A LOOK BACK AT HOPSCOTCH 2017
HOPSCOTCH IN REVIEW
Photos and Review by Leslie Leonard and David Stringer
Hopscotch is not your typical music festival and that's why people love it. Taking place after the dog days of summer you can usually feel the autumn air start to creep in as was the case this year more than years past. With an outstanding forecast showing clear skies and unseasonably low temperatures along with a lineup that boasted huge headliners like Run the Jewels, Solange, and Big Boi, Hopscotch 2017 was shaping up to be one of the best yet. Did it live up to it? Maybe some more hindsight will help, but it surely did not disappoint.
So far this year we’ve covered Savannah Stopover Festival, SouthSounds Music Festival in Mobile, AL and Secret Stages in Birmingham, AL. Each one is comparable to Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh in a variety of ways. They’re all festivals that focus on new music discovery, showcasing bands on the rise alongside local talent. Beyond that they all showcase the city they take place in. Bars and coffee shops that occasionally host music turn into full-time venues for a couple of days as music fans bounce from venue to venue catching parts of what’s usually a 30 minute set. If you’re lucky everything is running on time and there’s no line to get in. It’s always hard to guess what the crowd will be like, and I can’t even imagine what it’s like to book each venue. With so many bands who are becoming more popular by the day, and even the minute, it’s sort of a crapshoot to predict. For example a band like Snail Mail who is featured in a write up in New York Times a week before they’re scheduled to play Neptunes, one of the smallest venues at Hopscotch and one that doesn’t even have a stage, what you end up with is a long line outside and people crammed in to see the band with a buzz. That’s much of the charm of Hopscotch, and something you gripe about, but only in a fun way. Because after-all, when that band is much bigger in years to come, you’re one of the ones who got in and saw the band in one of Hopscotch’s smallest venues without a stage.
When you look back at the lineups starting in the festival's inaugural year in 2010 you see example after example of this. Some starting in clubs and moving to the main stage, or even headlining one of the main stages. Or you see bands who played day parties, not even a part of the main lineup in the past, moving on up to play late night at Kings like South Carolina’s own Susto did this year. Then you look at Future Islands who performed at the festival in 2010, 2011, and 2013, and then this year headlined the City Plaza stage on Friday night. It’s exciting to watch these bands rise, grow, and evolve. You watch their demeanor change, their stage show performance grow, and you’re standing there in the crowd looking around wondering where these people who know all the words came from.
Thinking back on my first trip to Hopscotch in 2011 I remember how foreign the idea of day parties was. Now they’re more than just a staple of the festival, but where you’ll find some of the great and most intimate of Hopscotch performances. Whether it be Phil Cook performing Randy Newman songs just after noon on a Friday as you sip a cold brew and try to get charged for the long day to come, or Mac McCaughan + Kurt Wagner performing together, the day parties are really where the magic happens. It’s a part of the festival left untouched over the years as the night-time has evolved from a laid back indie fest, to a more corporate concert environment.
The night time is where Hopscotch has changed the most over the years. As the festival has grown and changed hands several times it’s amazing they’ve been able to retain so much of the original festival vibes that make it so unique. The addition of Red Hat Amphitheater has worked out well for the most part, hosting acts like Gary Clark Jr. last year and this year hosting Solange and Run the Jewels to name a couple. It doesn’t feel like Hopscotch when you’re there though. Run the Jewels, Angel Olsen, and Solange were great at Red Hat, and other than Angel Olsen that’s an environment you’re most likely to see those acts. But when you put them in City Plaza with the beautiful Raleigh Memorial Auditorium as the backdrop and the capitol building behind you, it takes on a different feel altogether. You’re seeing something unique at that point that gives the show and the fans an entirely different experience. But Hopscotch is changing and I think we all know it. Hopefully it will never lose the little things that make this festival great, and what make it stand out among others. The city of Raleigh is an amazing host city, full of local talent, local businesses with charm, and great venues from Fletcher and CAM, to Kings and Pour House. The festival embraces the experimental, and music that takes risks, whether it be ambient, heavy, folk, or hip-hop, Hopscotch serves as a welcoming home to all genres. It feels like those things are slowly slipping away, and if that’s the case in a couple of years and the festival continues it’s slide toward profits over risky programming, we’ll all wax nostalgic about Hopscotch’s glory days, but I’m not ready to do that yet.
The last time Future Islands played the City Plaza stage they were performing songs from their upcoming record Singles. Little did they know then that their late night performance would go viral and "Seasons (Waiting on You)" would become their most popular song to date. This night frontman Sam Herring came out sporting some new facial hair and had an extra intense growl as they performed new and old songs, many of which were inspired by growing up in North Carolina.
Wearing stark white clothing painted splattered with vivd primary colors, the Barcelona punk group played at CAM late on Friday night. The group formed when co-founders Carla Pérez Vas and Jazz Rodríguez Bueno longed to escape the ennui of the classroom. Bueno yowled “Stop trimming your hair,” a sound comparable to the voice of such artists like PJ Harvey, while performing “Your Brain is Made of Candy” off their debut LP. Their guitar heavy performance had a sense of urgency, which impelled the audience to be present with each note.
As the sun set over Red Hat Amphitheater and Angel Olsen and band set up for the closing set of the festival it felt like an appropriate ending. Things weren't closing with a bang, nor a whimper, but with Olsen's soothing yet strong voice and vivid lyrics echoing through the air. Unfortunately many of the festivals attendees from out of town had to get home before Olsen's set, leaving mostly the locals to enjoy her performance.
Currently on tour with Protomartyr, who played later that Friday night, Melkbelly played to a pack crowd at Slim’s. Coming from the Chicago DIY scene, the four-piece is hard to pin down as one thing the band can be considered anything from indie rock to noise. Their performance was disruptive in the best way, with front-woman Miranda Winter switching from jaunty choruses to low growls from behind her long red hair. Unyielding, and loud Melkbelly filled Slim’s with each song.
Featuring both Sklar Gudasz and MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger, Songs: Molina took the Fletcher stage alongside original Magnolia Electric Company members as they paid homage to Jason Molina and his songs. They performed late into the night, with little time spent telling stories like they did during the original run of dates earlier this year. And if you stayed late enough and didn't bounce over to The Afghan Whigs you were treated with the set closer and Songs: Ohia most popular song "Farewell Transmission".
While on the road with Eleanor Friedberger as her backing band, brothers Jonathan and Michael Rosen ruminated over a new project. That project was Cones, who took over Deep South Thursday night under the glimmer of the disco ball. Jonathon’s proclivity to pop music is mixed with Michael’s more technical and classical style. Care-free and light Cones moved through the folk rock group’s lush catalog of songs. Their music causes you to dream of a sunnier place, and forget the dark musty bar you actually occupy.
South Carolina at Hopscotch
I don't think I'm supposed to tell you this, but Susto frontman Justin Osborne was asleep in the van the hours leading up to their Saturday night set at Kings. He'd just returned from weeks on tour in Europe playing solo opening for Band of Horses and his body hadn't adjusted back to EST. The line was long to get in, the venue was abuzz, and the sound check was grueling. Finally, they just ditched Osborne's acoustic guitar and he played the set all electric. Susto's been on tour for nearly the entire year since the release of their latest album & I'm Fine Today so even though they hadn't performed together in weeks the set was tight, gritty, and full of energy. If you were there to catch what the buzz surrounding the band was all about, you quickly found out with this performance.
Columbia trio MyBrother MySister made the most of their Hopscotch debut performance playing for a packed house at Slim's and again the following day at the Sore Thumb Day party. They seemed to have turned the corner over the last year, becoming much more explosive, gritty, and dynamic live. It's where they excel, with the closing of the day party set ending with guitarist Dylan Kittrell's guitar through the head of the bass drum. With only two bands representing South Carolina officially on the lineup, MyBrother MySister and Susto offered a glimpse into the diversity of our music scene.
Day Party Highlights
Is Hopscotch without Zack Mexico really Hopscotch? Between them and their coastal neighbor band to the south Museum Mouth, you've surely seen members of these bands around the festival if you've ever attended. Following a unique performance under frontman John Saturley's name opening night, Zack Mexico played a couple of day parties after. They're one of North Carolina's best psychedelic acts and they'll be heading to Europe this fall with fellow Eastern NC native band Future Islands.
Featuring Jenna Desmond and Corey Campbell, both members of Susto, Babe Club is one of South Carolina's best up-and-coming acts. If not for hurricane Irma they would have been full band, but at the CLTURE day party they performed as a two piece and it worked out well. The two have an amazing chemistry on stage, and each song feels guided by quick glances and a having a deep sense of each other on stage. Babe Club performed songs from their upcoming release including "Automatic Love" heard on our 2017 SC music sampler.
With their recent lineup change ET Anderson feels like a different band. Since their inception close to three years ago they've had somewhat of a rotating cast around drummer Michael Crawford and frontman Wilson W. Wilson. They've gone with a three guitar arsenal before and most commonly featuring Bobby Hatfield on keyboard, but with each of their past lineups they've been a huge force live. The new lineup is more straight forward featuring the tried-and-true rock formula of two guitars, bass and drums. The songs are still effective live, and they're still a great live band, they just set the bar really high early on.
2017 Photo Gallery