Recap: Jasper Goes to Hopscotch 2014

Each year, just a few short hours away from Columbia, one of the premier underground, experimental, and independent rock festivals takes place in the form of Raleigh’s Hopscotch Music Festival. It’s a startling epic and eclectic undertaking, with 170 acts playing on a dozen stages over the course of three evenings, plus hundreds of more bands playing the increasingly crowded collection of pre-, post-, and day parties that have emerged to create a marathon-like live music binge for as long as you can keep going. While relatively few South Carolina bands took part this year (ex-pats Octopus Jones, who moved to Raleigh last year from Myrtle Beach, were the only local connect with an official slot; Cancellieri and The Mobros, both of Columbia, played day parties), a bevy of North Carolina talent took the stage right alongside a menagerie of characters from the various fringes of the music world.

The most recognizable names on the bill each year are the City Plaza headliners--this year, De La Soul, St. Vincent, Spoon, and Mastodon--and some indie rock marquee names will always be sprinkled throughout (War on Drugs, Thurston Moore, Phosphorescent, Sun Kil Moon, and Jamie XX in 2014), but the real appeal of the festival lies in the sensory overload and the sense of surprise and discovery as each days unfolds. A complete rundown of the experience of one person couldn’t possibly capture the spirit of the festival, so, in lieu of throwaway lines about each of the forty-some bands I encountered this year, here are a few sets that stuck out.

De La Soul @ City Plaza

Although I couldn’t escape the sense that these guys were now unmistakably dad-like, there’s also no denying that they can still put on a hell of a show. Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the release of the seminal 3 Feet High & Rising, the trio was full of energy and embraced the traditional role of emcees with vigor, engaging frequently with the crowd with big smiles and playful asides. The fact they were performing on a huge outdoor stage at an indie rock festival in the South also seemed to be noteworthy, and the trio seemed especially cognizant of the fact--they even pulled some North Carolina MCs on stage to share in the moment.

Last Year’s Men @ Pour House

A Carrboro, North Carolina garage band that I wasn’t terribly familiar with, these guys put on a blistering show at the Pour House on Thursday night. Alternating between blistering up-tempo numbers that reminded me of The Libertines and a literal hopscotching of styles that ranged from the psychedlic-tinged garage rock of the 13th Floor Elevators to the shambolic alt-country of fellow Triangle favorites Spider Bags, this is the kind of rock and roll I can get behind.

The War on Drugs @ Lincoln Theater

Yes, the live show is a startling good approximation of what Adam Granduciel puts on record. But that’s okay when you’ve put out one of the best records of the year and take such obvious delight in resurrecting classic rock grandiosity for the indie rock set.

Little Black Egg Big Band @ King’s Barcade

This somewhat under-the-radar collaboration between the members of Yo La Tengo (Ira Kaplan, Georgia Hubley, James McNew), William Tyler, Steve Gunn, and Letha Rodman Melchior (who provided pre-recorded material) looks on paper like its gonna be a sprawling guitar fest, particularly when everybody save McNew walks on stage with a guitar. However, what actually occurred was a far odder and more mesmerizing experience.

While McNew manipulated Melchior’s pre-recorded material with a bevy of pedals and electronics, the four guitarists created a feedback driven soundscape that saw them blending their individual parts and only occasionally giving in to the urge to break above the din with a few pointillist notes. It was a noisy, beautiful experience as the five musicians worked off the undulating rhythms and sonic base that McNew provided to build to moments of pure cacophony that recessed into something more reserved although no less chaotic.

Oh, and this happened during a day party around lunch hour. My active imagination likes to believe somebody in the crowd slid into King’s during their lunch break to catch a taste of Hopscotch, and this is what they got.

St. Vincent @ City Plaza

In my Twitter feed this performance got comparison to both Madonna and Thurston Moore. The SAME SET. While I could do without the hand gestures (which worked, but were hardly earth-shattering) and the odd monologue, Annie Clark has a Prince-like range and performance ability. The mix of crunchy, synth-driven indie pop songs along with dreamier and noisier digressions throughout the set had the crowd eating out of the palm of her hand.

Spoon @ City Plaza

I heard a lot of murmured derision about Spoon as a headliner. Something along the lines of the group being a bit too “vanilla indie rock” for the adventurous ethos of the festival. And while I would have described myself as a casual fan, at least prior to this year’s excellent LP They Want My Soul , I loved this set. The band is very much “just” a rock band, but frontman Britt Daniels has just enough rakishness to engage a crowd and they’ve always been first-rate musicians. Hardcore fans, in fact, seem to focus on small moments and licks at the expense of the long view of their songs. Even still, Spoon has racked up quite a few amazing tunes over the course of eight full-lengths, and the set had a very “greatest hits” sort of feel even as they cherry picked the best from the new album. In other words, if you weren’t enjoying it, you might have been trying too hard.

Open Mike Eagle @ Pour House

I saw a lot of great hip-hop at this Hopscotch, but Open Mike Eagle wins for just how damn good his writing is. Both self-reflective and wildly funny, the LA-based rapper made the most of his offbeat persona by wearing a backpack and having a number of talismans on stage with him. But really, with odes to qualifiers and references to House of Cards and comic books, I’m not sure he needed anything but the songs themselves. Check out his excellent new LP Dark Comedy.

Gems @ CAM Raleigh

Also from LA, this pop duo can at first glance seem like they are gliding by on sex appeal, but their swirling and shrouded dream pop tunes proved to be consistently good as the two created a drugged out mix of the xx and Beach House, all loaded down with reverb and ethereal vocals. It was entrancing, particularly in a the chic confines of Raleigh’s art museum.

Sun Kil Moon @ Lincoln Theater

This was by far the BEST set to hang out and talk to friends at.

Kidding. Obviously the wrong venue for the mercurial singer/songwriter, but at least I got this t-shirt out of it.

Hi Ho Silver Oh @ Pour House

One of my favorite random finds of this year’s fest, I was actually at Pour House to catch a lot of the acts that came after them, but this set stuck with me. The group alternates between giddy guitar sprawls a la Pavement, but more tightly wound and poppier and more languid, beautifully melancholic material. A four piece with vocal talent to spare, the harmonies were infectious, and the slowed-down-to-a-crawl take on Tom Petty’s “Time to Move On” was priceless.

Caitlin Rose & Phil Cook @ Pour House

These guys were ridiculously fun and informal with each other in addition to being a perfect musical balance. Cook showed off his virtuoso guitar skills on a few old blues and folk cuts and originals, while Rose’s well-honed country tunes and blow-the-mic-out vocals were equally pleasing. It was their rapport with the audience that stands out most though-- they shouted out trivia-like questions between almost every song (for instance, name the three best mullets of all-time) and gave off the kind of living room vibe that was so sorely lacking from Sun Kil Moon’s set the night before.

Loamlands @ Pour House

I loved Kym Register’s old band Midtown Dickens, so I was pretty excited to catch her new rock outfit Loamlands at this year’s Hopscotch. Part of the appeal of MD was the effervescent performance style of Register and childhood pal Catherine Edgerton, something that shines through in Loamlands, despite its more controlled and professional style. Register remains a solid songwriter, and the pretense-free Southern rock she and the band throws down feels so very “North Carolina.”

Mastodon @ City Plaza

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s no denying that these guys have a pretty epic sound. While I’m not really familiar with their albums, this blistering set had me convinced that metal is really best experienced in a live setting, where the sheer physicality of the style comes through and the music is as loud as its meant to be.

Madison Jay / Well$ @ The Hive at the Busy Bee

Although these two MCs were pretty different from one another, the sense of how good local rap music is in NC came through with their back-to-back sets in this tiny room. Madison Jay has a bit of an old-school production sound to his jams, and he played that up a bit by coming dressed in a trendy three-piece suit. Well$, on the other hand, was all live wire energy that did little to impair his powerful flow, and the live accompaniment of a drum kit and saxophonist was a powerful demonstrated of how “real” and spontaneous live hip-hop can be.

Phosphorescent (solo) @ Fletcher Opera House

Matt Houck is another guy on the bill I’ve always been a fan of, but usually he performs with a full band. This set, with Houck accompanying himself on electric guitar or piano, was unimaginably poignant and direct, despite the singer/songwriter’s aw-shucks demeanor. Houck has one of those inimitable voices that can deliver simple lines with heartbreaking immediacy, and he knows how to play looping, reverb, and the natural acoustics of a room like Fletcher to maximum effect. It was a beautiful, wonderful way to close out my festival experience.

What Cheer! Brigade

...except this wild band of ruffians were on the streets outside of King’s as I rode pass. This punk-inspired marching band-turned-street performers had been spotted throughout Raleigh over the last few days spreading their gospel with the zeal of missionaries, and their adrenaline apparently peaked at the close of their official festival set sometime after one in the morning. The look on their faces was a priceless mix of absolute fatigue and pulsating excitement as the crowd cheered them on past the point of exhaustion. And THAT’s how a music festival should end.

For a full slideshow of photographer Jonathan Sharpe's Hopscotch 2014 photos, click here.

In Jasper Vol. 3, No. 3: The Art of the Meal w/ Terra's Mike Davis

"Chef and owner Mike Davis opened Terra in West Columbia in 2006. Back then few of Columbia's independent restaurants listed ingredients from local farms on their menus. The idea of being concerned about food origins was still relatively new here. It would be another year before the Columbia chapter of the Slow Food USA movement would be established in 2007, and a couple of years after that when City Roots would have its groundbreaking ceremony in 2009. ..." - Jonathan Sharpe For more, check out the rest of the article on page 18 of Jasper here:

The Men Behind the Curtain

{The current issue, #6, of Jasper - The Word on Columbia Arts, features a number of profiles of people who work behind the scenes - costumers, lighting designers, board members, and more. We are pleased to offer you this online extra, an expanded version of the piece focusing on Danny Harrington, Randy Strange and Albert Little, backstage craftsmen extraordinaire.} ___________________________________________________________

"Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain," Oz told Dorothy.  Yet through smoke, mirrors, rigging and a little moxie, that wonderful Wizard managed to rule an entire land, keep wicked witches at bay, and hoodwink an entire population. If acting is believing, stagecraft might well be deception, and a well-designed set with effective lighting makes all the difference in the world.  Jasper talked with three of those men behind the curtain, to find out how it all comes together.

Danny Harrington remembers his mother being involved in theatre on military bases, and after the family settled in Fayetteville, NC, he acted at school, and at the Ft. Bragg Playhouse.  "The two things that interested me in high school were drama, and soccer," Harrington recalls; at Methodist University, he made first string for the soccer team, but a series of away games caused theatre to win out.  “At a small liberal arts school you do it all, acting as well as design,” Harrington says.  His scholarship required him to work on all shows, and he experienced a hectic senior year as tech director for one class, while stage managing the same show for another.  Summer jobs through the Southeastern Theatre Conference pointed to  technical work as viable career option, and he fondly describes the day after junior year when he officially quit Domino's, since when he has always been able to make his living through theatre.

After a year of graduate school in scenography at UNC-Greensboro, he knew he had a talent for design, but experienced some burn-out. By now he had met his future wife Jamie, who was working on a national children’s theatre tour, and the two began looking for projects where they could work together. Summer stock, regional theatres, and other opportunities took them to Ohio, Louisiana, Virginia, and finally Columbia, where Harrington is the Technical Director for the nation’s longest-running community theatre organization, Town Theatre.  He notes that in this field, "you have to be willing to move anywhere; it’s all about supply and demand." Additionally, he has designed sets for Trustus, Columbia Children's Theatre, and the Chapin Theatre Company.

Harrington thinks people would be amazed if they saw "how backstage is way more complicated...or way simpler than they realized," noting that it's all about illusion, and that amazing effects can be accomplished solely by inventive lighting.   Sometimes he will follow a production's original design from Broadway, but the internet makes research on alternate choices easy, and for the upcoming Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Harrington is creating something very different of his own.  He enjoys challenges, mentioning Something's Afoot, where he got to kill off cast members one by one via set pieces - falling chandeliers, exploding staircases, etc.  He also had fun with the special effects for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, working out the logistics of a flying car.

He has been pleasantly surprised at the core group of backstage volunteers, many quite young, that he has developed. Half a dozen or more work on set construction, and as many as a dozen alternate on the running crew for a show (where he often feels like a choreographer himself, coordinating everyone's movements.) Sometimes a father and son may be hanging around the theatre while a mother a daughter are rehearsing ; they see the lumber and tools in the shop, and ask how they can help. Others come from summer theatre camps that he and his wife teach, where they learn the camaraderie that develops among a backstage crew.  One such student, now heading into high school, has been with him a number of summers, and Harrington has been able to train him, entrusting him with more responsibility each year.

Harrington gives the play selection committee crucial input on the feasibility of specific productions and effects, although one imagines that his enthusiasm and gee-whiz attitude might lead him to say "I think we can make that work" to just about anything. He seeks the director's input at least 4-6 weeks in advance, if not earlier, then always fashions  a 1/4 inch model. He tries to make every set as solid as possible, capping platforms with Masonite instead of just raw plywood; he appreciated one actor, an architect by profession, complimenting him on how safe and actor-friendly a particular structure was.  Extra hands are always needed, but what  he could really use right now is some expertise with welding, launching into a complex description of a hydraulic lift for an entrance through a trap door in Joseph.  There's no question that the possibilities of new technology fascinate him, and he adds that he's experimenting more with projection and film effects.  Still a relative newcomer to the Midlands, Harrington remains impressed at the level of support for the performing arts in Columbia, and that even in a tough economy, everyone locally is staying afloat.


Workshop Theatre's Technical Director, Randy Strange, grew up in Columbia, attending A.C. Flora, and dabbling a little in theatre - he remembers playing a "man in a white toga" in Julius Caesar.  Intending a career in commercial art, Strange spent two years on an art scholarship at USC. While excelling in his art classes, Strange was distracted from academics by the rest of college life, and within a week of leaving school, "Uncle Sam came calling."  Strange served two years in Viet Nam as a technical maintenance inspector for Chinook helicopters.  He considered a military career, and had qualified for pilot school, but would have had to train "in-country," and opted to return home, working at Southern Bell as a maintenance administrator for field personnel.  When Bell added its own graphic art division, he made the transition.   He is especially proud of a number of telephone directory covers, and portraits that he designed for the African American History calendars and promotional materials.  After 32 years with Bell, his department shut down during a period of downsizing, and Strange opted for early retirement.  By then he was heavily involved as a theatre volunteer, however; a chance meeting at a party in 1975 with Town Theatre's Technical Director Walter O’Rourke led to an offer to put Strange's creative skills to work on set design and construction.  When O’Rourke moved over to Workshop in the '80's, Strange followed, and has been there ever since - 37 years of community theatre in all, and almost 200 sets he has designed.  He and O'Rourke would split up duties, one designing, the other "figuring out how to make it look real on stage." Strange remembers that "Walter always griped that he'd be working until the day he died," and when O’Rourke passed away unexpectedly, in 2007, the Workshop board offered Strange the job,  which he feels "Walter would have wanted, and I think he had been grooming me for that all along."

Like Harrington, Strange advises on play selection, and meets with each director.  His sets often feature intricate detail and subtle touches that silently but clearly define a particular location or moment in time.  He is likewise detailed in person, soft-spoken, already anticipating components that will be needed in six weeks, and fretting over 17 scenes in the first act of next fall's Legally Blonde.  Strange  doesn't mind the challenge, but always worries that scene changes may slow down the pace of a show.  He tries whenever possible to reduce the scope and complexity of a set.  "It has to be actor-proof," he grins.  "If there's a way of breaking it, they will."  He too suspects that viewers may have no idea how tiny the available space may be.  "I think we pull miracles off quite often,"  he says.  "The fun aspect of theatre is that you meet a lot of wonderful people.  This wonderful artistic outlet has kept me out of trouble - for the most part - and is very rewarding,” especially when the hard work of so many people comes together just in time.

He sees theatre, and volunteering, as "something that can hook you, and that you develop a passion for." At first he was the youngster, working with most of Workshop's original founders, but now he's the veteran:  "There's a whole new world of opportunity, to meet a variety of friends that you'd have never met in any other venue, much younger people you wouldn’t meet in a normal job." The biggest thing he needs currently is some strong young bodies to help with actual construction. Students from USC and from youth theatre classes have been traditional sources, but currently Strange doesn't see as much passion among performers who in years past might have come out for auditions, then stayed to help build the set. "There are so many avenues of entertainment in Columbia, that theatre sometimes suffers," and there's great competition with other venues for talent and manpower backstage. Harrington agrees, finding that ironic, given that theatre in fact can combine many art forms: music, dance, performance and visual art simultaneously. Strange can round up 4-6 volunteers in a pinch, but often it's just him and one or two of the "hard core." "Thank God we have the Alberts of the world," he concludes.

Albert is of course longtime Workshop volunteer Albert Little.   When Little joins the conversation, an impromptu cast party of two breaks out, as both men rib each other, reminiscing over old shows, old stories, and old pranks played.  "That was Walter," Strange interjects.  “I would tell them they would burn in hell," Little teases. "We worked hard, and had lots of fun along the way,” even if that meant painting the floor at midnight in advance of opening night. Referring to O’Rourke, but by transference Strange too, Little acknowledges that "he wanted me to grow as a technician, and a carpenter.  Walter would always take suggestions; they would let you try to build something on your own. Whenever I was ready, they'd teach me more,” even if he ended up wearing more paint than made it to the wall.  During Into the Woods, foliage moved rapidly on and off stage, flying in and out, and Little appreciated the free rein he was given to do rigging some 25 feet in the air, a much-needed niche he has continued to fill.

Like Harrington, Little grew up in a military family that eventually settled in Sumter, SC.  Three of his school band directors were involved in the Sumter Little Theatre; soon after graduation, he saw a couple of productions there, and felt compelled to get involved.  "I had seen movies...and knew that it takes numerous shots.  Unlike film, live theatre is right there in your face, and that intrigued the hell out of me: making the best out of you never know what. Someone could trip, or forget an entrance, and I said 'I’ve got to be a part of this.'“

After a year at USC-Sumter, he drove a milk truck for Sumter Dairy, and volunteering onstage and behind the scenes became his passion. A move to Columbia with a partner, who was working on an MFA, led to backstage work, "or occasionally filling in as a spear carrier" at USC. Little drifted among assorted temp assignments and odd jobs (including, like Harrington, a stint delivering for Domino's)  before landing a job as a driver for the city Sanitation Dept.  After his partner moved to California, Little recalls that "I was lost.  The itch was driving me crazy," and he knew "I have GOT to do more theatre."  As soon as his work schedule with the city became stable, he showed up at Workshop.  Connections made there led to a job for 11 years as a runner at Chernoff-Silver, and now Little works for the Richland County Dept. of Public Works as an Engineering Technician for Storm Water Management. "My life is a happy accident," he concedes. “They made it fun - they are my best and longest lasting friends,"  Little says of his theatre colleagues. "When I came to Columbia, it scared the shit out of me," he laughs, discussing with Strange the wealth of talent found locally.  "We are blessed to have so many people, who are willing to give so much time."

Little offers a possible explanation:  in countless little rural towns in the state, there are a few artistic types who have greater aspirations. " Smaller communities may place a stigma on creativity - you know, 'that child just ain't' right,' " he jokes. "So kids move here, to a bigger town, and explore different possibilities with regard to the arts.  Columbia became a really great mecca, where you can see opportunity.  It’s a magnet for people to migrate here, and show off their wares.  They may not want to move to New York or even Atlanta, so they will come to Columbia, to see what works out for them. "   It becomes quite clear that Little isn't talking about just theatre volunteers, or even artists in general, but also about himself, and about finding oneself in ways beyond just a hobby.  It’s an unexpectedly moving and profound moment, as he describes that yearning that so many young people in creative fields experience.

Harrington, Strange and Little all turned to theatre as a fun activity.  For Harrington, stagecraft became a career for a young professional just now hitting his creative stride.  Strange discovered an outlet to develop his artistic skills, and now carries the torch that was handed to him from his mentor. For Little, volunteering backstage has become a calling.  Arthur O'Shaughnessy wrote "we are the dreamers of dreams...we are the movers and shakers of the world for ever, it seems."  These men behind the curtains of local theatre in Columbia make the magic, helping us to dream those dreams.

~ August Krickel

Photography by Jonathan Sharpe

Bullets & Bandaids: Behind the Eyes of Combat War Veterans

On January 31, 2012, local artists will showcase works inspired by combat veterans’ stories at Bullets & Bandaids, an art show honoring local war veterans, from 6 – 10 p.m. at 701 Whaley in downtown Columbia, SC.

Robert LeHeup, PIENSA: Art Company’s resident writer and a combat war veteran himself, organized this art show to give audience members an introspective view on the impacts of war told through visual interpretations of the stories of those who have lived them.

Bullets & Bandaids will feature a collection of war veterans’ stories depicted by local Columbia artists including Robbi Amick, Alex Coco, Thomas Crouch, Michael Krajewki, Whitney Lejeune, Dre Lopez, Sammy Lopez, Nikoai Oskolkov, Adam Schrimmer, Jonathan Sharpe and Kiril Simin.

“My hope is that these talented artistic pieces will give a unique and intricate interpretation of the experiences of our veterans and how they’ve reacted to those experiences,” said LeHeup.

Films screening at Bullets & Bandaids include: Soldier Girl: South Carolina Female Veterans, a short documentary about women veterans dating back to WW II, a largely undocumented but ever expanding segment of our military population share stories of their trials and triumphs, hopes and dreams in provocative and inspiring interviews, produced by Cathy Brookshire and edited by Lee Ann Kornegay; and Spent Rounds, a short film about the internal struggle of a combat war veteran suffering from PTSD entering back into civilization, written and directed by Robert LeHeup. Also, there will be the music video "Quiet" which deals with a vet's struggle with PTSD, done by Atlanta-based recording artist Dirty Dickens who himself is an Iraq war veteran.

Ticket sales and 30 percent of art sales will be given to Hidden Wounds, a non-profit organization dedicated to the treatment of combat veterans who suffer from PTSD. Hidden Wounds was founded by Columbia native Anna Bigham in honor of her brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Mills Palmer Bigham, who committed suicide suffering from PTSD inflicted by war trauma. Marince Lance Cpl. Bigham’s story is featured in Bullets & Bandaids.

Admission for Bullets & Bandaids is $5 for entry; $10 for entry and a copy of Spent Rounds; or $20 for entry, a copy of Spent Rounds, and a Hidden Wounds T-shirt.

The event will be held on the first floor of 701 Whaley on 701 Whaley St. in downtown Columbia, SC. For inquiries contact Robert LeHeup by calling (864) 216-1492 or via email at

Bullets & Bandaids is brought to you by PIENSA: Art Company in partnership with 701 Whaley, Hidden Wounds, the local veterans who have shared their stories and the local artists who have honored those stories through their respective pieces.



Wikipedia: lay definition: to beat or strike down with force.