Hop Along, Or One Man’s Stray Thoughts and Observations About Hopscotch 2016 (Part III)

hopscotch-music-festival-raleigh-city-plaza Jasper asked Free Times music editor emeritus, Those Lavender Whales guitarist, and Hopscotch veteran Patrick Wall to go the festival and gives us his thoughts. This, in three parts, is what he wrote.

Part I is here; Part II, here.




I’m pretty sure I was lost somewhere in William Basinski’s haunting and ethereal tape loops and drones at Nash Hall when I checked my phone to a litany of tweets and texts about the life-affirming set Savannah metal band Baroness was throwing down at Lincoln Theatre.

As Hopscotch has expanded and broadened its rock ‘n’ roll offerings, I’ve moved away from them more. Saturday offered plenty of stellar rock options, and, indeed, I caught many of them: the Impressionist soundscapes of 1970s Film Stock; the nervy, rumbling post-rock of Maple Stave; the chirping indie rock of Mac McCaughan; and, later, the warped psych-rock of ET Anderson.

The final day of Hopscotch is the hardest, the final hours especially so. The fatigue from a long Thursday evening followed by back-to-back all-day marathons hits in full force around the time the club shows start on Saturday night — or earlier, if you’re unlucky (or, like me, aging). A band like Baroness, one that’s loud and determined and that melds accessible hooks onto corrosive metal, makes it worth pushing through those final few hours.

But as I get older, I find I no longer need that shot of insurgent energy dangled like a carrot at the end of my night. I no longer find moments of affirmation in bleary, blustery solos or colossal walls of distortion. (As much as I might still like either.) Instead, at Hopscotch, I find them in other places, and in smaller moments.

Patrick Haggerty of Lavender Country didn’t play too much material in the early part of his set; his backing band — comprising members of fellow Paradise of Bachelors bands Promised Land Sound and Gun Outfit — mostly stood idle as he told long, engrossing stories about growing up gay in rural America. It was particularly given how timely Haggerty’s stories of struggling for gay rights felt in the current political climate.

Seeing William Basinski at Nash Hall was about as exciting as one would imagine. Dressed something like a cartoonish representation of spaceman come to earth in oversize sunglasses and a sparkly purple sportscoat, Basinski mostly stood motionless over his setup of two tape machines and a laptop. Occasionally, he’d bend over and tweak a knob. Sometimes, he’d just sit down and lean back. But the gauzy drones his machinations were producing were a hypnotic treat — a sort of lullaby that seemed to me just as fitting a way to close out a festival of mesmeric wonders as any ballistic metal band.

As is my tradition, I ended with a brass band — The Stooges Brass Band, which wound up the would-be winding-down crowd Kings Barcade — to burn off what little energy I had left. Baroness, I was told, was still raging just down Wilmington Street; their first encore wouldn’t come until at least 2 a.m., I’d find out later. And there was an afterparty, too, that some friends from Charlotte told me about that was to be DJed by Sylvan Esso.

Still, I was sated. I had no need to push through anymore. Instead, I biked back to the hotel, got stoned with a friend, and went to sleep. It was the earliest I’d turned in on a Saturday night cum Sunday morning since the first Hopscotch festival in 2010.


Sunday morning, I took my sister to the airport. She’s lived in the Triangle for about as long as Hopscotch has been around; if I don’t stay with her during the festival — I haven’t for several years, as the drive from Carrboro to Raleigh is a long one (and especially ill-advised if you Hopscotch as hard as I used to (buy me a beer sometime, and I’ll tell you about the worst driving decision I’ve ever made; it involves Hopscotch, Drive-By Truckers and weed treats)) — we get together for brunch on the Sunday morning after.

Invariably, we end up at a Whole Foods, and, invariably, she asks me what my favorite act of the festival was. Invariably, I freeze at the question. Invariably, I stammer through an answer, even though, as I’m giving it, I know whatever response is fumbling out of my mouth is variable. I know I will invariably give a different answer every time someone asks me.

I prefer to take, especially these days, Hopscotch as a whole, to judge the festival holistically as an end-to-end experience. (Indeed, trying to justify Hopscotch’s ticket price with just one set would be incredibly silly.) I have, I suppose, more regrets about this Hopscotch than any other. Yes, missing Erykah Badu and Young Thug were disappointing. But waiting around for either would have effectively eaten up all of Friday night, and I’d have missed two of my favorite sets in Dai Burger’s and Julien Baker’s stunner at Nash Hall. Yes, if I’d had to do it over again, I’d have traded the disappointing Television for the avuncular 12-string slide guitar of Don Bikoff, or the good but enervating metal band Cobalt for DJ Spinn and the Era Footwork Crew. Or maybe I’d have braved the maddening horde of young, hip white people waiting in line to see bounce queen Big Freedia. Or stayed for those last few minutes of William Basinski’s dissolving drones.

I’m 34 years old, now, and growing up, I’ve realized, is recognizing — and maybe even embracing — your faults and your flaws. And maybe Hopscotch is, too. For all its flaws and foibles, Hopscotch still offers a lot to the music lover with a broad palate and appetite for live performance. And for as much as it’s changed and for all its foibles, Hopscotch hasn’t lost what makes it a great — essential, even — festival.

So has Hopscotch changed more, or have I?


Patrick Wall is music editor emeritus of Free Times. He now lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where sometimes people pay him to write things. He is carbon-based.

Hop Along, Or One Man’s Stray Thoughts and Observations About Hopscotch 2016 (Part II)

hopscotch-music-festival-raleigh-city-plaza Jasper asked Free Times music editor emeritus, Those Lavender Whales guitarist, and Hopscotch veteran Patrick Wall to go the festival and gives us his thoughts. This, in three parts, is what he wrote.

Part I is here.



Let the drummer get some, sure. But this was fucking ridiculous.

The rumors started flying some time during Anderson.Paak’s electric mid-bill set at City Plaza. Erykah Badu — the festival’s marquee name, scheduled to go on at 8 p.m. at the Red Hat Amphitheatre — had missed her flight out of Dallas. Her set would have to be postponed. If there was any official announcement from Hopscotch, it went entirely unnoticed.

(Quick aside: Anderson.Paak’s might have been the best set of the festival. It was certainly the best City Plaza set, though it’s followed closely by Vince Staples’ Saturday night slammer.)

Come 9 p.m., after Paak’s magnetic performance and a workmanlike, though perhaps a bit staid, blues ramble from Gary Clark Jr. at Red Hat, Badu still hadn’t taken the stage. Rumors started flying again — she’d missed another flight, and her performance would have to be delayed again.

Only at 10 p.m. did Badu’s band take the stage, though they only launched into a meandering funk jam. Five minutes in, the drummer began his solo. Five minutes later, when it was time for the bassist’s extended solo, I threw up my hands, exited the photo pit, got on my bike, and high-tailed it to Memorial Auditorium, where Boulevard’s Jamil Rashad, shirtless and glistening with sweat, was leading a master’s course in gritty, urbane funk.

Badu didn’t take the stage 10:15 p.m., until more than two hours past her scheduled start time. Hopping from Boulevards to Dai Burger, who delivered an animated, regenerative set at Lincoln Theatre, I could hear her songs echoing down Cabarrus Street. Thankfully, it wasn’t “Trill Friends,” or her long-ago hit “Tyrone” — if it were either, I’d probably have lost it.

For the first time, the headlining shows were split across two venues: City Plaza, where Hopscotch headliners have played every year, and the Red Hat Amphitheater, a venue a five-minute walk away but one the festival has long avoided nonetheless. But its size and permanent stage allowed Hopscotch to expand its talent roster considerably this year and bring in some marquee names. If night one felt like a confirmation of Hopscotch’s past, night two offered something of a glimpse into its future, of Hopscotch’s need to balance growth with dependability and intimacy. By adding Red Hat this year and by putting Memorial Auditorium back in the rotation after a two-year absence, Hopscotch, of course, increased its star power and ticket-selling potential. (And increased its need for sponsors: Street-team reps from Motorola, Mati energy drinks, Kind bars and Mist Twist soda were slinging product and vainly soliciting mailing list signatures at seemingly every outdoor concert area and alternate intersections.)

Either way, the moves weren’t a resounding success. Both stages were running behind all night, as was the City Plaza stage. Young Thug, too, went on more than an hour late. Delays are inevitable, situations like Badu’s certainly can’t be blamed on Hopscotch. (And laying the blame squarely on the festival seems reductive.) But the lack of any communication and seemingly any contingency plan was certainly frustrating. At Hopscotch, time is money, and spending hours of your night waiting for sets to start can be an extravagant waste when so many other things are happening. Pervasive delays sour the implicit relationship between festival and fan, and the timing tangles left many festivalgoers stripped of agency. If the entire point of a festival like Hopscotch is to control your own destiny — and I argue it is — then it’s reasonable to be exasperated when waiting to see one act prevents you from seeing several.

More than simple inconveniences, the timing tangles also highlighted Hopscotch’s issues with its black audience. As Indy Week’s indispensable Eric Tullis wrote in his night three recap, Hopscotch has never seemed able to draw as many African-Americans as it did for Badu’s set. Not for Public Enemy in 2010, nor The Roots in 2012, nor De La Soul in 2014. And as Gary Suarez wrote in Indy Week, Hopscotch still proves somewhat vexing to the hip-hop fans — of any color — it seeks to draw. Scheduling matters, and nothing makes that concern clearer than when rap shows are competing with one another on one day and woefully scarce the next. Hip-hop was confined to Deep South CAM Raleigh on Friday night; if you wanted to see Kelela and Well$ and, say, Tom Carter and Converge, well, they were on opposite ends of the festival at the same time. Young Thug, if he’d made the stage on time, had a prime time slot at Memorial Auditorium, but that meant missing some or all of Hellfyre Club alumnus Milo at Kings, or Ratking's Wiki, or Raleigh crew Kooley High, or the stacked bill at Lincoln Theatre that featured Queens rapper Dai Burger, footwork don DJ Spinn and Big Freedia. Waiting around for Young Thug meant sacrificing those opportunities entirely. Saturday didn’t feature much rap at all. Such scheduling is advantageous for the casual hip-hop fan, but a drag for die-hards who wanted to spend time in more than one place.

And programming artists with broader mainstream appeal and wide reach, like Badu and Staples and Paak, invites more and more casual fans, who don’t care too much about running around and seeing bands in clubs. The outdoor stages (and some of the bigger indoor ones, like Memorial) were flush with folks who would not be interspersed among the festival’s club crowds afterwards, and the strange and at times overwhelming racial disparity of that crowd was at times unavoidable. Young Thug’s crowd was mostly white, and many of them were rapping the N-word. (To which: Y’ALL.). Paak, for his part, observed that he “didn’t expect to see so many white people” at his City Plaza performance, and Vince Staples — who performed his tales of gangbanging and living in a world in which he questions the motives of people who don’t look like him to those exact people in City Plaza, who were mouthing every word his songs — left the City Plaza stage without so much as acknowledging the predominantly white crowd once. Only Erykah Badu’s crowd seemed, at the very least, evenly mixed along racial lines.

Perhaps Staples makes the most salient point in his own music: “All these white folks chanting when I ask em, ‘Where my niggas at?’” he raps on “Lift Me Up” “Got me goin’ crazy, I can’t get with that.”

He performed the song at Hopscotch. Hearing the crowd rap that line with him was an interesting example of white privilege — as much as the cotillions and debutante balls at the Marriott and Sheraton hotels that Hopscotch seems to bust up every year.


Friday happened to be Wooden Wand leader James Jackson Toth’s birthday. So he and exemplary solo guitarist Daniel Bachman, with whom he was performing a set at the always impressive Three Lobed Recordings and WXDU-FM day party at Kings Barcade, were probably in a celebratory mood. On a lark, they threw together a combination of players that had never played together before — Bachman, Toth, Forrest Marquisee on guitar, and Ian McColm on drums — and didn’t bother to rehearse or soundcheck. For the first few minutes, McColm and Bachman pumped harmonizing drones on odd squeezebox-type instruments, while Marquisee and Toth tentatively picked fragile arpeggios on their guitars. Three minutes later, and Toth croaked the first lines to Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” The crowd, which packed Kings from stage to soundboard and beyond to the back windows, roared.

After a brief break, Three Lobed Recordings’ big experimental shindig — a veritable Hopscotch tradition (indeed, some folks trek hundreds of miles just to see Cory Rayborn’s exciting day party, and don’t even attend the festival) — returned to Kings. Though it was only gone for a year, Hopscotch felt different without it.

Day parties are an integral part of the Hopscotch experience. Since its debut, Hopscotch has — both officially and unofficially — included a host of free daytime shows sponsored by local and national benefactors to fill up the space between the festival's evening sessions. These opportunities make Hopscotch's annual takeover incredibly inclusive. And, to local and regional bands — especially those from South Carolina, in recent years — day parties offer a chance to get in on the action.

At three jam-packed nights, Hopscotch would be a big to-do by itself. But the action during the days turns the long weekend into a real party, and local organizers have built out events, like the Three Lobed day party or the annual pizza party hosted by the local Potluck Foundation record label, into traditions as nearly as strong as Hopscotch. As the festival has grown, so, too, have the diurnal events gotten bigger and better in their scope. Where day parties were once easy ways to solve nighttime scheduling conflicts, day parties now make for many more tough decisions. Since these day parties have never required actual festival passes, it's largely one of those good problems to have.

Indeed, having the Three Lobed party back on the slate is a welcome course correction, and it allowed, potentially, for the clearing of some logjams. (For instance, in catching the wily ür-rock band 75 Dollar Bill at Kings on Friday afternoon, I was able to simplify my Thursday hopping.) But its inclusion puts into contrast that the tide of Hopscotch’s avant-garde leaning is changing — and possibly waning.

Hopscotch built its reputation in part on being wonderfully weird. 2012, the festival’s third year, was a banner year for the weird: Chris Corsano was the improviser-in-residence; minimalist icon Arnold Dreyblatt sat in on a performance with boundary-pushing psych-folk band Megafaun; legendary free-ranging underground rock act Oneida held a long and limber jam session in the middle of downtown Raleigh. Drones abounded, from Oren Ambarchi's glistening tones to Sunn's overwhelming roars. Even among excellent rock and pop acts, those artists pushing the outer edges of sound shone.

The avant-garde has certainly still been represented — Thurston Moore, Tony Conrad, Hawkwind, Tim Hecker, Ian William Craig, Zeena Parkins, Zs, Matmos, Charlemagne Palestine — since, but the density and focus hasn't been the same. Instead, these outer-limits bookings are just one modest part among many, rather than being a defining feature of the festival. The difficult music seems less difficult.

This year’s lineup stacks acts who plumb the deepest depths of their genres (see: Erykah Badu, Vince Staples, Yob), but the true experimental performers seemed to slot perhaps too easily into necessary signifiers. John Colpitts, aka Kid Millions, was the festival’s de facto resident improviser, collaborating with harpist Mary Lattimore and psych-rock band Birds of Avalon and Borbetomagus saxophoner Jim Sauter, and performing with his own minimalist percussion crew, Man Forever. Battle Trance was the token "jazz” group (even though the quartet fits the label oh so loosely); William Basinski, the composer.

It’s hard not to wonder if this imbalance is sign that Hopscotch is losing ground to Knoxville’s Big Ears as the vanguard festival of the accessible avant-garde, or even MoogFest, which now operates in Durham after migrating to the Triangle from Asheville. Part of what has made Hopscotch special — and exciting— has been the way it has treated the avant-garde with the same esteem as it did the most accessible of its pop acts, pushing the fringe to the forefront in ways that other festivals dared not attempt. With festivals like Big Ears and Moogfest infringing on that territory, Hopscotch, it could be argued, is that much less special, and perhaps worse for the offering. Variety and name recognition are good problems to have, but at what expense the festival’s soul?

The counterargument, of course, is that you never know who will attend because of one or two big acts — say, Erykah Badu, or Young Thug — and may just have their mind blown unexpectedly by an outsider act or others in a similar creative vein. But my anecdotal evidence — read: the two hipster white girls who giggled at every flatulent bleat or any other extramusical noise produced by Battle Trance that sounded remotely like a bodily function, and the sparse crowds for William Basinski, Tom Carter and Leila Abdul-Rauf versus packed rooms for outwardly appealing acts like Boulevards and Big Freedia — suggests otherwise.

Which is what made Bachman, Toth and crew’s version of “War Pigs” so noteworthy. Like the dehydratingly choogling version of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh, Sweet Nothing” by Desert Heat — a guitar supergroup featuring Steve Gunn and Cian Nugent — at a Three Lobed party a few years back, it was one of those off-the-cuff, daring improvisational moments that have come to define the Three Lobed day parties — and, in some ways, the festival itself.


To be continued…

Patrick Wall is music editor emeritus of Free Times. He now lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where sometimes people pay him to write things. He is carbon-based.

Hop Along, Or One Man's Stray Thoughts and Observations About Hopscotch (Part I)

hopscotch-music-festival-raleigh-city-plaza Jasper asked Free Times music editor emeritus, Those Lavender Whales guitarist, and Hopscotch veteran Patrick Wall to go the festival and gives us his thoughts. This, in three parts, is what he wrote.

I was in the middle of City Plaza when it hit me.

I’d honestly been sort of dreading going to Hopscotch this year. Each year, for the past six years, I’ve trekked up to Raleigh for the three-day, indoor-outdoor music festival. And though each year has been ultimately rewarding or affirming — and sometimes both — each year the slog’s gotten longer, tougher, more exhausting.

I still remember my first Hopscotch. In part, anyway: It was 2010; I was in my mid-twenties, going to shows seemingly every night of the week, and running a music desk at an alt-weekly newspaper but more or less drinking professionally. My first few Hopscotches went the same way: Get to Raleigh, start drinking, see as many bands as possible, don’t stop doing either until the wee hours of Sunday morning. It was a herculean effort, one fueled by surges of adrenaline as much as it is by boatloads of caffeine. Rest and food were scarce; calories were consumed in quick chugs and at late-night diners. Success was only achievable through assembling a crew to spur you into hopping to another venue, pick you up when you fell, hand you another five-hour energy drink when you tired.

Things changed in the intervening six years. Hopscotch got bigger, more popular and more populist — and more overrun, it seems, by sponsorship representatives handing out Kind bars and herbal energy drinks. As for me, I quit the alt-weekly desk, freelanced for a few years, then burned out and got a real job. I’ve moved twice. I’ve gotten married. I gained 25 pounds, then lost 40. I’ve quit writing professionally almost entirely. I’ve forgone, even, going to a lot of shows, part and parcel because a lot of what comes through where I live now doesn’t fully grab my interest, but mostly in favor of gathering moss. Instead of slumming in dive bars and seeing yet another in a line of bands who wouldn’t make the minutest impression on me, I dove into other interests: playing hockey and trying to get under a 10-minute mile and going fun and interesting places with my wife and doing any number of things I'm interested in doing that don’t involve popping in earplugs and popping open a PBR. I chalked it up as a consequence of getting older, crankier, less indefatigable.

My friends who’d formed my Hopscotch crew, too, were passing on attending en masse, having chosen on hiking excursions or having moved to bigger cities or having settled into married life or having simply grown weary of the rigors of the Hopscotch wringer. I’d even considered not going to Hopscotch at all. After all, I was in my mid-thirties, and years removed from the ride-or-die rock ‘n’ roll lifer I always thought I’d always be. Was this shit even for me anymore?

I confessed to a friend of mine over a drink at a Raleigh bar some two months before Hopscotch that I was considering not going. She laughed, rolled her eyes, stirred her drink and said, “Of course you’re fucking going.”

She was right, and there I was, the intoxicating pull of Hopscotch — not to mention the opportunity to see some longtime favorites for free — having proved once again to great to pass up. (I suppose I remembered my Nietzsche: Without music, life would be a mistake.) I’d gotten to City Plaza late after sitting in rush hour traffic outside of Raleigh — not too late, thankfully, to not see Wye Oak reaffirm themselves as an incredible live act — and was starving. Six years ago, I’d have thrown caution to the wind, sniffed out the free booze and played catch-up with the cadre of Hopscotch partiers who’d been drinking all day.

Instead, I slid into the small health-food joint at the top end of City Plaza, ordered something called the Protein Bowl, halved the order of chicken — because, you know, cholesterol — and hoofed it back outside, where I started shoveling it into my mouth in hefty forkfuls. Standing in line for the photo pit, I looked up from my meal and laughed. I, who somehow survived a diet of cheeseburgers and whiskey and innumerable shows in my twenties, was eating a salad standing up. At Hopscotch.

And that’s when it hit me. I wondered aloud — Which has changed more: Hopscotch, or me?



Around midnight on Thursday, I sank into a plush padded chair at the comfy Fletcher Opera House just as Kurt Wagner’s long-running, essential and forever exquisite indie rock band Lambchop was easing into an imaginative trio rendition of “The Hustle,” the first single from its upcoming album.

“Do the hustle,” Wagner intoned, mantra-like, in his AutoTuned baritone near the end of the song’s extended runtime. ”Do the hustle.”

Stylistic pinball has always been the prevailing spirit of Hopscotch. The festival’s breadth has always been remarkable: Its first year featured headlining sets from Public Enemy and Panda Bear and its downticket club lineups featured everything from the rawest garage rock to the raunchiest rap to the most refined experimental music, and it’s followed that model since. Hopscotch works on the pub crawl model: See a bit here, a bit there, a bit somewhere else. But such an approach requires hustle; to see a dozen bands and at least half as many genres in a single night requires hurried rambles around downtown Raleigh at maximum efficiency. (The smartest thing I’ve ever done: brought my bike to Hopscotch. One of the dumbest: neglecting to bring a spare tire, or at least a patch kit.) Hopscotch doesn’t require you to pachinko your way through the night, but the way its schedule is staggered encourages quick and unlikely moves.

I spent my first few Hopscotches accumulating sets like baseball cards, ticking off boxes and circling names on pocket-sized schedules. The intent was willful, deliberate sensory overload — to see as many bands in three days as possible. Those first few years, I averaged more than 50 over the course of three days; at my most active, I saw 61. (And, because I’m an insane person, documented each sighting on Twitter and Instagram.) I wondered, after that exhausting year, if seeing 100 bands was possible, even plausible. I drew charts and started mapping efficient routes. Such an idea is utterly fucking ludicrous to me now.

The flaw in my methodology was my limited random access memory. I wrote, for the now-defunct Shuffle magazine in 2011, when — subsisting solely on adrenaline and consuming nothing but coffee and alcohol — I saw 61 bands, that I’d remember not certain sets but certain moments. But the truth is I don’t really remember either, at least not without considerable prompting. Last year, by comparison, I hit 52 bands without breaking a sweat. This year, I saw even fewer 49. (And I only tweeted 14 times.)

All this is to say I didn’t so much follow Wagner’s advice this year. I saw the fewest number of bands at the Hopscotch since the first one. I hustled less, stayed put longer — even caught entire sets from non-City Plaza headliners. (It’s easy to catch a full set from a City Plaza act, as they’re typically slotted in the dead time between the end of the day parties and beginning of the club shows.) I decided to stick around longer for things I was enjoying. I worried less about festival FOMO. (I will now set myself on fire for using FOMO.)

But if Hopscotch is a lot more sane, is it by turns a lot less fun?

There was still plenty of pivoting to be done. In Nash Hall, I surrendered to the exquisite and emotionally provocative avant-garde saxophone quartet Battle Trance, which sounded at times like a blistering death metal band through hyperprecise scalar runs and moments later whistling — literally — in harmony. During their 45-minute set, they employed probably every extended saxophone technique invented, moves that were at once whimsical and magnetic. Nash Hall, a low-ceilinged, intimate space in a downtown church, was a new and much welcomed Hopscotch venue this year, giving the festival a place where reverence is assumed and attention is high; I’d return near the end of my night for Tom Carter’s glacial guitar drones.

Down on Fayetteville Street, Memorial Auditorium returned to use after a two-year absence due to venue remodeling and festival reformatting — it served as a venue for what could be thought of as overarching club headliners. If its first night back was a test run, it stumbled: Sneakers, a small but quietly influential ’70s North Carolina power-pop band whose ranks included Mitch Easter and Chris Stamey, sounded stiff in the outsized auditorium; vaunted indie-rock forefathers Television deployed their trademark guitar heroics, but never caught fire.

But when a set is disappointing at Hopscotch, chances are very good there’s one right next door that’s hitting on all cylinders. Lambchop smoldered perfectly at Fletcher Opera House. Kitty corner at Lincoln Theatre, Mutoid Man and Converge perfectly mixed power and majesty.

The first night of Hopscotch, then, was a classic example of the festival’s longtime format — a big opening show outdoors followed by a mad, prolonged dash between ten clubs of various sizes for several hours — and why that formula remains potent. No other festival promises attendees so many permutations to choose from. But with such diversity comes the paralyzing problem of choice. Moreover, this very approach, which has made Hopscotch so appealing over the years, now threatens to bring it more in line with generalist festivals across the country.


To be continued...

Patrick Wall is music editor emeritus of Free Times. He now lives in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where sometimes people pay him to write things. He is carbon-based.

Jasper Goes to Hopscotch: Day 1


This is Jasper’s 2nd year at Hopscotch, a three-day music festival in Raleigh that features an extraordinarily eclectic lineup of over 170 acts scattered at 14 venues in the downtown area. With a pointed inclusion of everything from folk singers, country bands, and indie pop  to hip-hop, avante garde jazz, and death metal, the festival demonstrates a breadth and depth of selection that is quite simply astonishing. This festival also seamlessly blends a significant amount of North Carolina acts in with a wide-ranging group of national and international acts as well. Starting to see why it’s called hopscotch?

While we covered the festival last year a bit in Vol. 2 No. 002 in the context of Columbia’s festival scene, this time around we just want to give you a taste of what the whirlwind experience of Hopscotch is like. So…here we go!

(Note: I (Kyle Petersen) am using the “I” here, although staff photographer Jonathan Sharpe was along for most of the shenanigans as well. Check out a slide show of some of his photos from the day at the bottom of the post!)

I kicked things off at 8:30pm on Thursday with Nathan Bowles (Black Twig Pickers, Pelt), a plaintive banjo player from Blacksburg, Virginia. (The first day’s line-up doesn’t get going until the evening, giving folks time to get off from work. Friday and Saturday are a different story.) Bowles actually has a stronger background in drums and percussion in indie and progressive rock bands, but picked up the banjo a few years ago and has become quite devoted to it, mixing the traditional clawhammer style with a strong progressive bent. Playing a mix of originals and covers, Bowles created a warm, nuanced sound that meandered easily through the attentive crowd in Fletcher Opera Theater, a 600-seat venue where every seat in the house feels intimate. (Fletcher is part of a larger performing arts triumvirate that includes Memorial Auditorium and the Kennedy Theater, making it one of the hotspots of Hopscotch.)

Next I bumped over to The Kingsbury Manx right next door at Memorial, a cavernous 2,000 seater that allows festival goers to really stretch out and for the bands to get seriously loud. A Chapel Hill indie rock cult favorite, KM mixes neo psych and folk with luxurious power pop, and live their is a laidback joy to their performance, with an assured confidence that gives their intricate, occasionally delicate songs a bit of a swagger. Their set left me feeling like, in another world, KM could be as big and as critically lauded as Wilco.

After KM, I sauntered back over to Fletcher, where the Chicago-based singer/songwriter Angel Olsen was running a bit late. I didn’t mind, though, since as soon as she started playing you probably could have knocked me over with a feather. Olsen rose to prominence (as far as I know) from her role in Bonnie “Prince” Billy’s Cairo Gang, where she contributed some pretty otherwordly vocals, but I really wasn’t prepared for her vocal presence here. The inadequate comparisons I could come up with are to people like Antony Hegarty or Joanna Newsom, but neither does justice to the aching, sighing swoon that Olsen employs, moving in and away from the microphone so much and so skillfully that her distance from it was almost an integral part of the song. What she sang about was nearly as enchanting, reflecting on the nature of love and relationships with steely, sad-eyed lenses. This was a set to remember.

Sylvan Esso, a surprising collaboration between Mountain Man’s Amelia Meath and Megafaun’s Nick Sanborn, was pulsating next door (this was the first moment where I was really, really glad I brought earplugs), and I was able to catch the last few songs of their set as well. Their music feel like something that shouldn’t work--electronic dance music backing up free-form freak-folk songs in lieu of any other instrumentation--and yet somehow it does. It also seems like odd music to play live, but Meath and Sanborn were giving it their all, uninhibitedly dancing and swaying to the idiosyncratic beats and baffling choruses as if they’ve found their very own pop nirvana. And maybe they have.

After that I made my way over to the Irish bar Tir Na Nog, located a few blocks away from the glamour of those auditorium spaces, where it shares a block with the Pour House Music Hall and is right  around the corner from Slim’s and The Hive @ Busy Bee; these four clubs form the other hotspot of Hopscotching set-hopping. Despite that fact, I was sitting tight at Tir Na Nog, though, for two of my favorite alt. country bands, both of whom happen to be from Raleigh.

The Backsliders were up first, a group that was a big part of the wave of 1990s alt. country acts that made it seem like the genre was going to be a much bigger force in the music world than it is today. Although some would argue that The Backsliders were one of the best of the lot, they didn’t have as much success as Whiskeytown or Old 97’s, and they disbanded in ‘99, and only recently reunited for a few live gigs. Led by Chip Robinson, still full of as much (maybe more?) piss and vinegar and rock and roll energy as ever, The Backsliders blasted through a set of their classics as if it were 1996 instead of 2013. The original lineup all looked pretty stoked to be playing again, as lead guitarist Steve Howell provided effusive, blistering solos and keyboardist Greg Rice favorably channeled Benmont Tench and Garth Hudson.  Special highlight: Robinson invited up BJ Barham (of American Aquarium) to help him out with “Abe Lincoln,” a tune that AA recorded on their last album and that, last year at Hopscotch, Barham invited Robinson to join AA to sing on.

American Aquarium were up next, and clearly were feeding off the energy the Backsliders left on stage. The last couple of times I’ve caught them in Columbia, they’ve felt a little rougher after coming off hard stretches on the road--here, they were polished and poised, and gave the hometown crowd every little bit of awesomeness that their songs have got. Barham’s vocals, which many of the band’s detractors take issue with, were in particularly fine form. I also got front row seat’s to the Whit Wright experience, where the young multi-instrumentalist spent some heavy time on the lap steel before rotating back in the pedal steel guitar.

The last stop of the night was at the Lincoln Theater, a great mid-sized rock club where Kurt Vile & the Violators were a little late getting on stage, allowing me to catch most of their set as well. While I’m a fan of Vile’s work, particularly this year’s Wakin on a Pretty Day, I was hoping for a bit more guitar fireworks than I actually got. Live he pretty much sticks to the unhurried, spacious 70s rock sound filtered through 90s slacker indie rock vibe that he’s always gone for. His acoustic guitar work, just like on record, is what keeps you going here, as he wanders through his laconic songs not unlike J. Mascis does when he straps on an acoustic.

All in all, an excellent first evening, although disturbingly tiring given the onslaught of day parties and outdoor headliners that awaits us over the next two days...