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