We dove right into the Hopscotch experience last night. Walking down the streets of downtown Raleigh it seems like everyone you see is in a band, and a lot of them are, but most everyone looks like someone you should know. That person’s wearing a plaid shirt, or a band tee, I should know them. In Columbia, SC you recognize almost every person in that scene, Hopscotch brings them all together from all over. Like-minded potential friend fest 13′.
Check in was a breeze. We picked up our lanyard and wrist band and were on our way to see Nathan Bowles in a 5 minute turnaround. Bowles and Angel Olsen played back to back in Fletcher Opera Theater, a beautiful theater just blocks away from Raleigh’s City Plaza. Bowles is a banjo savant composing instrumental pieces in different tunings, and occasionally changing tuning mid-song, he even joked that sometimes he changes tunings twice in a song. The Fletcher Theater was packed out for Bowles — pitch black when you first enter with one lone spotlight on Bowles and quiet enough to hear a pin drop, or a cell phone vibrate. We snuck into the balcony and found some seats looking right down on Bowles. This is when I pulled out my camera only to find out I left my battery in the charger. Heartbreaking moment for myself since I had packed everything I could possibly need in that camera bag. So that explains the lack of pictures in this post, which I plan to make up for today.
After Bowles we snuck over to check out The Kingsbury Manx, who were just next door in Memorial Auditorium. Memorial Auditorium is huge, and seated, with a stage that would dwarf just about any band besides The Polyphonic Spree. The Kingsbury Manx are veterans of the triangle scene and did a good job of bringing the room to them. We only got to catch a couple of songs before we snuck back over to Fletcher Opera Theater to see Angel Olsen. I first became familiar with Olsen through Bonnie Prince Billy, who The Kingsbury Manx have toured with in the past. Olsen was simply incredible. Being the only one in the spotlight, she couldn’t see that every seat in front of her was filled, with the balcony nearly half full. Olsen controlled the room with her voice, a blank stare off into space, and gentle picking of the guitar. She never looked uncomfortable, but by a song or two in she was smiling and showed a different type of comfort on stage. Probably had something to do with the roar of applause after her first song. Midway through her set, at a very opportune time, someone’s phone chirped, like a cricket, and it was perfect almost like it was part of the song. It drew a smile and a giggle from Olsen, who didn’t break stride.
We hated leaving Angel Olsen, but that’s how Hopscotch works sometimes. There seem to be 5 good bands playing all the time, and 1 or 2 of them that you’ll be able to catch both. So we slipped back over to Memorial Auditorium, yes very convenient, to see Sylvan Esso, who we’ve been raving about here at SceneSC for a couple of months now. The two piece electro pop band made up of Megafaun’s Nick Sanborn and Mountain Man’s Amelia Meath changed the whole vibe of the auditorium. The stage dwarfed them, the room dwarfed them, so they brought it down to their size. The room is seated remember, but they had hundreds standing and dancing in front of the stage. They brought the low end bass to that room like the speakers had surely never seen before. It was one year ago at Hopscotch when Sylvan Esso played their first show, and just a couple of weeks they played The Cave, and last night they had hundreds dancing in front of them. It was incredible to watch them live, making that music their own, proving me wrong when I doubted in my mind that they would be able to make it translate live. Sanborn has his moves down, he pulled off the dance moves without looking contrived, he even made the robot look cool for a second. And Meath, she’s got it. She brought her dancing shoes, which from my view looked like 6 inch stacked sneakers.
One of the coolest parts for us about music festivals like Hopscotch and SXSW is seeing South Carolina bands out of their home state element. So next we headed to Berkeley Cafe to see Charleston, SC band Company. Berkeley was slam full when Co. got started and we ended up in the front row. The new stage is tiny there, and Brian Hannon and crew squeezed on stage full of energy they are sometimes missing locally. They closed with a cover of “Farewell Transmission” by Songs: Ohia. A song I had never heard covered until this year, and since have heard it from Austin Crane and Co.
One thing that really messed with our night was that every venue was running late. Now we have that figured out and can plan accordingly, but it was 12:15 and we wanted to get in to Lincoln Theatre to see Kurt Vile. Getting in at 12:15 was fine, no line, but Vile didn’t get going until around 12:45 and by that time the room was slammed. Vile and Violators opened up with the nine plus minutes of the drafty “Wakin on a Pretty Day” and as a guitar player I figured out the secret to that song is Vile’s acoustic guitar. I believe that was Marnie Stern’s dog on stage with Vile while the band was setting up. We thought we were seeing things when that happened.
First day at Hopscotch was tiring, but here we go day 2. Day shows and then Waxahatchee, Local Natives, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper, Mount Moriah, Night Beds, and many more surprises I’m sure.