By the numbers, the Hopscotch Music Festival has been a test of endurance. Over three days, I saw 61 sets by 58 different acts, and slept only 17 hours. Even in its first year, Raleigh, N.C.’s Hopscotch fetched comparisons to Austin’s South By Southwest, the now sprawling industry conference, and the CMJ Music Marathon, an annual college radio pilgrimage in New York, largely because like SXSW and CMJ, Hopscotch hosts acts in clubs scattered throughout the city’s downtown. It’s also attracted a growing assortment of unofficial day parties and side events. All of this, of course, means that even after spending a weekend running across town collecting blisters splitting sets, you’ll always miss more than you see.
But there’s a vital difference between Hopscotch and the industry conferences it’s compared to; Hopscotch is still a curatorial enterprise. Its official lineup hasn’t been overwhelmed by label showcases and publicity stunts. No bands perform beneath a giant Doritos vending machine.
And it’s because Hopscotch is still a curated event that it is able to accomplish what it does. Hopscotch validates Raleigh’s local music scene by putting area upstarts on bills with national headliners.
Official daytime gigs closed off major downtown thoroughfares to showcase homegrown talent. Durham’s Red Collar worked up a fervor of Clash-style rabble rousing and redemption with their tenacious, intense set of Heartland punk. Double Negative, one of the country’s best hardcore bands and Raleigh natives, used the same stage to play a precise, furious 15-minute set to a surprisingly receptive crowd. Spider Bags stirred an early set into one of their finest performances. Mount Moriah’s resonant Americana benefitted from the city’s natural reverb as their gorgeous melodies filled the open air.
The adventurous and adaptable folk trio Megafaun, the de facto daytime headliner, packed a crowd tight into a city block as they invited guitarists William Tyler and Adam Granduciel (of The War On Drugs) and drummer Chris Corsano to join them on stage to extrapolate Megafaun’s songs (and one of The War on Drugs’) into grand psych-rock and country epics. It seemed particularly fitting for Hopscotch, too, uniting nationally acclaimed musicians with a local favorite, bridging cutting-edge sounds and techniques with comforting, accessible rock. Honestly, had the festival ended here, I’d have been satisfied.
It was only the start of the festival’s third day, however. Shirlette and the Dynamite Brothers, a collaboration between a local funk-rock band and Durham, N.C. MC Shirlette Ammons, claimed a supporting slot opening for The Roots (and, incidentally, a torrential downpour that booted the 17-piece disco band Escort from the bill). Not even the hours-long storm delay could quell the crowd’s enthusiasm for The Roots. And as the legendary hip-hop band played to the damp (but not dampened) thousands, Hopscotch kicked back into gear throughout Raleigh.
Hopscotch’s curatorial booking also enables the festival to schedule bands in surprising pairing. Earlier in the weekend, that meant Dan Deacon immediately followed Corrosion of Conformity and Killer Mike followed Zola Jesus. On the festival’s final night, it paired the costumed garage popsmith Nobunny with the charismatic Detroit rapper Danny Brown. Both charged their sets with humor, energy and magnetic personality. In hindsight, their complements are obvious.
Saturday’s bill also featured comforting, compelling Americana from country royal Chelsea Crowell (She’s the daughter of Rodney Crowell and Roseanne Cash, and Johnny Cash’s granddaughter), arresting minimalism from saxophone soloist Colin Stetson, and a pulsing collaboration between Megafaun and composer Arnold Dreyblatt. But after three days of music, with hardly a dud in the bunch (well, there were a couple), it all becomes a bit overwhelming.
I wonder how much larger Hopscotch could grow before sprawl becomes a detriment. It already counts more than 170 acts before considering the bands filling ranks at day parties. It’s already impossible to see more than a fraction of them.
While drone lords Sunn O))) filled the cavernous Memorial Hall with tangible waves of sound, I was more than ready to drop into the undulating chords and just zone out. The past three days had been, mostly, a series of good to superlative performances, but I was worn out. Hopscotch offers more than enough of a good thing; I don’t know how much more I can handle.
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Red Collar with Toon
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Last Year's Men