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

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