Hopscotch was certainly a whirlwind for me. I managed to see a total of 23 bands during the course of the three days, sandwiched between shots of espresso and cans of red bull. While it’s hard to narrow down the experience to just a handful of highlights, there were a few moments of the festival that really did stand out. For me, Thursday night was all about the Berkeley. While I missed what was apparently an amazing performance by Javelin, I heard portions of it while standing in line for the Future Islands show. I watched as sweat-drenched people ambled out and talked about how ridiculously packed it was in there. They weren’t exaggerating one bit. Not willing (and probably not able) to fight my way to the front, I wiggled my way to the back and I watched the show precariously perched atop a rickety chair. The fans were giddy, and the vibe was contagious. I watched as about 30 people climbed on stage and danced with the band during a song towards the end of the set. Sam asked them to get off the stage after the song had ended, but for a short while, from where I observed, the stage and the floor had merged; there was no distinguishing the band from the audience. The two had melded into a giant melee of dance and glowsticks and sweat and spilled beer and it was sort of beautiful.
Another high point for me was seeing Chuck D speak at the Raleigh City Museum on Saturday afternoon. The hip-hop discussion panel, a part of the Edward McKay Artist and Author series, had already made my short list for the weekend because it seemed like a fascinating topic and a nice intermission from the weekend club-hopping. However, it wasn’t until I was already en route to the panel that I heard Chuck D intended to participate, which made me glad that I was early and able to score a seat on the front row. Extremely clever, witty, and well spoken, Chuck easily commanded the audience’s rapt attention and regaled us with his thoughts on the politics of hip hop, the entertainment business, and some of the key influences on the development of Public Enemy.
By the end of the third and final day, I was exhausted. But it was then that I stumbled into the two performances that made me stow away my camera and stop tweeting about the festival and dance my ass off. Those two performances were the understated Tigercity and the gorgeously rhythmic Golden Filter, both at Tir Na Nog. While I had expected Tigercity to be good, cheesy, 80s throwback fun, they actually put on a completely unironic performance that had the whole crowd moving to the beat. I ducked out for a short while after their set, and when I returned the pounding bass of The Golden Filter was drifting out to the sidewalk…darkly mysterious and oddly energizing at the same time. And I couldn’t resist hopping into the middle of the tangled mess of people and losing myself in the music for the rest of their set.
I capped off the night with some lovely twangy melodies by Megafaun, and it was on that note that I understood why Hopscotch was such a success – where else could I start the day with Red Collar’s anthem rock, segue into the heavy sound of Death Came Up the Mountain, catch local indie favorites The Love Language opening for some of the most influential rappers of my generation, bust a move to some synth-y electropop , and then wind down with the eclectic beauty that is Megafaun, all in small, intimate venues? Well played, Hopscotch.
In a weekend in which I heard “best weekend ever” uttered a record number of times, how do you pinpoint the most epic of moments? Everything about that weekend was beautiful. A few things that stood out amongst all the awesome were:
1. The air - For lack of a better description, the best thing about the whole festival was the air of the event; the mise-en-scène of the weekend. Everywhere you went, there was nothing but ear to ear smiles. People would hug and high five when passing each other between venues. I saw tears shed at shows several times by friends that were so happy to see their friends doing amazing things on stage. Even a drunk guy that passed out in the grass woke up smiling & laughing before he ran back into the fray of the streets. Everybody that went was so pumped to be there, that I’ve never seen more happy people in one spot for such a prolonged period of time.
2. Cold Hole at Ruby Red - Unless you were still up watching bands at 3:30 in the morning after Thursday night’s shows, you probably missed one of the best shows I saw the entire weekend. It consisted of Brad Cook from Megafaun, Akron/Family, Adam Heathcott from Hometapes, I think Adam Granduciel from War on Drugs, and Andy Holmes from Old Bricks (who literally played the floor). Perfect ending to my favorite night of music of Hopscotch. Next year these guys need to play one of the club shows together.
3. Hip Hop Planet Panel - Having not really known much about Public Enemy and the history of hip hop, listening to Chuck D talk at the Raleigh City Museum was a fascinating learning experience. Joined by the likes of 9th Wonder and Chris Weingarten from Rolling Stone, the panel touched on several issues related to what it was like to make the kind of music Public Enemy pioneered in the time period that they did. Everyone was so into it, that instead of the 4-6 time slot, everyone kept going till 7:45. Chuck D even at one point remarked that he didn’t have to be anywhere till it was time to walk up on City Plaza stage.
What a rush. A huge cultural event for the downtown, commercially driven, and beautifully organized for attendees. The only thing I am aware of that even approaches Hopscotch is SPARKcon. For any new event to gain that comparison, it should be an honor. The Independent, its owner, Steve Shewel, and organizers Greg Lowenhagen and Grayson Currin should be applauded for growing something so beautiful in our downtown. Streets teaming with music fans and lines at every restaurant and club all weekend. By all accounts a huge success. New Raleigh had the pleasure of being involved from early in the process, and we couldn’t be more thankful for being able to participate in something so new, so unique and so much fun. Raleigh’s music scene has waxed and waned over the years but with the return of Kings and the rise of Hopscotch, things seem to be shaping up nicely. Thank you to the entire Independent staff for giving our city such a gracious gift.
I enjoyed so many of the shows at Hopscotch, but there were a few that I thought were masterfully produced. The Plaza shows were polished productions and I thought that our own Rosebuds and Love Language shined further than the big name acts that performed. Greg Lowenhagen orchestrated a surprise appearance of the NC Central Marching Band that was a local treat for attendees. The concert happened as they marched through the crowd- a joyful, interactive experience that was rich and happened right in front of me as opposed far away on a stage.
I thought that 9th Wonder’s night at Lincoln Theater was a highlight show. Seamlessly flowing from one artist to the next with collaborations and intermingling happening all night and constant active participation by 9th himself. It wasn’t just limited to MCs and DJs though, The Remix Project brought a full band to play classic hip hop instrumentals and back up some of the MCs. Raekwon came out to close down the night with an anthology of popular work both from him and the rest of Wu-Tang. 9th was a masterful host and wove an evening like no other at the festival.
I still remember the conversations with Grayson Currin about the early days of Hopscotch and him throwing ideas of different bands by me on the basketball court and through the internet. It sounded like it would be epic if they were able to get any of the mentioned bands. They did and it was an epic weekend to say the least. As Ladye Jane said, The Air was amazing and Raleigh will never be the same after last weekend. Here are a few of my personal highlights.
• Sharon van Etten singing “Don’t Do It” from her upcoming album Epic. Gorgeous song.
• NOMO put me in a trance on the last night of the festival at Lincoln Theater. Amazing musicians making beautiful music.
• Going to 5 or more bars/music venues three nights in a row and not ever smelling like smoke.
• Raekwon and crew rolling blunts on stage - despite the above statement, this was quite entertaining.
• There’s nothing like hearing two metal bands at noon-time. Seeing a few songs by Lurch at Tir Na Nog and Hog at Kings helped me make it through Day Three.
• Flute Flies - The band that formed as a benefit for Cy-Tunes made a rare 11am appearance on Saturday at the Raleigh Times stage and every minute was great. Perfect #hopscotchangover cure to get day three started.
• Kung Fu Pop-up shop - Having a record and merch store (hell, any retail) in downtown Raleigh was very fitting for this event and would be great on a daily basis.
• Jon Mueller’s epic 30 minute-plus drum roll. If you missed the Collection of Colonies of Bees drummer at Kings, it was a sight and sound to behold. Luckily, Megafaun’s Brad Cook hinted to me beforehand that what Mueller was about to do could change my life in one way or another. It might have.
• Richard Buckner’s last few songs - after Raekwon, I caught the last few songs of Buckner’s set (The Pour House was empty) and wish I would have seen the entire set.
• Active Child - Active Child sounded great at The Hive but wish he was in a bigger venue.
• Ocean’s First Song - The first song I heard in the new Kings was the first one of Ocean’s set and I may remember the ringing in my ears forever.
• All Tiny Creatures - Another Collection of Colonies of Bees side project, this may have been the best band I saw all weekend (although I only caught one CoCoB’s song).
• Cheetie Kumar’s See Through Guitar - Birds of Avalon rocker Cheetie had an awesome clear guitar that was quite beautiful in sight and sound.
• NC Central / Helping Hands Marching Band - what Public Enemy show?