Over the years Hopscotch has served as a vehicle for new music discovery for me and a chance to see North Carolina acts that don’t visit South Carolina often, but ones I admire and follow online. Every year I’ve experienced moving performances from all types of artists. Last year it was Mount Moriah, Future Islands, Angel Olsen, Sylvan Esso, and Lady Lamb the Beekeeper that blew me away with stellar performances. Quite a list looking back on it now, and a testament to Hopscotch’s foresight and ability to program the correct acts in the correct venues for the best performance experience. This year Hopscotch had its first real hiccup that I was there to witness, and as I live tweeted along, the story took flight into national news and even spawned “All You Fuckin’ Hillbillies Shut the Fuck Up” shirts and a massive amount of talk on the web. So, here’s my Sun Kil Moon story, as witnessed from the second row and the front middle of the crowd.
Sun Kil Moon at Lincoln Theatre
Sun Kil Moon’s new album Benji might be my favorite album of the year. It’s been a game changer for me in a lot of ways. First, I didn’t listen to Sun Kil Moon before this album, and it’s opened me up to the world which is Mark Kozelek’s warped lyrical songwriting that I fell in love with. I’ve spent much of the year exploring the depths of his musical catalog, so seeing him at Hopscotch was at the top of my list. Billed as one of the top acts playing Hopscotch this year, I arrived at Lincoln Theatre early just to make sure I was able to get in and get a good spot. I must have recounted my version of this story 20 times.
Electronic act Mark McGuire set the stage for Sun Kil Moon in Lincoln Theatre, a two tiered venue that holds somewhere around 1000 people and is set up more for loud rock shows than quiet performances. McGuire’s set was perfect for the venue, as zen beats and guitar leads washed over the crowd, including the glow sticks and ravers in the front. The crowd was upbeat and pleasantly excited as the stage was set for Sun Kil Moon. The band would be seated in a horse shoe shape on the stage, with Mark Kozelek on the left seated with his classical guitar, accompanied by drums, guitar and bass. Before his set an announcement was made to keep your cell phones in your pockets and not to take any photos or video, and to be a respectful crowd. Fair enough. It seems like this is when the shhhhhhs started rolling through the crowd. A PBR fueled crowd I might add that had either been drinking all day at day parties and then through the night, or likely started drinking during the headlining acts of St. Vincent and Spoon. It made for a loose crowd, there for a good time.
When Kozelek and company took the stage the room was still warm with noise and the McGuire ravers were still front and center. Kozelek sits down with his classical guitar. His microphone doesn’t work. Some bickering ensues on stage, and Kozelek comes to the front and announces that they’ll be back on stage in five minutes once they get everything figured out. Kozelek comes back out and the mic works. The shushing in the crowd was one of those face in palm moments, half of them serious pleading for silence and the other half mocking Kozelek who’s uptight ornery personality was already not mixing with the crowd. Now, I somehow missed him tell the crowd “All you fucking hillbillies shut the fuck up”. I did hear his half-assed apology later. At the time it was all kind of painful for me, but later that night it was all funny to me. On one hand, someone yelling “You’re not Ryan Adams, man!” in Raleigh of all places is pretty hilarious and apt, but it was taking away from the show right? That’s where this gets interesting. After he Kozelek was heckled he threatened to walk, saying he didn’t care if he got paid (yeah right…). He played the “these guys came from all over” card referring to his band, but he’d already stoked the fire with the casual fans and it didn’t matter. Mark Kozelek then channeled his anger into his song “Dogs” off his latest album and it was incredible. After “Dogs” someone near me yelled “You’ve won us back!” to which he responded “I’m glad I won you back with a song about fucking and eating a girl out”. Yikes. At this early stage in the set there was a capacity crowd with a line outside to get in so I was told. Mid-way through the set most of the chattering folks had cleared out and by the end of the set you could stretch out as the venue was half full. Kozelek had managed to clear the place, leaving mostly fans to enjoy the set. He could have just played through the chattering, everything would have been fine. Hopscotch could have put him in a quieter venue, everything would most likely have been fine. But now we have a story for the ages, and a performance that was still good and at times moving.
For me Hopscotch had a different vibe this year, and I wasn’t able to get in a groove. I blame mostly myself for choosing the wrong shows, and partially the rain on Thursday night for making me less likely to bounce around. Even still, I saw incredible performances from the always good War on Drugs and St. Vincent to fantastic day show sets from Ghostt Bllonde and Octopus Jones. Annie Clark’s seven minute guitar meltdown was one of the best moments I’ve witnessed on the mainstage in my years covering Hopscotch. Lucky for us, David Ford Smith who was covering the festival with me found some of the best and most abstract performances Hopscotch had to offer and included them in his Hopscotch review.