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:


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.

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...