Ten Things, Good and Bad, About The Inaugural Hopscotch Music Festival
The inaugural Hopscotch Music Festival went off far better than most could have anticipated. Enthusiastic, well-mannered crowds managed to fill the downtown Raleigh, NC streets for three days with barely any issues, save a few very packed shows that left many fans milling about in the cool night air. There was an awful lot of music to experience and a lot of concrete to tread, but a few moments stand out. Here are seven good and three bad things I managed to experience over the weekend.
Broken Social Scene – You just never know when BSS is going to stay away from America for a while, so every chance to stand in front of them is a special treat. The band’s latest album, Forgiveness Rock Record, has spawned much debate, but there’s no denying the reckless yet measured abandon of their jubilant live show. Their sound is like a brick wall on wheels, and in Raleigh they didn’t even slow down to offer the fan favorite "Anthems for a 17 Year-Old Girl," opting to keep a steady stream of energy rolling throughout. Standbys like "7/4 Shoreline," "Cause=Time," and "Superconnected" merged with the best songs from the new album ("World Sick," "Forced to Love," and "Texico Bitches") to form a solid mass of music so human you could hug it, and the riotous "KC Accidental" closer made for an unforgettable finish.
Public Enemy – The setup was delicious: The politically charged Public Enemy in Raleigh on 9/11, playing on a stage erected right on the line between the new, gentrified Raleigh and the old Raleigh. Though the show turned out to be more party than rally, PE brought a wide-ranging hip-hop style to the table that few others, if any, have perfected. Performing the entirety of their 1990 album Fear of a Black Planet, the band also interjected other must-hear classics throughout the set. Not that the flow of Fear of a Black Planet isn’t perfect, but the way Chuck and Flav wove touchstones like "Don’t Believe the Hype," "Bring the Noise," "Can’t Truss It," and "Shut ’em Down" between the threads of the album was brilliant. The whole affair led toward the imminent "Fight the Power" closer, which wrapped up the show and the album with gusto.
The Lincoln Theatre – The majority of my time at Hopscotch was spent in and around the Lincoln Theatre. Of the festival’s indoor venues, it offered the best stage, lights, sound, and roominess, along with an incredible schedule of bands. Thursday night offered a whiskey-soaked foursome of Lucero, American Aquarium, Max Indian, and Ponderosa. Friday night, one of North Carolina’s most noted producers, 9th Wonder, held court with a phalanx of MCs in tow, including Raekwon. Saturday night, I wrung out the rest of the festival’s sweet aural nectar with Tortoise, Bear in Heaven, and Nomo.
Collections of Colonies of Bees – This Wisconsin quintet play "post-rock" as if no one else has discovered the formula yet, and they’ll make the most jaded fan of instrumental grandeur take notice. If you’re a fan of anthemic crescendos, beats that are majestic and pummeling, and compositional rock, these guys are right in your honey hole. They turned the dimly lit Tir Na Nog stage into a hive of emotional peaks and picturesque valleys while presenting the entirety of their upcoming album, Giving.
Nomo – We’ve all had these moments: Making your way to your seat or angling for a prime spot at a venue, only to be subsequently blown away by an opener you’ve never even heard of. Such was the case with Nomo, a vibrant collective from Ann Arbor, MI that enraptured the post-Public Enemy crowd with their hard-hitting blend of funk, afrobeat, jazz and groove. There’s a playful, solo-happy trait to their music that makes for a riveting listen while your brain tries to make sense of their sound.
Raleigh City Plaza – There’s a brand new amphitheater just around the corner, but Raleigh’s City Plaza is certainly no less of a venue because of it. In fact, the City Plaza currently offers a better experience than the ballyhooed amphitheater. The stage and sightlines are typical of any street festival stage, but there are plenty of elevated surfaces to ascend to aid your view. Designed as a central gathering point among a forest of office buildings and hotels, the plaza hums with energy. Four large columns and a fountain are artfully lit and provide ambience that plays off of the stage lighting. Along with the requisite concert concessions like pizza, hot dogs, and beer, there are several restaurants in the concert area. If nothing else is said about the place, let this be said: I didn’t wait in line for bathroom nor beer there all weekend.
The Local Love – Roughly half of the 120-plus bands that performed as part of Hopscotch hail from North Carolina. The overall quality of the lineup speaks to the Hopscotch vision of highlighting a scene that often seems to pass right under the noses of area residents, and it’s a safe bet that some of the bands performed in front of their largest audiences yet. It was also nice to see local club standbys like The Love Language, The Rosebuds, American Aquarium, and Max Indian spend some time on the festival’s largest stages.
The Bad (Relatively speaking)
Panda Bear – Forget the quizzical headliner placement after Broken Social Scene had ravished everyone in attendance. After 30 minutes of Panda Bear’s set, I began to wonder why he was included at all. Perhaps the least appropriate music for an outdoor Friday night concert in an urban environment, Panda Bear’s sound is great for headphones and insular mind trips. In the upbeat, beer-and-pizza atmosphere of Raleigh’s City Plaza, following the exuberant BSS show, his set was wholly unappealing.
The Packed Pour House-Don’t get it twisted – The Pour House isn’t bad at anything. But spending time at my favorite Raleigh venue was tough all weekend. The Akron/Family show was reportedly amazing, though I was unable to get in the door because of a jammed room and a line that stretched into the dozens. Everyone knew such situations would occur, but they could have been somewhat defused with better planning. For example, a Pour House-sized crowd gathered at the thousand-capacity Lincoln Theatre for Lucero and American Aquarium at the same time that 800 people wanted to get into 400-person Pour House for
Akron/Family. Baby steps.
The Festival Ended – Raleigh’s newfound love for all things arty has turned downtown into a great place to be, and having 130 bands in town only amplified the intoxicating atmosphere. By the end of day three, many attendees expressed disbelief at how quickly the weekend had passed, and how they wished every day was Hopscotch day. It seems that the folks over at The Independent have landed in a prime spot to watch their event grow along with the city and its thriving music scene.