Article by Marc Lewis
I got off work and borrowed a bicycle and headed downtown for the first night of Hopscotch, a three-day music event in Raleigh. I met my wingman for the evening and his girlfriend who, in some respect, is related to me because my sister lives with her brother. I chose my wingman because he has a ponytail and a bike and he loves music — all prized assets. His bike is nicer than the one I borrowed. It's a clean chariot that looks like something retired from Olympic competition, while mine is orange and has all-terrain tires, which I guess is good, should the sidewalk ever unexpectedly quit. From his house near Krispy Kreme's caloric glow, we set off into the night, cruising to the rhythmic thud of bicycle mud tires on pavement, toward places we will let make sexual advances on our ears.
The crowds on the sidewalks make Raleigh look full and bright. They highlight Downtown’s emergence as the beating heart one of America's great cities. When people are in her streets, she pulses. This is the After, in infomercial terms, the shaping up of a downtown that when I was a kid looked more like a Before shot, like a riddle-spitter who had not yet crawled out from under its bridge to realize the toning magic of just eight minutes a day. Raleigh has always been my home and with the lights on she looks dolled up and hot.
At the Berkley Café, Landing Strip, er, Airstrip is going through its sound check. The people here amount to a ubiquitous army adorned in V-necks and plaids and horizontally striped shirts. If you took an aerial shot of the crowd, once the music began to thumb, the people as a whole would resemble a ribbon of breathing madras fabric dotted with bobbing heads. When the levels are set and the band begins, Airstrip proves itself worthy of a Hopscotch opportunity.
There is a blonde kid in the front of the crowd who seems to be enjoying the whole scene more than everyone else and, as his joy does not appear to be the design of booze or drugs, I am jealous of his organic happiness. I am not jealous of his moves, a bobbing, smiling surge, which may or may not have been picked up watching old footage of American Bandstand or that Tom Hanks movie about the Beatles-like pop group, That Thing You Do! He is having fun, more fun than the rest, and though I cannot tell what the lead singer of Airstrip is saying, I can tell whatever he is singing about emanates from a place of angst. Youthful angst maybe.
J Roddy Walston and the Business
The guitarist on the right has a beard that makes me feel like less of a man. It is full and grey in places and remarkable. The drummer, when things get going, wears the expression of a person standing at the edge of something steep, and as I watch I find myself rooting for him to hang on. But the star, the unequivocal star of a band singing about youthful, angsty things, a band with catchy rhythms and lyrics camouflaged in noise, is the bass player. He stands stage left and looks like a young Curtis Mayfield. He plays hard and fast, a style that lives up to his mustache and jaw-touching muttonchops. The bass player plays and the others seem to at once compete for second coolest. Airstrip is good. A band you put on a playlist. But after some time, when the horizontal stripes and plaids and overall stripy-ness of the crowd become too much, we head back to the bikes and ride for a while under the starless Raleigh sky.
We land at Tir Na nOg, across from Moore’s Square. The bar has always interested me because through it runs a wall that reminds me of the stone wall in The Shawshank Redemption, a wall in which hope is hidden for a prisoner. At Tir Na nOg, the crowd is full on the stage side of the wall and sparse near the bar, which is perfect in many respects, and after a drink Hacienda comes on.
Hacienda, I hear later, is produced by Dan Auerbach of Black Keys fame. Their sound is beachy in its rhythms, for lack of a better description. Natural and enjoyably repetitive. Hacienda creates a sound you can sink into, experience, and listen to track to track without really knowing or caring that a song has ended and moved on to another. The band plays “Don’t Turn Out the Lights.” It’s new, they say, and held together by a chorus echoing its title.
The DJ booth at Tir Na nOg is unguarded for a time and green lit like a beacon on the water, or at the end of a dock, and it takes every ounce of the good part of my soul to not step in and begin fiddling with quick hands. Consequences aside, there is a basic human instinct to mess with knobs.
Following Hacienda is J. Roddy Walston and The Business. The lead singer looks to have recently stepped out of a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band, but the sound is more early Kings of Leon. The crowd returns the band’s passion by way of steady movement. Each line the lead singer tosses out ends in an “ee-ah” or, when he’s fired up, an “ee-uuuh.” The guitar chases the bass, a du-du followed closely by an ee-rup, which completes the familiar vibe. It is as if Lynyrd got drunk and bedded Caleb Followill and at some point in the whole weird happening a keyboard was tossed into the room. J. Roddy Walston and The Business have a great sound and play like a band one radio hit away from being somebody — so to speak. They play music men buy and women dance to when they know men are watching. Great live music that after a few songs makes you forget the comparisons and appreciate the artists themselves.
At some point during J. Roddy Walston and The Business’ set, night and another empty plastic cup reminded me there was one more workday between me and diving in headfirst without regard for health or sleep. We take to the bikes again, stretching out beyond the lights and past dark corners where couples kissed in secret. Night one of Hopscotch felt like a pressure drop warning of a looming power — a hint allowing the weary a chance to tie down their patio furniture.
If you got something that needs to be seen or shared, reach Marc throughout Hopscotch on Twitter, @marctlewis.