Raleigh, North Carolina, September 6-8, 2012
For the third straight year, the Hopscotch Festival took over Raleigh, North Carolina for three long nights of non-stop rock. A testament to the city’s rebirth, 175+ regional, national and international bands took over 15 venues, proving the city has reached a new height of artistic growth. Sure, the city has always had great bands, and a few venues that have come and gone, but right now, Raleigh is witnessing its heyday.
The Hopscotch Festival seems like SXSW in its infancy. There were hangover day shows, unofficial shows, corresponding art exhibits, and every attendee must plan ahead if they want to make it through the day. When it came to the official night shows, you had to pick favorites and let other simultaneous shows fall by the wayside. But unlike South by Southwest, being shutout of a show is a rarity.
Day 1: Thursday, September 6
We started off our festival taking a shot in the dark, going to see a local band called Wood Ear. Though we found the set a weak kickoff and uninspired set by a mismatched group of players, it did serve as a meeting place for a few unexpected friends.
From there it was off to see Deerhoof. While their manic performance seemed drowned out by the epic size and relaxing seats of the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, those who knew were there and ready to shake. The drummer continued to prove he is one of the best and hardest hitters in the game, and with singer Satomi Matsuzaki’s high kicks and “la, la” vocals, it felt right. And then we got restless. With so much going on, it’s hard to sit still. So we didn’t.
Unfortunately we passed up going to see Hacienda for a rare appearance by Alvarius B, a solo project by Alan Bishop, formerly of the Sun City Girls. I’m pretty sure I heard him sing about some crazy ass shit, but since we couldn’t even catch a glimpse of him on stage, we ducked out and headed to the Fletcher Opera House to see Matthew E. White.
While his recent solo record continues to garner critical acclaim, his performance tonight, billed under “One Incantation Under God” would be the largest ensemble assemblage of the festival. Playing one time only with 31 people on stage, he wanted to prove the diversity of styles in the unified scene of an increasingly artistic community in Richmond, Virginia.
From there we hurried over to the Contemporary Art Museum, a somewhat new building and new enough that it was their first time as a Hopscotch venue. The Oh Sees had already taken stage and proved to be the day, and perhaps even the festival’s, greatest show.
Playing a diverse set of driving psychedelic party music, the fans put in as much as the band offered up through their enthusiastic set. People were crowd surfing, moshing, and even crowd surfing into the mosh pit. These are things you can’t do many places anymore, let alone in an art museum.
Day Two: Friday, September 7
Day two started early as we took in some day shows, most notably the Naked Gods at the Tir Na Nog. The Boone, NC band are purveyors of southern rock with a mountain mellowness. We’ve long been fans and have even created a sort of exchange program of friendship, respect and touring between Boston and Boone bands.
Today’s early set was a toned down, chilled-out set of selections from their two records. The real rock-out would come later. Just about now we realized that a nap was probably the best and most strategious thing to do with a full night ahead and we executed accordingly.
Returning to view festival artwork, we hurried to see Built to Spill take over City Plaza as the first of the big outdoor headlining shows. Taking place on the Promenade that spans all the way to the state house, the show was great, sprawling, but seems to have been done before and done often.
The Jesus and Mary Chain, the most unexpected band of the festival followed Idaho’s finest on the same stage. Unfortunately the band didn’t seem fit for an outdoor setting.
The sound was off—and not off like their records with walls of abrasive distortion. Maybe it sounded too… NORMAL.
From there it was back to see the Naked Gods. At this time slot, it was the best option. And why not? They are THAT good. And at night they took their slow set of the early hours and revved it up with different, heavier jams.
Since we were in proximity, we ran next door to the Pour House where those “heavy” jams” were trumped by Pallbearer. We’d seen just about every other type of music. Now it was time for dirge metal.
The strange thing about Friday’s shows is that much of the time one had to pick between heavy metal or heavy emotions (or both). We missed Papa M and Corrosion of Conformity for the Hoboken indie stalwarts, Yo La Tengo. Though they have been known to get crazy, their recent years have slowed down to more atmospheric sets, and tonight’s set was sleepier than ever. While it was extremely delicate and beautiful, it had been a long day and people were tired. People were actually sleeping at the show. But with a lovely soundtrack and plush red seats, it must have been a good nap.
We missed the Mountain Goats who played their one-time only acoustic metal covers set. And we missed Valient Thorr whose name suggests exactly what to expect. We missed all of that to see Damien Jurado.
Although we dipped further into the depression hour, Jurado is always quiet, perfect and extremely evocative. The man does not disappoint, but he does depress. That’s his intention. One of the best, most tragic troubadours, he performed solo this time around, and he got his due attention from an attentive audience.
Promising to make up the dismal hours of magical music to my girlfriend, I took her to the Pour House so we could spend the close of our night dancing our asses off to Dan Deacon. But, for the first time we were shut out. With a line around the block and the room at capacity, we had no chance to dance away the sadness. And we headed home as such.