This Year, Hopscotch Becomes America’s Best Music Festival

This Year, Hopscotch Becomes America’s Best Music Festival

April, 18, 2012, by Jedidiah

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Flaming Lips Hopscotch 2011 - photo credit Jedidiah Gant

At the top of the internet conversation earlier this week was the California music fest Coachella's flashy hologram performances by the late rappers Tupac Shakur and Nate Dogg. While I personally find this quite remarkable as a technological achievement, it goes to show what Coachella is known for, flexing its music festival muscles. Looking at the Coachella poster, it takes three or four lines to find one band that the average music listener hasn't heard on repeat in department stores, Toyota Commercials and kissing scenes on TV shows over the past few years. There were some amazing artists in the desert over the past weekend, but Coachella functions as a top down festival, booking the biggest and best of bands that will draw massive crowds. I question its motive. For the love of the music or the money?

Generally, this pattern has become commonplace for many of the festivals across the US and the globe. From Coachella, Bonnaroo, Sasquatch, Lollapalooza, Moog, and Austin City Limits, festivals have become mostly top down, booking huge bands that draw equally huge crowds and huge sponsors. While most of the acts at these fests are great musicians, there are too many huge bands, many of which are billed against each other all weekend long. There's little room for musical discovery at these fests, a lot of attendees know and want to see almost every band on the list. It's fun, but not groundbreaking and progressive as an infrastructure.

A few other festivals have taken an opposing route. Pitchfork could almost act as a top down festival but it's more of a middle ground event, booking a few big bands (Vampire Weekend, Feist, Godspeed, etc) and leaving the rest of the lineup to up-and-coming artists that the website is known to promote very heavily. Although most of the attendees of P4K fest surely read the website on a daily basis, there is still some level of discovery that happens for most of the music public on the grounds. 

South by Southwest in Austin is one of the oldest 'fests' and has always been a bottom up event. Bands fly from all over the world to slide 30 minutes of tunes in front of music lovers and critics who have also flown to Austin to discover these bands. SXSW is the music equivalent of a kickstarter campaign, bands screaming SUPPORT OUR MUSIC! There are a handful of well known bands, but the majority of the festival is unsigned and unheard bands looking for an audience. And, that's why it works so well, we love finding new music. 

Enter the Independent Weekly's Hopscotch Music Festival. In ONLY its third year, Hopscotch has jumped leaps and bounds in less than 1,000 days to become one of the premiere music weekends in the country. There are a handful of bands you've probably heard of, but that's about it. The rest of the fest is about discovery and trust. You put your trust in the festival's co-curators Greg Lowenhagen and Grayson Currin, who have proved year-end and year-out that their musical taste is exquisite and worth this trust. I find myself digging through the lineup to find bands that I think would put on amazing shows. I dig through line after line of bands I've never heard of, only to find one of my favorite new bands buried below these other unfamiliar names. That means that, more than likely, the bands above that are, ummm, better than this band (oh say Mark McGuire or Ducktails) that I've listened to on repeat for a few years!? Yes, please. 

Death Grips - photo by KnockSteady

Another reason Hopscotch works so well is that it highlights Raleigh, one of the fastest growing cities in America. The three day festival highlights the city's majestic venues (Memorial Auditorium) and it's grittiest (Slim's). It brings music lovers from all over the state, country and globe to see a bunch of Avant-garde musicians perform once in a lifetime sets, individual or collaborative in OUR city. I see big things for Hopscotch. There is a lot of potential in where this is going. While the music industry continues to struggle on the album sales level, it continues to thrive in the live arena and Hopscotch is proof. A few years from now, Raleigh will be known as a live music destination, I can promise that.

As a sit here listening through fantastic tunes by Exit Music, Class Actress and Silver Swans (three bands I had never heard of before seeing the Hopscotch 2012 lineup), I find myself realizing that this kind of a event is a music lover's dream. There's a ton of amazing bands that are just waiting to be discovered. You've probably heard little to nothing about the band Death Grips (photo above), but I can promise that his show at CAM in September will be one of the craziest events of the weekend, likely to blow my mind, and yours. You may not be able to get into venue A, but I promise that the show at venue B, C or D is just as good, if not better. These aren't average bands just picked to fill a bill or make cash. The one-off performances, the collaborations, the surprises, these make Hopscotch special and unlike any of the festivals mentioned above. The grassroots community explosion that happens on Hopscotch weekend is phenomenal. It enriches and transforms our city and will again this Fall. By September, the buzz on many of these unfamiliar (to you) bands will be bigger and you'll likely hear a lot from many of them in 2013. You may even hear one of their tunes in a Honda commercial or on the final credits of ABC's next big teen comedy.

Check out the lineup of 175 bands playing Hopscotch 2012

Listen to the bands playing Hopscotch 2012 over at The Hopscotch Spotify Playlist

Read More

Music, Other posts by Jedidiah.


Hopscotch Music FestivalHopscotch Music Festival 2012


  • Brad
    04/18 09:25 AM

    “Hopscotch is the best music festival in the country because it’s full of bands you’ve never heard of.” Seriously? That’s about the most hipster thing I’ve ever heard - and I live in Durham.

    It’s absolutely great to have so much great undiscovered talent on display, and it’s great that Hopscotch showcases Raleigh, but don’t get ahead of yourself.

    Hopscotch is great for Raleigh, and it’s great for music lovers, but the ability to draw and book bands you’ve heard of is absolutely a factor in making a music festival great. A truly great festival will give the listener a chance to see live performances from bands they know and love, while also providing up-and-coming talent the chance to shine. As it stands now, Hopscotch is too much of an “insider” event - many people go just for the right to say “I went to Hopscotch” or “I saw [obscure band name here] before you ever heard of them.”

    By all means, go to Hopscotch. Support local music and the thriving Raleigh downtown scene. Have a fantastic time. Just don’t try to tell me it’s the best music festival in the country…yet.

  • Josh
    04/18 10:50 AM

    Brad, I couldn’t agree with you more. And let’s get serious here, the chances of this festival seriously being the best one in America (at any point in time, versus its competition) is slim to none.

    I love to support local music and I have for 10+ years, but yeah. It’s not the best in American by any stretch of the imagination.

  • Meatwad
    04/18 11:16 AM

    If being higher up on the flyer = better than, when it is based on popularity wouldn’t that make a fest like Coachella packed with bands you hear on commercials (sarcasm) way better than Hopscotch by this logic?  No hate, Hopscotch is amazing, has been a killer weekend the past two years, just think this article is a little embarrassing for NR, especially the headline.  Having gone to Moogfest I would have a hell of a time arguing that Hopscotch is the best fest in the state let alone the country.

  • no
    04/18 11:52 AM

    “best music festival in the country” is a backhanded compliment anyway. music festivals are primarily shit, no matter who is there. it’s hard to make one worth going to with respect to venues and scheduling. hopscotch has at least achieved more than the rest in those areas. coachella et. al. are bullshit.

  • hipster_runoff
    04/18 12:13 PM

    Hopscotch Becomes America’s Best Music Festival. Really, Jed?!!? For all the good this festival brings (and there is a lot), Hopscotch has miles to go before EVER being uttered in the same breathe as any of the staple festivals mentioned above. Instead of proselytising the premature genius of a three year old festival that focuses too much on the “unknown acts,” focus more on trying to be a top down festival. Booking the “biggest and best of bands” that will draw crowds is a large part of what makes Coachella, ACL, SXSW, ATP desirable and earns them the reputations they rightfully have. These festivals are the intersection of where music and commerce meet. Last time I checked, that’s not a bad thing. To think differently, makes me question your motives.

  • Jennifer
    04/18 12:40 PM

    I’m going to rent out my house!

  • db
    04/18 01:24 PM

    ....said the co-sponsor.

  • Dave
    04/18 01:45 PM

    not even the best festival in the state.

    can’t really see an argument for it being better than Moogfest.

  • Not A Hologram
    04/18 02:39 PM

    “While I personally find this quite remarkable as a technological achievement…”

    Right. A remarkable technological achievement…150 years ago when the technology was developed.

  • Slim's
    04/18 02:43 PM

    I’m ecstatic that NewRaleigh mentioned Slim’s this year, even if it wasn’t in the best light.

  • Dan
    04/18 02:49 PM

    Hey I like Slim’s. Wizard Rifle and Dragged Into Sunlight-that’s pretty tight.

  • slim's
    04/18 03:07 PM

    If it was at King’s, Dan, NewRaleigh would be pimping that show like a ‘72 Monte Carlo.

  • gspot
    04/18 03:22 PM

    Perhaps we ought to table this discussion until Hopscotch, at minimum, has an attendance level greater than or equal to Cary’s Lazy Daze Arts & Crafts Fair.

  • Coach Ella
    04/18 03:34 PM

    I doubt if it will ever have a huge attendance level.  It’s not that kind of festival and if you measure it by attendance, you’re missing the point.  Hopscotch is inherently restricted by the number of venues available to them.

  • gspot
    04/18 03:49 PM

    i’m not missing any point.  attendance is important if you are going to declare something to be the best festival in america.  i’m not saying it has to be the *most* attended event to be the best, but for something to be the best, it must have both healthy capacity and demand, along with everything else described in the article.  if hopscotch has inherently restricted attendance then it, inherently, isn’t the best festival in america.

    on side note, I don’t buy that it is inherently restricted.  this thing could easily be 4x bigger with some creativity, and sales.  look at merlefest.  80K attendees, hosted in a small mountain town.  its doable.

    ...or cap it at 10K, and simply settle for calling it a “great local event”

  • Coach Ella
    04/18 04:43 PM

    Wal-Mart, then, is the best store in America.

  • gspot
    04/18 06:16 PM

    well coach, some would agree with you.  wal-mart is a pretty amazing business.  but you missed my point.  it doesn’t have to be the biggest, just bigger with the same or arguably higher quality, to be ever be seriously considered he best in the state, let alone the country.

    but it’s a silly argument to begin with. i’m sure hopscotch will do just fine on its own without NR’s unnecessary hype.

  • Roy
    04/18 07:58 PM

    Im pretty excited about Hopscotch, but to say because the majority of acts are people most have never heard of making it better is just ridiculous. The unique shows (like the Mountain Goats piano metal covers, the Matthew White 40 man performance, Megafaun’s show at the Longview Center, the random people from the 90s offering rare performances) is what makes it special to me. I’ve seen The Roots live once before and I am so excited at the chance to see them again. I honestly wish they hadn’t booked 175 mostly nobodies and had put the money towards 60-75 up and comers with minor national recognition. Hopscotch brought in Real Estate, the War on Drugs, and Wild Flag earlier this year: they shouldve had them at the main event too. Hopscotch doesnt even utilize the downtown amphitheater.  We aren’t anywhere close to being the best. But we don’t need to be.  I’m happy with what is going on. I hope in the years to come, as the festival grows so too will the list of names being brought in. While I want the local acts to stay, more supporting acts with name recognition and another couple of headliners would do wonders for the credibility of Hopscotch.

  • Lloyd
    04/19 09:18 AM

    “I honestly wish they hadn’t booked 175 mostly nobodies and had put the money towards 60-75 up and comers with minor national recognition.”

    EXACTLY!  This Line-up is incredibly disappointing to me.  The first year was the best and it’s been downhill since.

    I would love to see Death Grips but I might have to sit this one out.

    04/19 09:47 AM

    Agreed.  Cut the number of bands by 1/3 and add more big indie bands like Oneida, Dan Deacon and Yo La Tengo.  Cut down on some of the extremely obscure bands and reduce the number of venues and it would be near perfect for me.  Still, I have been to other big festivals like Bonnaroo and Coachella and I enjoy hopscotch a lot more.

  • Alton
    04/19 01:18 PM

    Agreed, 175 bands is 100 too many.  I have a VIP wristband but I will only see 15-30 bands, tops.  I love the idea of Hopscotch and bought my passes before the lineup was announced.  I would buy them anyway to support the idea but this lineup is silly.

  • Sarah J.
    04/20 12:02 PM

    I’m not that excited about Hopscotch this year, but was helluva excited about it last year and hope to be excited about it in the future.  It’s a fun weekend downtown nonetheless, but this year I’m skipping on the weekend pass.  I was looking for more SXSW names that I heard through NPR’s coverage, but other then the local bands, I don’t recognize most of the lineup and I’ve already seen most of the local acts, oh well.

  • The Real RoboCop
    04/20 02:05 PM

    Mostly, you are bunch of whiny babies. Not just here, but in a large number of New Raleigh comment sections. One of the few good things I see in this thread is that somebody used the word “insider” instead of “hipster” (Please stop saying “hipster” in all the comment threads. Please. You are better than that, or maybe your commentary is traveling back in time, and during the next bout, you’ll start bemoaning the death of everything alternative, moving on quickly to the gagging with chainsaw period, I hope. Also, enough with the “Really” followed by a dozen exclamation and question marks).

    If you are that enraged by the hyperbole of an article title at an editorial website, move on.

    If you think Kings gets too many mentions, why don’t you make a better site that promotes whatever place it is that you love so much?

    If you bought a pass before knowing the line-up, were you not aware of the probability that it would not meet every single one of your fantastic wishes, and the possibility that it would meet none of your dim dreams?

    See Sarah J.‘s comment? That’s how you make your point without sounding like an asshole.

    It’s a music festival. I will be there in September, having a good time with so many of you. Relax. Summer’s almost here. Let’s party.

  • Gabe Hathaus
    04/20 03:19 PM

    The guy that wrote the article thinks it is the best festival in the country.  He didn’t say that you had to.

  • rob
    04/23 01:17 PM

    the 2012 has 2 headliners

    and 400 bands I’ve never heard of

    and neither have any of the hipster d-bags I hang out with

    this is not an “authentic” music festival

    this is not a “brand”

    this is a local newspapers last gasp before the digital revolution eats it for breakfast

    Hpsctch sucked the past 2 years and it will suck again this year

  • rob
    04/23 01:23 PM


    where is the Electronic music ?

    Techno, House, and Drum n Bass have been thriving in this area for the past 20 years along with its recent step child “dubstep”

    but it never gets any press in the Independent

    only lamestream “indie” bands

    what are you independent of if you are the only voice?

    and dont say N&O and Major Labels

    no one even pays attention to those

  • m00gwump
    04/24 08:54 AM

    Coachella costs money to make happen, thus they have to have big named bands to bring in the hordes of white middle class ticket buyers. If they get a smattering of minorities too, that’s just gravy.

    SXSW might be a little more “authentic” feeling since they have so many venues instead of having to build a temporary mini-city for an outdoor festival. So, in that light, Hopscotch has potential to be one of the more “cool” festivals known around the country.

  • Carl
    05/01 09:29 AM

    (Millers Crossing)
    What did Johnny Caspar say ?

    ” Fancy pants….all of you’s..”

  • Captain Air Quotes
    05/01 12:41 PM

    Rob, maybe somebody will start RaveScotch so you and your techno bros can swing around glowsticks and trip balls to some dubstep until the sun comes up. Until then, you’ll just have to deal with an “indie” “hipster d-bag” “400 band” festival that is neither “authentic” or a “brand”. 

    ” “

  • Get DOWN, Raleigh !!
    05/01 07:28 PM

    RaveScotch : that #hit will #uck you up, dude.

  • Ian
    07/31 01:57 PM

    I bought my VIP pass blindly this year with hopes of great things coming after last year’s Hopscotch.  I have to say, I was pretty disappointed when the line-up dropped.  So disappointed in fact, I sold my pass.  Look, I’m all for discovering new music, but I want that to be an aside to a $170 festival.  Not the whole thing.  I barely recognized anyone on the lineup, but I still did my due diligence and tried listening to a track or two from every artist.  The meager handful that I actually wanted to go see live, were all booked against each other. What I was left with was a bunch of music that I was pretty impartial on seeing or not.  I agree with posters above, slim down the number of bands, give me 2 headliners, 10-20 upcoming national bands I’ve heard of but would like to know more about and then fill the rest with local music.  In the end, I couldn’t justify using $170 to mostly hear the same bands I can hear any given weeknight in the triangle for $5.

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