Lincoln. I had only recently started getting into their music, but I got up close to the stage (unfortunately, the photos I took that year are lost to the mists of yfrog). They were transcendent, a huge highlight of the year, so I was thrilled to see them graduate to the main stage. The newer music from Shriek and Tween blends remarkably well with material from CivilianThe Knot, and If Children, in a live setting — Wasner and Stack’s multi-instrument virtuosity really shines.

That felt like a really special moment, to have seen them five years apart in such different settings at the same festival; but I don’t want my particular mention of Wye Oak to sound as though I’m dismissing the other bands. It was a very strong festival, as usual, and I can’t wait for next year.

Best acts I’ve seen before: Wye Oak, See Gulls, Eric Bachmann, Andrew Bird

Best acts I haven’t seen before: Mutoid Man, Gary Clark Jr., Adia Victoria, Sara Bell, Baroness

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Now it’s done.

Hopscotch 2015

Two weekends ago now, I went down to Raleigh, NC again, for the Hopscotch Music Festival — the sixth year of the festival, and my fourth year going (my previous Hopscotch posts are tagged hopscotch).

No one else came down with me this year, and Aggie didn’t attend most of the festival, because Speakers In Code wasn’t covering it this year. But she and her boyfriend came into town for the Saturday day parties, and she ended up getting hold of a photo pass so she was able to shoot the main stage acts that night. Check out her post over at her blog.

New Belgium was replaced as the beer sponsor on the main plaza this year by Stella Artois and Goose Island — which is to say, by Anheuser-Busch-InBev. That’s a shame, both because New Belgium is an independent, employee-owned craft brewer while AB-InBev is a massive multinational conglomerate, and because though Goose Island’s brews are fine, New Belgium’s are just better.

That aside, however, downtown Raleigh’s food and drink options are as excellent as always, and I hit the key highlights as usual: brunches at the Times and Joule, dinners at the Busy Bee and Beasley’s, the city plaza gyro shack, the late-night pizza truck.

I saw 31 bands this year, down from 38 last year, but that was an intense time, and a record I don’t feel a pressing need to try to break. Coming up this weekend is the smaller Boston Calling festival, whose September installment is a different weekend than Hopscotch for the first time this year.

I delayed too long in writing this recap and my memories of the shows I saw aren’t as clear as the past couple years, so I’m just going to bullet-point most of the bands I saw (especially at day parties) instead of discussing them. Bands I’ve seen before are italicized, bands I’ve seen before at Hopsctoch are also bolded.

Thursday

  • Day Parties

    • Color Exchange at Tir Na Nog
    • Gray Young at Tir Na Nog
    • Suppressive Fire at the Pour House
    • Faith in Ashes at the Pour House
    • Eston & the Outs at Slim’s
    • JPhono1 at Slim’s
    • See Gulls at Slim’s — One of my favorite discoveries from last year, their EP is out now!
  • Main Stage

    • Ought
    • Godspeed You! Black Emperor
  • Club Shows

    • Some Army at the Lincoln Theatre
    • Solar Halos at the Pour House — A perennial Hopscotch favorite, impeccable psych-doom.
    • Lizzo at CAM — I previously saw Lizzo at Doomtree Blowout 10, and then opening for Sleater-Kinney. She’s everywhere, and she’s amazing.

Friday

  • Day Parties

    • Warehouse at Tir Na Nog
    • Las Rosas at Slim’s
    • Ghostt Bllonde at the Pour House
  • Main Stage

    • TV on the Radio
  • Club Shows

    • New Music Raleigh at Fletcher Opera House
    • Nocando at Kings Barcade
    • Tombs at the Pour House
    • Natalie Prass at Fletcher Opera House — I really enjoyed this set. I haven’t gotten very into Prass’s recorded music, but live she’s a joy.

 

Saturday

  • Day Parties

    • Flock of Dimes at the Pour House — A side project by Jenn Wasner from Wye Oak; a day party Flock of Dimes set at the Pour House back in 2012 gave a little bit of a preview of the synthier, dancier direction Wye Oak would eventually take.
    • Jenny Besetzt at the Fayetteville street party
    • Vattnet Viskar at Neptune’s
    • Wailin’ Storms at Legends — Smoky, punky country doom. These guys rock.
  • Main Stage

    • American Aquarium
    • X
    • Dwight Yoakam — Obviously a very polished performer, this was a fun set. Full band in sequined suits: good aesthetic. I thought the “no photos from the photo pit” announcement was kind of a dick move, though.
  • Club Shows

    • River Whyless at Tir Na Nog — I had no idea who these folks were, and popped into Tir just to see what was going on, and it turned out they were great! They have a bandcamp page.
    • Black Clouds at the Lincoln Theatre
    • Chelsea Wolfe at the Lincoln Theatre
    • Katie Crutchfield (Waxahatchee) filling in for Owen Pallett at Fletcher Opera House
    • Flock of Dimes again, at Neptune’s

 

Wrap-up

Hopscotch felt a little smaller and a little quieter this year, and I’m still a bit sad that New Belgium was replaced by AB-InBev (and not a huge fan of the e-cigarette vendor booth on the main stage, for that matter), but it was a great time as always, and as always I can’t wait to go back next year. One big plus this year was unrelated to Hopscotch itself: Boston Calling, which puts on one festival in May and one in September, put its fall date two weeks after Hopscotch, instead of on the same weekend like they did the last two years. I’m very glad to be able to go to both this time, especially since Minneapolis hip hop collective Doomtree, one of my all-time favorite groups, will be at Boston Calling.

Best acts I’ve seen before: See Gulls, Solar Halos, Lizzo, Wailin’ Storms, Flock of Dimes

Best acts I haven’t seen before: New Music Raleigh, Natalie Prass, Dwight Yoakam, River Whyless, Chelsea Wolfe

Hopscotch 2015 writsband

Now it’s done.

Hopscotch 2014

Last year I wrote a wrap-up post about the Hopscotch music festival in Raleigh, NC, so this year I’ll do the same; but I’ll skip the prefatory material. My final tally for this year: 38 bands. This was Hopscotch’s 5th year, and my 3rd year coming to Hopscotch.

Joel didn’t come this year, but some other friends, Seth and Chris, did; they stayed with a friend nearby, while Aggie split the hotel room with me so she wouldn’t have to drive back to her house in Chapel Hill every night.

We ate the requisite dinner at Beasley’s, and Aggie and I ate “breakfast” around 11:30 or noon at the Raleigh Times all three days. I was happy to see the little Greek place on the city plaza was still there, for fast, cheap, delicious gyros without having to leave the main stage show; and New Belgium was still the primary beer sponsor, with $5 draughts and $4 cans on the plaza — prices that would be unheard of even at a regular bar in Boston, let alone a limited-access concert venue like this.

I managed to marshal my now rather old phone’s battery life well enough to get at least one photo of every main stage and nighttime club show I saw, though most are not great shots. (For excellent photographs of Hopscotch, try Aggie’s preview post and her Flickr photostream.)

Bands I saw:

Thursday

  • Day Parties

    • On Thursday, The Hive had bluegrass all day from noon to 5:30. We stopped in there first, and I came back by later in the afternoon.
    • Slim’s was holding their annual Potluck day party; we caught Beauty World out on their back patio, but between the sun, the humidity, and the giant A/C exhausts, we didn’t say long.
    • Richard Bacchus was playing over at the Pour House, whose darkened interior and perpetually-Lysol-smelling narrow brick alley entryway were a break from the intense heat at Slim’s.
    • We went back to Slim’s, briefly, for a glimpse of See Gulls, a band I was very excited for and which had built up quite a buzz by the time the festival started. They played at one or two other day parties, and also a club show on Saturday, so — the patio still being an open-air oven — we didn’t stick around long.
    • After going back to the Hive for a little more bluegrass, I headed over to Foundation, a basement level joint that I believe is new since last year, for the Merge listening party. Foundation seemed like a nice, chill place, and they had Copper Fox, my favorite rye whiskey of all time, made only in small batches and not consistently available up in Boston. Aggie met me back there, and then we met up with Seth and Chris for dinner at Beasley’s.
  • Main Stage

    • Local hip hop team Professor Toon and the Real Laww opened up for the first ever Thursday night City Plaza show with a fun set, but I was really there to see…
    • De La Soul, the Thursday headliner and a big get for the festival. Like all the hip hop “elder statesmen” I’ve had the luck to see, these guys know how to move a crowd with the best of them.
  • Club Shows

    • Strange Faces at Tir Na Nog
    • Last Year’s Men at the Pour House
    • Colossus at Kings Barcade
    • Solar Halos at Kings Barcade. Kings is honestly one of my least favorite Hopscotch clubs, but Solar Halos were phenomenal last year and I was thrilled to see them again. They played a great set, and I said hi to singer Nora Rogers and bought their split 10″ (with Irata; released on Crimson Eye) after the show. I hope they put out a new record before long. It was relatively early, but I was pretty tired at that point, so I took a pass on the Other Colors and MV & EE sets I’d been planning to see, and just went back to the hotel.

Friday

  • Day Parties

    • Michael Casey, a friend of Aggie’s, was opening with a set of magic tricks at the Hive, so we stopped by there first.
    • After Casey’s routine, we stayed for some of folk trio The Memphis Dawls.
    • We headed over to the Pour House, and saw some of Homer Sparks‘ set, though I wasn’t very impressed by him.
    • Ghostt Bllonde played next at the Pour House, with impressive energy.
    • We headed out to Crank Arm Brewery, an excellent little bike-themed brewpub in a space that was a mediocre nightclub (and a Hopscotch venue) a couple years ago. Amigo were playing their last few songs when we got there.
    • After Amigo, Caleb Caudle, an impressive singer-songwriter, played a set at Crank Arm.
    • Next was over to Slim’s, hosting the Churchkey Records day party, for Gross Ghost, a local band doing pretty well for themselves (they played a day party two years ago, and opened on the main stage last year).
      • I ended up feeling pretty exhausted, and decided I needed to go back to the hotel for a nap. That meant missing Spider Bags, whose Merge debut Frozen Letter just came out, unfortunately. I hope to catch them again, perhaps at next Hopscotch. Churchkey was selling some 7″s dirt cheap at the merch table, so on my way out I grabbed a couple of those — one from the Dirty Little Heaters, and one with no text on the label.
  • Main Stage

    • Lonnie Walker opened with a solid rock’n’roll set, after which I got a gyro and some pasta salad.
    • St. Vincent put on an impressive stage show, tinged with a “weirdness” that felt pretty self-consciously performative to me, but the music was so good it was hard to be bothered by that.
    • Spoon were the Friday headliners, and were also very good, but for whatever reason I’ve never gotten into them, so I didn’t stick around for their whole set. Besides, I had somewhere to be.
  • Club Shows

    • Deep South The Bar is one of the farthest Hopscotch venues from the city center, but I made the trek out there for Wailin’ Storms, and was very glad I did. Their doom-country was impressive as hell, and I’m planning to buy their album.
    • After Wailin’ Storms, I headed over to the Lincoln Theatre, one of my favorite Hopscotch clubs, for Sinners & Saints, who I suppose one might call outlaw folk. They turned in a great performance, and I had a piping hot slice of pizza from the Pie Pushers food truck conveniently parked outside.
    • Next up at the Lincoln was Loamlands, an excellent folky rock band much in the vein of Mount Moriah, whose set I also enjoyed quite a lot.
    • I headed back to the Pour House hoping to catch part of Open Mike Eagle‘s set, but when I got there, he had just finished.
    • I went over to Tir Na Nog instead for some of Dark Rooms, then called it a slightly early night again, as Mapei (who I’d been looking forward to) had canceled, and Slim’s and the Hive had lines. The next day I heard that Mark Kozelek of Sun Kil Moon had something of an outburst on stage at the Lincoln, cursing out the crowd and calling them “fucking hillbillies”, for being too talkative during his set. (I see that he is now selling T-shirts based on this incident.)

Saturday

  • Day Parties

    • Hi Ho Silver Oh at the Pour House were a pretty good start to the day.
    • Free Clinic at the Hive were kind of mediocre, and the (very white) frontman kept saying things like “Jah love” and “Jah bless” and then clarifying that he’s not Rasta, he was just joking around. Fellow white people: maybe don’t do this, on account of how it’s racist?
    • But we were really at the Hive for See Gulls, since an indoor show sounded like a much better idea than Slim’s patio was. As expected, they were phenomenal. They only have a couple songs up on bandcamp, but hopefully there’s an album in the works.
    • I took a quick nap again to recover some energy, then headed to the “Babes in Boyland” day party, a benefit for Girls Rock NC. When I got there, Caitlin Rose was finishing her set with a full band; very good stuff, and I wish I’d heard more of it. Babes in Boyland also had an ice cream (like, scoops, not packaged bars and novelties) truck, which was crucial in the heat.
    • After an interlude with the What Cheer? Brigade arriving to work up the crowd, Ex Hex (Mary Timony’s new band, with a record coming out next month on Merge) played a great, energetic set that I’m very glad I saw.
  • Main Stage

    • The first opener was Valient Thorr, a throwback metal band who — as you may have inferred — do not take themselves too seriously, but they’re pretty serious about their music, and they put on a good, fun show. Saturday was by far the loudest on City Plaza, and had the thinnest crowds of the three nights. Hopscotch is a very eclectic festival, but I think it’s just difficult to draw as big a crowd for metal as for rock and hip hop, these days.
    • Death, the Detroit protopunk band and subject of the excellent documentary A Band Called Death, played second, and were also great. I highly recommend checking out the documentary (which is on Netflix as of this writing). It’s fascinating to imagine how the landscape of popular music might have been different over the past forty years, if they’d been able to find a label willing to put out their record.
      • The Saturday headliner was Mastodon, and while I enjoyed this set a lot, I think their heavy, churning sound contributed to the crowd thinning out a bit more.
  • Club Shows

    • See Gulls played at Deep South Saturday night, but even before Mastodon were done on the main stage I was seeing tweets saying the venue was at capacity with a 100+ person line outside. Doubly glad I’d caught them earlier at the Hive, I elected not to make the trek.
    • Instead, I went over to see a local metal band (this was something of a theme for Saturday) called Demon Eye at the Lincoln. Demon Eye’s lead singer — a tall, muscular man with very long hair — is also, I am informed, a children’s librarian. They were very good.
    • I walked over to the Fletcher Opera House (it was a little surprising that it took me this long to get there this year!) to see Alexandra Sauser-Monnig, a solo singer-songwriter. She’s talented, but a bit twee for my taste, and I decided before long to find something more energetic.
    • Around the corner from Fletcher is a the Kennedy Theater, a little black-box space where I saw Wold last year. A hardcore band called Davidians were playing there, which was a big improvement over Wold in, for example, the “moving around” department. If I cared more about hardcore I probably would have enjoyed Davidians quite a bit. Instead, I headed back to Lincoln for another slice of pizza.
    • Inside, Sub Rosa were finishing their gothy set. For those who like their metal with lots of stringed instruments, this was great; myself, I wasn’t mad at the music at all, but they weren’t who I was there to see.
    • Who I was there to see were the next (and final) two bands. First up was Witch Mountain, pairing churning, sludgy doom metal with singer Uta Plotkin, who shifts gears effortlessly between soaring highs, bluesy belting, and death growls. I bought their LP between sets, and I’m looking forward to their third album, due out next month. Sadly, word is after their current tour and the album release, Plotkin will be leaving the band; but no doubt whatever she does next will be as remarkable.
    • The last band I saw was High On Fire, Matt Pike (of Sleep)’s other stoner-metal band. Where sleep is hypnotically slow, High on Fire is thrashingly fast; Sleep was the last show I saw at Hopscotch last year (also at the Lincoln — in fact, every year so far I’ve closed out the festival at the Lincoln, in 2012 with Wye Oak’s incredible performance). Much like with Sleep, High on Fire turned the packed room into a sweaty, headbanging mass, and I went back to the hotel worn out from three amazing days.

Wrap-up

Hopscotch remains my favorite three days of the entire year. Raleigh at the beginning of September is still hot and humid, but it’s bearable, and has such a wealth of excellent food and drink that even without the festival it would be a fun place to spend a weekend. With 150+ bands to see — and a dozen or more choices across all genres at any given time between noon and 1AM, all within at most ten minutes’ walk — it’s an experience to which nothing compares.

Best shows I already knew were going to be great: De La Soul, Solar Halos, Ex Hex, Death, Mastodon, High on Fire

Best shows I didn’t already know were going to be great: Caleb Caudle, Wailin’ Storms, See Gulls, Witch Mountain

Penny Arcade, PAX, and “gamer culture”: a few more thoughts

I’ve written about Penny Arcade and the Penny Arcade Expo quite a few times before, though not more recently than about a year and a half ago on this blog. In fact, these old posts are a pretty good way to trace the development of my views on PA, PAX, and “gamer culture” (a nebulous term to be sure, but I think not a wholly meaningless one).

It would not be overstating the case to say that my opinions of all three things have gotten no more favorable since that last post. (Elizabeth Sampat’s Quit Fucking Going To PAX Already, What Is Wrong With You from last September is another worthwhile read.)

I’m still friends with a number of people who regularly attend PAX, some of whom are indie devs who exhibit there. I know that the “should you boycott PAX” question is a prickly one for some, and I want to try to be careful here not to blame individual choices for systemic problems. In any case, I think my views on whether PAX can be “reformed” or “improved” or “changed from within” have been clear for some time now: it can’t, because the people who run (and profit from, let’s not forget) it and actually most of the people who go to it either actively oppose any such efforts, or simply don’t care.

I’ve sometimes taken a harder line on things like this, and I certainly know and respect many people who still do — whose position is a flat “don’t go to PAX”. In the abstract, I think that’s the right choice, but practice is always messy. Ultimately, PAX isn’t going to stand or fall, or change or stay the same, on the choice of any individual to go or not to go. All the same, if you’re a ticket-buying attendee, I hope you’ll consider not going; the people in charge of the event do not deserve your money, and there’s a great deal else to do in Boston, and many offsite or after-hours chances to meet up with other games people who’ve come to town for PAX.

It’s important to remember that the problems with Penny Arcade, and with PAX, are symptomatic of problems in game culture writ large, which themselves are symptoms, or manifestations, or particular versions of societal problems. Most everything wrong with any of these microcosms is, ultimately, linked to the racist, patriarchal, capitalist structure of society.

But it’s a funny kind of symptom — we can see this in other sexist media, for example, as well — in that culture is a feedback loop, so the symptoms actually exacerbate and prolong the disease. A fever is a symptom of an infection, but imagine a virus that could survive at 98.6°F but thrived at 103°: the fever would only make the infection worse.

How do you fight that kind of disease — how do you diminish or break the cultural feedback loop? That’s a good question. If PAX does collapse, without any general improvement in gamer culture, something just as bad will likely take its place. To switch metaphors abruptly, audio feedback can be diminished by attenuating the signal at the input, the output, or both. Criticism of games, games culture, games media, and games events (and in particular of prominent events like PAX, E3, GDC, etc.), on grounds of diversity, inclusivity, and social justice has become much more vocal and widespread in recent years (meeting, of course, predictable resistance and backlash); and “counterprogramming” (though much of it is not positioned directly in opposition to the “mainstream” events) like Lost Levels, Different Games, No Show Conference, etc., also seems to me to be on the rise.

I don’t mean that to sound like blithe it-gets-better-ism; “things” are not “getting” better — many people are putting in real, hard work, often with little or no compensation, to make things better. I think probably the best way to “fix” the culture, insofar as we can, regardless of anyone’s individual decision on PAX attendance, is to try to support those critics and counterprogrammers, to join them in the work, or to give them what support we can, or to contend with those who try to tear them down in defense of the status quo.

Again, it’s no secret I dislike Penny Arcade and all their works, with considerable intensity. If their offices were shuttered tomorrow I wouldn’t feel the world had lost anything of value. I avoid visiting their website, and I definitely don’t go to PAX. But (if these are the only two possibilities, which they probably are not) I’d rather see a future in which PAX and Penny Arcade rumble on, perhaps a slightly smaller fish than they are today, in a somewhat bigger pond — but one full of clear, sparkling water and every kind of fish and water plant — than one where they float belly-up, but everyone keeps struggling through the same shallow, polluted muck.

6 Years

Hey look, Fineness & Accuracy is six years old today! And I don’t really post here much anymore. We’ll see if that changes; sometimes things go in cycles, but sometimes they end.

Anyway, six years is a decent span of time. Thanks to everyone who’s read and/or linked my posts.