Jasper Goes to Hopscotch, 2015 Edition

Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved. In some ways, returning to Raleigh for Hopscotch 2015 felt like catching up with an old friend. This was the festival’s sixth year, and Jasper’s fourth year attending, so much of what the astoundingly dynamic and eclectic festival offered felt comforting, familiar. The convergence of noise artists and rappers, EDM ravers and folkies, metalheads and indie rock tastemakers is what makes this festival tick, with the diversity of its booking and venues locations (ranging from the seedy dive of Slim’s to the posh intimacy of Fletcher Opera House to the, well, festival-esque City Plaza) giving it the kind of distinct character and vibe such undertakings count on.

Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

While talking about the event from year to year is always going to center on a few things focused primarily on the music itself. How did the headliners fare? Godspeed You! Black Emperor delivered a predictably swollen, cinematic head trip of a set that was a welcome counterpart to the opening night’s rain; TV on the Radio proved to be a phenomenal live band adept at bringing art rock to the masses; and Dwight Yoakam was a straight shooter who lets his songs bring the heat.

Thomas didn't like Mr. Yoakam's photography policy. Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

Who blew the roofs off? Phil Cook & Friends at Fletcher felt like a celebration of everything that makes Hopscotch great as they played his new solo LP Southland Mission from start to finish (check out the amazing video our photographer Thomas Hammond shot below); Working with a dramatically different sets of tools, Lincoln Theater headliners Battles and Pusha T closed out Friday and Saturday nights respectively by putting on workshops on how to own the stage when compared to just about anybody; and Waxahatchee’s  last minute solo set proved just how entrancing some simple, heartbreaking songs and a voice can be.




What new discoveries had us buzzing? The haunting collection of traditional folk tunes by Jake Xerxes Fussell’s debut on Paradise of Bachelors is destined to end up on my year-end favorites list, and I’ll eat my shoe if Raleigh’s electro-R&B act Boulevards and/or upcoming rapper Ace Henderson aren’t making waves nationally by the end of 2016.

Mac McCaughan w/ The Flesh Wounds (moonlighting as the Non-Believers), another highlight from this year's festival. Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

But part of what makes Hopscotch great is also what stays mostly the same—the day party traditions that range from the Trekky Records-centered lineups on Saturdays at Pour House to the noisy, avante-garde acts that fill Friday afternoon at King’s, the sprawling outdoor markets and official Hopscotch block parties, and the wonderful vendors and venues in Raleigh that team up to make the festival great from year to year.

Say Brother performing at the outdoor stage at Legends. Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

What made this year especially memorable for South Carolina attendees, and what will hopefully be added to the list of traditions, is the collaboration between Stereofly, SceneSC, and Free Times that led to two day parties on Thursday and Friday that brought the first significant South Carolina presence to the festival since its inception.

While there have been some token inclusions from the Palmetto State in recent years—acts like Shovels & Rope, Say Brother, and Brian Robert’s Company have all been played official sets in the past, and Keath Mead got an early slot at Tir Na Nog this year—the bounty of North Carolina acts and the dearth of folks from our own music community has always given us pause, particularly when those NC acts benefit from national coverage of Hopscotch. This year was a welcome change.

JKutchma. Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

Settling into the cool, dimly lit confines of Deep South on Thursday for an imitate, story-laden set from JKutchma followed by the haunting songs of She Returns from War and the electrifying country-rock of Say Brother at their sloshy best, even with their mid-afternoon start, was a great start to the festival; even better was the sprawling eclecticism of Friday’s day party at Legends Nightclub. Packed to the gills with mostly-SC acts, highlights included a grand opening from Charleston’s The High Divers, a classic rock-minded indie rock act with impeccable harmonies and a debut LP out 10/9, a fiery, mathy set from recent Post-Echo signees Art Contest, who recently moved from Columbia to Athens, GA, and a seasoned performance the Justin Osborne-led alt-country act Susto, which has been touring hard in recent months, including some opening slots for Band of Horses, Iron & Wine, and Moon Taxi. Recent Jasper centerfold Danny Joe Machado’s performance was another standout, provided a fascinating window into how an unfamiliar audience dealt with the acerbic persona The Restoration has created as a solo act.

The High Divers. Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.

More than any one performer, though, what struck me the most about these day parties was a sense of pride in South Carolina, as well as a rare sense of home community in a Hopscotch world where Jasper has always felt like an outsider before. Whereas in prior years “hopping” from set to set would be the norm for day parties as much as it is for the evening sets, we were happy to camp out at Legends all day on Friday, content to revel in our hometown riches before taking in the official schedule.

We can’t praise the folks and bands who put this on enough. It can be hard to see or sense forward movement for a scene, but those few hours on Thursday and Friday felt like something.

Photo by Thomas Hammond Photography, all rights reserved.


Below are some selected photos from the festival by Thomas Hammond:


Jasper Does Spoleto - part 4, Chamber Music & Chinese Opera

16853683562_50c36dce4a_z By: Kyle Petersen

One of the many amazing things about Spoleto is the diversity in its music programming, spanning from its acclaimed chamber music series and contemporary opera to noise-jazz and traditional folk music, with everything in between also being represented. While we’ve already written about the charming performance given by Americana duo Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell early on in the festival, we’d like to talk briefly about some of the more highbrow (and quite excellent) music we’ve also been enjoying here.

Bank of America Chamber Music


We caught Program IV of this series last Wednesday and could not have been more satisfied with the experience. Programming director and violinist Geoff Nutall is a stylish and witty emcee whose rapport with the audience was worth the ticket price alone. Leading the patrons through the eclectic line-up of compositions with flair and poise, he kept the audience at ease even as the performances themselves set us back.

Alternating between uber-traditional fare (Mozart’s Sonata in G Major, K. 379, Beethoven’s An die ferne Geliebte, op. 98, and Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047) and more adventurous compositions from Huang Ruo, whose Chinese performance art opera Paradise Interrupted is also featured at the festival, and 20th century Russian composer Alfred Schnittke, the program’s variety and shifts in tone and texture presented a fascinating window into the historical breadth of chamber music as well hinting at all of the possibilities and potential that still exist for the format. Nutall and pianist Pedja Muzijevic opened with the virtuosic flurry of notes required for Mozart sonata, only to be followed up by the unusual instrumentation (violin, cello, voice, djembe, bassoon, pipa) required for Ruo’s “Flow… (I and II),” a folk-indebted piece that showcased the pipa, a traditional Chinese lute that we would later also hear used to great effect in Paradise Interrupted.

Next was the husband-and-wife team of baritone Tyler Duncan and pianist Erika Switzer, who took us through the Beethoven song cycle. The couple gave an assured performance, aided by Nutall’s helpful note that the English translation of the lyrics were printed in the program.

My favorite piece on the program, though, was Schnittke’s austere, enigmatic Hymn II, a piece which saw double bassist Anthony Manzo and cellist Christopher Costanza carefully align the movements of their bows as they produced fragile, ghostly timbres and atonal harmonies that prickled the spine.

The concert closed with an ensemble performance of the popular (and canonical) Brandenberg Concerto, with the slight twist of an E-flat clarinet, played by Todd Palmer, taking place of the traditional piccolo trumpet. The performers gave a lovely rendition of the tune, although audience members are more likely to remember the slapstick improv brought on Nutall and, between movements, oboist Austin Smith, who ostentatiously paused the performance to clean out his instrument.

It’s also worth noting that there was a beautiful moment between movements when a scattering of applause broke out, a bit of a faux paus in classical music performances. Not only did the audience, after some uncertainty, begin clapping along with those that jumped the gun, but they were urged on by Nutall, tradition be damned. It was a giddy feeling, and emphasized the warm balance of world class musicianship and casual relatability that defines the series.

Paradise Interrupted


Later that day we caught the evening performance of Ruo Huo and Jennifer Wen Ma’s opera. It’s a bit of an abstract, high-concept piece that melds Chinese traditions with Western idioms that takes place in a dreamlike landscape. The music was breathtaking, particularly the gorgeous performances delivered by Qian Yi, the show’s star, and countertenor John Holiday, whose voice continues to haunt me, but it was hard not to get lost in the cerebral excellence of the set design. Many might remember Wen Ma name from her work on the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where she directed and designed the opening and closing ceremonies, and her work here has a similar mesmerizing effect. Using a large white performance space and unorthodox lighting, as well as a host of large props and trap doors, a vividly unreal world emerges and disappears over the course of the opera that has to function and opera differently given the limitations of each venue it’s performed at. It’s hard not to note that this kind of immersive, multidisciplinary approach is actually what’s needed in an art form too often grasping tenuously to its past.

Reviews from Spoleto -- Chamber Music VI gets H.O.T. - HOT! with Cellist Christopher Costanza & Was that the Cast of The Office onstage?

St. Lawrence String Quartet I think everyone was concerned about how the Spoleto Chamber Music Series would fare once its founder the beloved Charles Wadsworth said goodbye. After seeing Geoff Nutall in action at my first chamber concert since Wadsworth’s leaving, I don’t think anyone is the least bit worried any more. (The cool-yet-sad thing? Wadsworth was in the audience and—as we learned Saturday afternoon—he will play his final public performance on the stage in the last of the series’ concerts later this week.) Nutall owned the stage offering clever banter and pertinent information in such a casual, stand-up comedy style that the audience giggled and laughed. And these audiences aren’t always the laughing and giggling types.

Charles Wadsworth

The Saturday program (Program VI) offered Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano featuring  St. Lawrence String Quartet’s (Nutall’s group) cellist Christopher Costanza, followed by Ginastera’s Duo for Flute and Oboe with the glorious Tara Helen O’Connor and James Smith, and finally Beethoven’s String Quartet in E Major, Opus 59, no. 1 performed beautifully by the St. Lawrence String Quartet.

Before the concert, Nutall shared with the audience, via a letter written by Debussy, how much the composer hated being clumped in with the Impressionists of his era—he resented the whole extrapolation of a visual arts genre to music. This piece was written in 1914, just four years before his death of cancer in 1918. Debussy had planned for 6 sonatas but was only able to complete 3 including this sonata for cello.

Dock Street Theatre

OK, this is a little intimate here, but to my recollection my mind has never wondered to sex while attending a chamber music concert—until Saturday afternoon. There was something about watching Costanza and his relationship with his cello that was easily evocative of a person in the throes of pleasure. His face was beautifully expressive; his fingers, agile; his expertly calculated bowing with long and efficient strokes, delicious. Oh my.

And the music was nice, too.

Christopher Costanza

Here’s the funny thing. Costanza, though certainly more attractive, looks more than a little like the character of Toby the PR person from the recently ended sit-com series, The Office. Keep this in mind. We’ll come back to it after we address the Duo for Flute and Oboe which was awe-inspiring. Tara Helen O’Connor is a master of the flute—her intonation somehow simultaneously lightly delicate while also being intense. She and her partner for this concert, James Smith—who looks a lot like Seth Meyers from SNL—demonstrated a practically perfect interplay as they called to and answered one another, locking eyes for the final few notes of the duo and ending in an authentic embrace. It was resplendent.

The final number for the concert required that the entire St. Lawrence String Quartet (SLSQ) come to the stage. This musical group is like no other quartet in their commitment to all aspects of musical interpretation—facial, physical, etc. (I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them play many times before; one of the most memorable being in 2003 at the Joyce Theatre in NYC when the quartet accompanied Pilobolus Dance Theatre for the premiere of My Brother’s Keeper, performing Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 Op. 110. The quartet also performed (unaccompanied by choreography) a piece by Jonathan Berger called Eli Eli (In Memory of Daniel Pearl.))

According to Nutall, with this string quartet Beethoven took classical music by the collar and threw it into the Romantic era, writing it in a way that would dare amateurs to try to play it. The complexity and difficulty of the piece was not lost on the audience in the Dock Street Theatre. Nor was the excitement of the accomplishment of such a difficult piece lost on the quartet whose engagement with the music is nothing short of thrilling. As usual, it was all Nutall could do to stay in his seat.

Geoff Nuttall

As mentioned previously, Nutall is a bit of a character. Sort of floppy haired at times with a wardrobe that looks like anything except what you would expect a first violinist in a Grammy-nominated, internationally renowned string quartet (the group is in residence at Stanford University) to look. On this particular day he wore a long sleeved shiny shirt, oddly patterned, and looking like something Michael Scott (also from The Office) might wear. When he called his colleagues onto stage it wasn’t difficult to see a family-television resemblance with Scott St. John playing the role of Dwight Shrute, Leslie Robertson playing Angela and, of course, Chris Costanza playing the part of a somewhat amorous Toby.

Even with Wadsworth watching from the audience, the Spoleto Chamber Music Series continues to be a culturally significant hoot—always full of surprises. Highly recommend.

Scott St. John aka Dwight Shrute


Leslley Robertson who looks more like Pam in this photo but on Saturday afternoon looked decidely like Angela