I don’t think I wrote about it here, but last year I went to the Hopscotch Music Festival in downtown Raleigh, NC (my first time in that city, and in the South at all, actually). I hadn’t really heard of Hopscotch before I learned John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats would be playing a solo set, including a batch of one-time-only, acoustic, no-recordings-please, you’re-here-or-you’re-not piano covers of heavy metal songs. As one might imagine, that spiked my interest meter, so I did some more looking, and discovered a massive, three-day festival with an immensely diverse lineup — and several acts aside from Darnielle that I wanted to see live, including a late-night Wye Oak set and The Roots headlining. My college friend Aggie lives, works, and takes photos at rock shows down in the Triangle, so with the promise of seeing her again for the first time in years, and having her expert guidance around the local bands playing the free day parties, my decision was made.
(The promise of Darnielle’s set and the range of great other stuff also convinced my friend Melanie (@grammar_girl) to come down — but she was hit by a car and broke her hip in August, and although she’s now recovered just fine, she was in no shape to hike all over downtown Raleigh in September.)
I went down thinking it would be a one-time fun fling for me (after all, I’m not so young anymore), to see an unusually great lineup of bands I love and reconnect with an old friend. But, as anyone who knows me in person and/or follows me on twitter will probably recall re: my absolute inability to shut up about it already, I was basically camping their website for the ticket announcement from the day I got home. I got in on the early-bird sale for Hopscotch 2013, booked my flight and hotel shortly after, and convinced my friend Joel (who I’d talked into some concerts here in Boston, with reasonable success) to come along this year — and be extra careful when crossing the street until we’d gotten back.
This year was to feature Big Boi as a headliner, but he canceled a few weeks ago, and was replaced by Holy Ghost! and A-Trak on Friday night; Saturday, Spiritualized headlined. I actually skipped both headline slots this year (though I did see a couple of the City Plaza shows — Gross Ghost in the first spot on Friday, and Lollipops and the Breeders on Saturday).
Hopscotch is a great festival, both for seeing acts you already love, and for wandering around to see what sounds interesting, and discovering bands you’d never heard of; not to mention the amazing restaurants (chicken and waffles at Beasley’s is a must, Raleigh Times and the Busy Bee are great as well, and the Mecca is the Platonic ideal of a greasy spoon) and regional craft beers.
This year was every bit as great as 2012 was, and I can’t wait to see what next year brings (still crossing my fingers for Dessa, POS, or others — or better yet, all! — of the powerhouse Minneapolis hip hop collective Doomtree; Neko Case and Kelly Hogan; or Kendrick Lamar and Okkervil River, who played Boston Calling this past weekend instead. Just in case anyone from the Hopscotch organization is reading this!).
Shows I saw this year (probably leaving out some acts from the day parties, though):
- Joel was a finalist in the drawing to win a bike from New Belgium brewery, which got him a pair of tickets to the VIP party on Thursday, where we mingled some, had free food and drinks, and were asked to draw on the wall with staff-provided pencils. (He didn’t win the bike.)
- Nathan Bowles, playing solo banjo in Fletcher Opera Theater, which has amazing acoustics. I loved his music (and he looked really familiar, I swear he played with another band I saw last year), though he ran long.
- Midnight Plus One at the Lincoln Theatre, delivering noisy, energetic rock (an excellent counterpoint to the previous show).
- Eros and the Eschaton filled perpetually crowded, sweaty dive Slim’s with fuzz and floating vocals.
- Expo ’70 built soundscapes up in the Hive, above the Busy Bee.
- I saw a little of The Rosebuds‘ performance of Sade’s Love Deluxe in the quite large Memorial Auditorium
- And finally, I stopped in to see Wold (the main Hopscotch band page for them just says “Bio coming soon”; the genre guide for metal has a better description), in the black-box Kennedy Theater. Wold was certainly interesting, but drew a very small crowd, and their having performed only four times previously in their 10+ year career showed. When first the vocalist, and then the drummer — that is, the entirety of the band — unceremoniously walked off stage with the looped ambient noise still going around half past midnight, I didn’t stick around to see if they were coming back. On the plus side, I’m now on a very short list of people who can say they’ve seen Wold live. Perhaps there’s an online support group where we can all commiserate.
- Spent most of the day at the Bitchfork day party, which centered queer women, and included Creedence Queerwater Revival (an all-female CCR cover band), Shirlette Ammons — who’d opened on the main stage before the Roots last year — and Sookee, and took place at a yoga/gymnastics studio, with aerial gymnastics performances during the music.
- Tried to get into the Merge Records listening party, but the venue was at capacity and had a long line.
- Word got around that Action Bronson had hurt his back and missed his flight, and as a last-minute replacement to fill his 11:30 slot at the Lincoln, they’d called in…Big Daddy Kane. Good lord. That was not a thing I had expected to hear!
- Gross Ghost opening on the city plaza gave a great show.
- Went back to Fletcher to see Lady Lamb the Beekeeper — but another last-minute cancellation, this time next act Night Beds, with no one to fill the slot, pushed her set out to 10:30pm. Instead, I stopped in to see Turf War at the Lincoln for a little while, then went to Tir Na Nog for some of Shirlette’s nighttime set.
- At 10:30, back to Fletcher for Lady Lamb (for real this time), which was a phenomenal show. Spaltro performed her first song completely in the dark, all house and stage lights off; then the lights came up to show her, alone with her guitar, on the expanse of stage. The one sour note came not from her, but from a moment when, as she re-tuned between songs, she offered to answer questions from the audience, and one dude yelled “what do you look like naked?” At least (take notes, PAX!) the rest of the audience didn’t cheer or play along with that bullshit.
- After that I went over to the Lincoln again, because passing up a chance to see Big Daddy Kane when the opportunity presents itself is not something I am prepared to do. I stayed for 30-40 minutes of that…
- …and returned to Fletcher to catch most of one of the shows I was most excited for out of the whole festival: Mount Moriah performing their entire catalog (one EP and two LPs, the latter of which, this year’s Miracle Temple, is among the best releases of a year full of great new records). I was able to snag an open front-row seat for most of their self-titled album and all of Miracle Temple, and it was as incredible an experience as I could’ve asked for. I had considered trying to catch the end of Earl Sweatshirt‘s set afterward, but Mount Moriah ran a bit long, so I called it a night.
- The Afternoon Delight street party at Raleigh Times; the Food Truck Round-up at the Lincoln; Tir Na Nog, Slim’s, the Saturday Shredstorm at the Hive, and Trekky Records’ Day-Dream at the Pour House — and that was just the day parties. Tried to get in to Kings Barcade to see Flesh Wounds play Nirvana’s Incesticide, but there was a long, slow-moving line.
- Then openers The Lollipops at the city plaza, followed by…
- …The Breeders, playing all of Last Splash. There was a guy a little ahead of me in the audience wearing a Sleater-Kinney shirt. The whole set was amazing.
- Skipped out on the plaza after the Breeders, and checked out Saints Apollo at Tir Na Nog, but was unmoved by their Nice-Guy lyrics.
- Over at the Lincoln again, however, I was very impressed by Solar Halos. Their Demos EP (on their bandcamp site) is, along with Lady Lamb’s Ripley Pine and Shirlette’s Twilight for Gladys Bentley, one of the records I’m definitely going to buy based on their Hopscotch show.
- I got to Kings a little early for Fat Tony, so I caught the tail end of Cesar Comanche‘s set, which was also pretty good. Fat Tony’s set was great, despite losing one of my fancy etymotics earplugs (and what good is just one earplug? no good, is what).
- A quick run back to the hotel for a backup pair of less-fancy, plain-old-foam earplugs later, I returned to Fletcher for Minnesota slowcore legends Low, a show a Carleton alum could hardly afford to pass up.
- I could only stay for a few songs, though, because two more can’t-miss shows were coming up in rapid succession. First, next door at Memorial, John Cale, a man whose musical breadth and impact are such that “legend” doesn’t suffice. In that big auditorium, his sound was incredible, and I almost would’ve stuck out the rest of the night there if it weren’t for the final show of the night.
- That final show was genre-defining stoner-metal band Sleep, another long-standing, but rarely-performing act. Unlike Wold (who among other things were, I think, not well-served by the Kennedy’s odd space, and might’ve done better at Slim’s). Sleep had the Lincoln packed with metalheads and weed smoke, headbanging in slow motion to their churning riffs, a near-perfect conclusion to the weekend.
- On Sunday the festival’s officially over, but there’s always a few parties left. This year I hung out a little at Slim’s annual Hopscotch Hangover as well as the Pour House’s post-Hopscotch party, after brunch at Joule (who now serve the brunch Poole’s used to). And then it was time to catch the cab to the airport, and head home to Boston, ready to sleep for as long as I possibly could.